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In the early 1960s, Mrs. Mary Whitehouse, a middle-aged school teacher, begins a campaign against what she sees as filth and smut on BBC television and radio. She and a friend start knocking on doors, circulating petitions and organizing rallies. Her nemesis during this time is Sir Hugh Carleton Greene, Director General of the BBC. He thinks she is just an old busybody who has no artistic taste and doesn't represent the mainstream of British society. Throughout his tenure, which lasted several years, he refused to see her or respond to her correspondence. She continued to campaign at what she viewed as unacceptable programming until her death in 2001.Written by
The footage of Doctor Who (1963), seen on a television screen and used to depict the violence of the series, is edited to suggest that the scene takes place at the end of the episode. In fact the scene in question takes place around halfway through Doctor Who: The Tomb of the Cybermen: Episode 4 (1967). This clip is followed by part of the opening sequence, showing the title and Patrick Troughton's face. See more »
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This account of the transformation of an ordinary suburban mum and art teacher into a controversial national figure is a lot better than it might have been. Julie Walters as Mary captures her ordinariness and her determination. She is much helped by Alun Armstrong's subtle performance as Mary's supportive if sometime baffled husband Ernest. Hugh Bonneville though at times rather Basil Fawlty-ish as the progressive but arrogant BBC director-general Hugh Greene provides an admirable foil (they never actually meet).
Mary Whitehouse started her campaign to clean up television (originally unfortunately named "Clean Up National Television") after seeing a rather dull discussion program on pre-marital sex broadcast by the BBC in the early evening. Despite widespread opposition she developed a taste for being in the public eye, and was an active promoter of TV censorship for the next 30 years. The film credits her with forcing Greene's resignation, though others claim the real issue was Greene's failure to get along with Lord Hill, the oleaginous BBC chairman after 1967. Certainly Greene's philosophy on broadcasting was completely opposed to Mary's, and it has to be said that it was partly due to her that the BBC became less adventurous in the face of her attacks, some of which were downright silly, the attacks on "Dr Who" and the Beatles's lyrics for example. With all respect to her son Richard, who has a review on this page, she may have been serious and sincere, but she represented and aroused the forces of bigotry, ignorance and prejudice. The worst that can be said of Greene is that he did not handle her very well. Later directors-general, including his immediate successor Charles Curran were better at it. Even so she had a chilling effect on British television.
This program goes fairly easy on Mary and does not fail to point out that Greene and other opponents often over-reacted. She had imitators elsewhere, Patricia Bartlett in New Zealand and Fred Nile in Australia for example, and of course the US is full of anti-smut crusaders. Unlike the US, Britain's media is rather centralized – the BBC had a monopoly in TV until 1956 and there was a duopoly with ITV until the 1980s – and this gave someone like Mary unwonted influence. The atmosphere of the sixties is wonderfully re-created and the BBC has to be congratulated for its even-handed telling of a story very painful to some broadcasters.
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