For decades the late Mrs Whitehouse was the self-appointed moral watchdog of Britain. She saw television as the vanguard of the so-called permissive society of the Sixties, bringing violence, sex and bad language into the living rooms
of the nation.
The puritanical campaigner warned of the de-sensitising effect of showing violence and gratuitous sex, saying it would create a more violent and sexualised society.
But Dame Joan was part of the 1960s generation who thought the old guard were foolish prudes.
Now, however, writing in Radio Times, the presenter said: The liberal mood back in the 60s was that sex was pleasurable and wholesome and shouldn't be seen as dirty and wicked. The Pill allowed women to make choices for themselves. Of course,
that meant the risk of making the wrong choice. But we all hoped girls would grow to handle the new freedoms wisely.
Then everything came to be about money: so now sex is about money, too. Why else sexualise the clothes of little girls, run TV channels of naked wives, have sex magazines edging out the serious stuff on newsagents shelves? It's money
that's corrupted us and women are being used and are even collaborating. Liberal: Joan Bakewell pictured in the Sixties
I never thought I would hear myself say as much, but I'm with Mrs Whitehouse on this one.
One belief that I would share, both with Whitehouse and with Ms Bakewell, is that the media have a unique role in shaping the culture of society. Many fear that our culture is falling apart. They look at our society and see a series of social
epidemics. Some of these, such as 24-hour drinking, have been the result of legislation, but many seem to have been self-generating, under the influence of media that do not recognise the social responsibilities of power.
These epidemics of violence, drugs, divorce, abortion, porn and debt have made Britain a less secure and less stable society, harder to live in, less attractive and much harder for the lives of children.
So rees-Mogg blames our troubles on epidemics of violence, drugs, divorce, abortion, porn and debt
One of these things is not like the others. Porn, that is, which is obviously fictional - you tend not to bump into threesomes on the average high street.
Abortion's not like the rest either, and certainly isn't a factor on society.
Violence, drugs, divorce and debt. Ah. There we go. You'll probably find that two of those tend to follow on from the other two, neither of which are caused by porn, action movies, or swearing on TV...
Mary Whitehouse has often been represented as prejudiced, intolerant and homophobic. Yet her attitudes were rather archaic than malicious. She believed, like Sir John Reith in the 1920s and 1930s, that it was the duty of the
BBC to edify the nation, rather than to roll back the boundaries of decency. Similarly, she attacked the Royal National Theatre for producing a play like The Romans in Britain , which included a scene of anal rape, which Sir Peter
Hall rather pompously said was necessary to symbolise the penetration of Britain by Imperial Rome.
She claimed repeatedly that she was not hostile to homosexuals; she was unable, however, to accept that they were morally equivalent to heterosexuals. Equally, she protested against premarital intercourse and the sexual
exploitation of children. In public entertainment she crusaded against violence, rape, full-frontal nudity, coarse language, and smoking and drinking.
Mrs Whitehouse did indeed protest too much; she saw slights against decency in everything, and especially took personally insults against Jesus Christ. Some of her complaints were just silly: she criticised a Beatles song in
the Magical Mystery Tour because it contained the line You've been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down . She deprecated the innuendo in the sitcom It Ain't Half Hot Mum : and thought Top of the Pops anti-authority
. She disliked Cathy Come Home because she thought it Left-wing propaganda, which she thought all part of the BBC's agenda.
Yet despite her over-statement and misjudged targets Mary Whitehouse was a significant figure. Some of her battles were justified, even prophetic.
It is difficult to uphold genuinely liberal values these days. So when the British broadcaster Joan Bakewell, a former symbol of the open-minded 1960s, hinted recently that the illiberal moral entrepreneur Mary Whitehouse had been right all along
to criticise sexual permissiveness, before you knew it there was a veritable mea culpa across the media.
There has been a retrospective deification of Mary Whitehouse, the late Christian campaigner for the censorship of sex, swear words and vulgarity on British TV, by numerous media commentators who now argue that, yes, we did push
permissiveness too far. This deification reflects the moral disorientation of our times. At a time when society finds it hard to engage with complex existential issues, it becomes increasingly difficult to be truly liberal, open-minded and
In 2001, the year of Mary Whitehouse's death, NVALA evolved into Mediawatch UK. Its current director, Vivienne Pattison, says: Something's changed because not everything is worse. I for one am glad that I can't watch Love Thy Neighbour any
more and there's a lot less sexism, which is also good but there's been a gradual erosion ofother things. For example Miranda [Miranda Hart's BBC2 sitcom] was soft and gentle and funny and went out at 8.30. It looked like family viewing and
mostly was but contained the line 'I'm going to **** on your towels.' Even 10 years ago that would have been post-watershed.
Pattison points out that despite her reputation as a prude, Whitehouse was far more concerned with violence on television than she was with sex. Many of her letters to politicians urged tighter strictures on what was broadcast followed incidences
of violence in the news, for example the 1987 shootings in Hungerford. Where do they get their ideas? she asked rhetorically in a letter to Margaret Thatcher. Whitehouse had corresponded with Thatcher when she was Secretary of State for
Education and continued to have her ear once she became Prime Minister.