Friday 19 June 2015

Reviewing the Evidence - Ban this Filth!

Title: Ban This Filth! Mary Whitehouse and the Battle to Keep Britain Innocent (US Link)
Author: Ben Thompson
Genre: non-fiction

A few starting notes:

This was picked up in a library haul and seemed pretty interesting. For those who don't know, Mary Whitehouse was the leader of the National Viewer's and Listener's Association and the Clean-up TV Campaign from the 1960s onwards.


This is a selection of the letters and documents from the Mary Whitehouse archive (yes, there is apparently such a thing,) and a running commentary by Mr Thompson.

Best bits:

This is quite an interesting book - I only had a sketchy knowledge of Mary Whitehouse before reading (her peak was a bit before my time,) and am always interested in the issue of censorship and the issue of offensive material in the media.

Ben Thompson's commentary is chatty and engaging, and clearly thought through, making the book charming enough to keep you reading. He also does well in framing the many paradoxes of a complex character who became a symbol of right-wing censorship while raising some fundamentally important points along the way.

Not so great bits:

I have to admit that at some points I found Thompson's defence of, and sometimes admiration and affection for, Mary Whitehouse a little wearing. Yes, believe it or not, she occasionally made some good points, but I would've liked a bit more of an acknowledgement that whatever good points she made cannot excuse her blatant homophobia (not to mention other statements made by herself which were more offensive than the stuff she wanted censored.) 

The structure of the book - with chapters focussing on a them - could've benefitted from said themes being more juicy. I would've far rathered reading more about the objections she had to things which have since become national treasures (Dr. Who, The Beatles,) than reading about her in-fighting with other Christian organisations such as the Anglican Church. A bit more social context for those of us not born at the time would also have not gone amiss.

Also, and this is not really the book's fault, the jacket was covered with quotes from British reviewers who clearly need to get out more. Yes, the book was amusing in places, but in no way was it 'hilarious' or 'shockingly funny.'


A fair effort to discuss the paradoxes and life of Mrs Whitehouse using the incredibly interesting resource of her own archives. There were minus points to this book, of course, but at the end of the day it is a competent portrait of the work of a woman who was trying (forcefully) to get back to an innocent, idealised, version of this country that never really existed - except perhaps in the minds of people like her.

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