May 29th, 2008

Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story

The BBC has made its peace with Mary Whitehouse. Well, why not? She's been dead for seven years. And in a way I'm glad. A play that made fun of her would have been too easy. And no doubt the private woman was as funny, clever, vulnerable and brave as she was made to seem in Julie Walters' magnificent performance.

But what about the caricaturing of her chief adversary, BBC Director General Hugh Greene- who became the pompous authority figure to her plucky little everywoman- Pantaloon to her Harlequin- so much so that the logic of the drama had us cheering her final victory? By all means whitewash Whitehouse, but  turning Greene- on her terms- into a buffoonish villain?

Something wrong there, surely?

But perhaps it was only by misrepresenting Greene that the play could be made to work. Drama demands that adversaries be- more or less- equally weighted. So Greene had to be brought down to Whitehouse's level.  In real life there was no contest at all: he was completely, thunderously right and she was completely, pettifoggingly wrong. He stood for artistic and intellectual freedom, she stood for fear and avoidance. This was the woman who- for example- wanted to bleep the word "knickers" out of "I Am The Walrus".

Generosity to a fallen foe? 

Only Mrs Whitehouse isn't fallen. She's an eternal type. She may not wear silly hats any more, but she's still buzzing around our culture-  picketing, banning, legislating- what a pest!