May – 2008

I was fascinated to see that Julie Walters and Hugh Bonneville, two of the nicest and most brilliant actors I’ve ever met are starring in the BBC play about Mary Whitehouse this week. Julie plays Mary Whitehouse and Hugh, who had a leading role in ITV’s production of the film adaptation of one of my books, The Man Who Made Husband’s Jealous, is playing her adversary Hugh Carlton-Greene, the head of the BBC. In retrospect, Mrs Whitehouse probably had a point in trying to curb the increase of sex and violence on television. But at the time, in the early seventies, when we were luxuriating in a new-found sexual freedom, we thought she was a frightful kill-joy. When her autobiography, Who Does She Think She Is, came out I therefore took her to the cleaners in my Sunday Times column. Except for the time I attacked the Health Service after a stint in hospital, I have never received so many furious readers’ letters – over 700 – saying “Hands off our Sainted Mary.” I did on the other hand, get some lovely letters of support, particularly from Lady Gaitskell, who agreed with me that Mary Whitehouse was a sinister influence. Mrs Whitehouse seems to have been unbowed by my attack, however.

A few months later I was at the same Foyle’s Literary Lunch as her. Fearing her ire, I begged Christina Foyle to seat me as far away from Mrs W as possible. Imagine my horror, just as I was getting up from my chair after lunch, when Mrs Whitehouse, clad in aquamarine tulle like a pantomime fairy, tapped my shoulder, “I hear you don’t want to meet me, dear.” “That’s because I don’t ap-p-p-p-prove of you,” I stammered and fled. It was big hearted of her not to take offence. The play evidently portrays her in a very sympathetic light. My Sunday Times piece on her, you can read here. It’s shamefully bitchy, but I still stand by it.

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