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Maggie backed Mary's crusade; Files released by the National Archives under the 30-year rule reveal how Midland campaigner MaryWhitehouse won support in high places, writes Paul Cole.

Byline: Paul Cole

MIDLAND morals campaigner Mary Whitehouse won a formidable ally in Margaret Thatcher - after sending the Iron Lady impassioned letters from teachers worried about the effect "video nasties" were having on pupils.

Whitehouse, who launched her National Viewers' and Listeners' Association at Birmingham Town Hall in 1964, forwarded complaints from local schools about pornography and violence in X-rated videos. She warned Thatcher that primary school pupils were being frightened by graphic scenes in slasher movies, and that one 12-year-old boy had a regular 'Porn On Fridays' viewing session with his dad.

Nuneaton-born Whitehouse went straight to the top, phoning the Prime Minister's office early in 1983, urging fresh action on obscenity legislation.

An impressed Thatcher wrote: "I fully understand, and indeed share, your deep concern about the decline in moral standards in this country.

"Like you, I deplore those who seek to make profit out of exploiting the weaknesses of others and in so doing undermine our traditional standards of decency and respect for family life."

But when there was no mention of legislation in the Queen's speech of June 1983, Whitehouse renewed the onslaught. She sent the teachers' letters to Home Secretary Leon Brittan. One teacher wrote: "I have a class of seven and eight-year-olds and have become increasingly worried about the films they tell me they watch. Several were frightened by watching An American Werewolf In London at another child's birthday party. And a girl told me that she had screamed so much whilst watching Friday 13th that she had to be slapped."

On September 2, 1983 Whitehouse wrote to Thatcher asking to meet privately, saying she would "value such an opportunity more than anything" to discuss the control of video nasties.

A memo to the Prime Minister ahead of the meeting revealed the Home Secretary conceded the obscenity laws were deficient, but that there was no consensus for new legislation.

And there were concerns that if new laws were to define what was prohibited, as Whitehouse wanted, then "the extremely violent scenes in Macbeth or King Lear would have to be banned".

Following the meeting, a letter from Tim Flesher, the Prime Minister's private secretary for parliamentary affairs, to the Home Office revealed Thatcher "remains unconvinced by the Home Office approach to the question of obscenity legislation in general".

It added: "She agrees with Mrs Whitehouse that piecemeal legislation on obscenity is unsatisfactory and that the Government ought to be bringing forward proposals for a general reform of the Obscene Publications Acts, which she believes to be ineffective."

Whitehouse's efforts led to the passing of the Video Recordings Act 1984, which banned video nasties, albeit temporarily.

But she was still not satisfied, again writing to Thatcher in July 1986 to say she was bitterly disappointed that Home Secretary Douglas Hurd could not promise any new legislation on obscenity, and again asked to meet her.

In a memo, the Prime Minister wrote: "I will, of course, see Mrs Whitehouse. But first I must have a meeting with the Home Office. We have been doing nothing about this subject for years. Of course she is upset."

? The archives also reveal how Home Office officials secretly considered plans to provide homes with chemical weapons shelters amid fears of an attack by the Soviet Union. But the scheme quickly ran into difficulties after experts pointed out people would have to remain in the sealed shelters for up to 10 hours after a chemical attack.

"As the cubic capacity was approximately seven cubic metres, four people could be supported in the enclosed air for only about two to three hours," the minutes of a meeting from April 1985 noted.

private secretary for parliamentary I fully understand, and share, your deep concern about the decline in moral standards in this countryMargaret Thatcher


Campaigner Mary Whitehouse
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 30, 2014
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