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Disgusted, Mary Whitehouse

Presented by Samira Ahmed

It’s 40 years since Mary Whitehouse took the National Theatre to court for what she called gross indecency. She never saw the play, The Romans in Britain, but felt compelled to act against its director as part of her holy mission against obscenity.

For this programme, Samira Ahmed has spent months studying the private diaries and letters of Mary Whitehouse, now deposited in the Bodleian Library, to better understand the work and legacy of the decency campaigner whose name became a byword for prudery and censorship.

The diaries and those who knew Mary Whitehouse reveal a more complex picture - a sophisticated operator taking on the establishment, playing the media at their own game, and challenging the snobbery and sexism of the men who ran the TV and theatre industry. She was, and remains, a controversial figure but her decades-long battle against the normalisation of pornography and child exploitation is more relevant than ever.

Unknown to Mary Whitehouse at the time, one of her closest allies and advisors was later accused of being a violent abuser of children.

To better understand Mary Whitehouse, Samira speaks to Mary’s granddaughter Fiona Whitehouse, Nicole Gilroy and Francesca Alves at the Bodleian Library, critics Michael Billington and Nicholas de Jongh, and actor and director Samuel West.

Readings by Lisa Bowerman
Producers: Simon and Thomas Guerrier
Executive Producer: David Prest
A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4

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