50 years on: porn legacy of Lady Chatterley trial

The Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial began fifty years ago today, and our pornified, sexually charged society is its tragic legacy.

Historian Dominic Sandbrook, writing in The Daily Telegraph, wondered whether the decision to allow publication of the explicit novel has had disturbing consequences for today’s culture.

He said: “Half a century on, the Lady Chatterley trial has become a cliché of the conventional Sixties narrative, a victory for youth and freedom against a repressive old order.

Legacy

“But in a society where pre-pubescent girls stroll down the high street wearing T-shirts with the legend “Porn star”, I wonder whether its legacy is more double-edged.”

Commenting further on the trial’s legacy Mr Sandbrook wrote: “Though few then could have realised it, a tiny but unmistakable line runs from the novel Lawrence wrote in the late 1920s to an international pornography industry today worth more than £26 billion.”

On this day in 1960 Penguin Books was brought to trial accused of breaking obscenity laws with the book, but the following month a jury acquitted the publisher and Lady Chatterley’s Lover went on sale.

Now, 50 years later, concern is mounting over the increasing sexualisation of society, and a number of advocates of sexual liberation have expressed doubts over the legacy of the so-called ‘sexual revolution’.

Concerns

Earlier this year Dame Joan Bakewell, who fronted a documentary series testing the boundaries of taste and decency, conceded that some of Mary Whitehouse’s concerns about the sexual liberation of the 1960s may have been justified.

Mrs Whitehouse, a devout Christian, rose to prominence in the 1960s after she took a stand against the declining moral standards on TV.

Writing in the Radio Times earlier this year Dame Joan spoke of the hoped-for sexual freedom introduced in the 1960s.

Corrupted

“But we all hoped girls would grow to handle the new freedoms wisely. Then everything came to be about money: so now sex is about money, too”, she said.

“Why else sexualise the clothes of little girls, run TV channels of naked wives, have sex magazines edging out the serious stuff on newsagents’ shelves? It’s money that’s corrupted us and women are being used and are even collaborating.

“I never thought I would hear myself say as much, but ‘I’m with Mrs Whitehouse on this one’.”

Pill

Her concerns have been echoed by well-known Hollywood actress Raquel Welch.

The self-proclaimed “ageing sex-symbol” said in May that the Pill had given the illusion that sex has no consequences and she pointed to declining moral standards in the 50 years since the Pill came to the market in the US.

The four-time married actress was well aware of the irony of her comments.

She said: “Seriously, folks, if an aging sex symbol like me starts waving the red flag of caution over how low moral standards have plummeted, you know it’s gotta be pretty bad.”

Horrible

And Shere Hite, whose book on female sexual experimentation was a bestseller in the 1970s, wrote in The Times in May that she now regrets taking the Pill.

She wrote: “I remember how excited women around me were that we were now free to experiment sexually”.

“I wrote a book that fitted so perfectly with this mindset that it reverberated through the world as No 1 on bestseller lists in 29 countries”, she said.

But, the author continued, “Today I rue the days I took the Pill. It was wonderful and horrible, symbolic of the extremes of the 1960s and of the difficulties that women still face.”

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