Mary Whitehouse: Ahead of her time

A couple of weeks ago the BBC released a podcast re-evaluating the life of Mary Whitehouse. For those too young to remember, Mary Whitehouse was a British Christian moral campaigner who came to prominence in the 70s and 80s. She sought to protect the public from obscene – particularly pornographic – content in an increasingly permissive age.

Whitehouse’s reputation has been trashed over the decades and many Christians today would feel embarrassed to be associated with her. But the BBC’s Podcast, by respected journalist Samira Ahmed, rehabilitates this doughty Christian fighter, not least because of the ways in which history has proved some of her concerns to be right.

For many years she was derided in the media as “authoritarian”, “jealous of other people’s fun” and “seeing evil in everything”.

But Ahmed considers her something of a “prophet” for foreseeing the corrosive impact that pornography would have on society – particularly on children.


Since Whitehouse’s death in 2001, internet pornography has exploded. Research by the British Board of Film Classification in 2020 found that 51% of 11 to 13 years olds had viewed pornography online – and this figure is probably an underestimate.

As the harms caused by pornography become more and more apparent, the arguments that Whitehouse made are increasingly vindicated.

The horrific murder of Sarah Everard, in particular, has brought to light the link between watching violent porn and committing sexual crime – a point made decades ago by Whitehouse.

She believed that without a godly Christian influence on the laws of the land, “we are all immensely at risk and so is the cohesion of our society”.

As a result of her campaigns, laws were passed to protect the public from obscene content, some of which remain on the statute book today – such as the 1984 Video Recordings Act, which brought in the system of video classification we all take for granted. The 1978 Protection of Children Act criminalised for the first time the making of indecent images of children.

As the harms caused by pornography become more and more apparent, the arguments that Whitehouse made are increasingly vindicated.

Online Safety Bill

In recent weeks we’ve had the Government pledge to require all pornographic websites and platforms to introduce age verification measures to protect children.

This move is a welcome one, as 61% of 11-13 year olds who have viewed pornography online describe their viewing as mostly unintentional.

While we should be encouraged that the Government has pledged to take action, we need to be prepared, like Whitehouse, to hold the Government’s feet to the fire and ensure that meaningful age verification is actually implemented. A previous legislative framework, passed in 2017 thanks to the tireless campaigning of our friends at CARE, was, tragically, never implemented.

There is much we can learn from Mary Whitehouse. As Samira Ahmed observes, her evangelical Christian faith guided all of her campaign efforts. And prayer undergirded all that she did.

This first featured on TWR UK’s In My Opinion on 19 March. 

BBC2 is also screening a two part documentary.