Did we like it?
Julie Walters gave another of her towering performances as television decency campaigner and guardian of the nation’s morals, Wolverhampton teacher Mary Whitehouse. With great support from Alun Armstrong as her faithful husband, Ernest and Hugh Bonneville as her arch-nemesis, BBC Director-General Sir Hugh Carleton-Greene, this was a wonderful fictionalised portrayal of the struggle between Whitehouse and what she saw as the forces of permissiveness. And it also made you think, because with some of the bilge currently stinking up our TV screens, maybe the old battleaxe wasn’t completely wrong.
What was good about it?
• Julie Walters. Surely a BAFTA awaits? Any performance that can elicit sympathy for such a pious old busybody must deserve an award.
• Alun Armstrong was great as Ernest Whitehouse. Always ready to support Mary and stiffen her resolve, but on hand to rein her in when she got too ahead of herself, and making sure any offensive mail went in the bin before it got to Mary. And it is Ernest who sees that the acronym for the Clean Up National Television campaign isn’t really projecting the right image.
• Mary’s belief that the big, bad world hadn’t got to her home village of Claverley was undermined by a couple of her well done scenes. First, as she’s cycling past her neighbours, we see the wife is sporting a black eye. And when Mary and her second-in-command Nora Buckland do some door to door campaigning, the black lady in the village asks, “Are you the ones putting dog mess through my letterbox? And shouting “Keep England for the English?”
• Sir Hugh Carleton-Greene was portrayed as an unpleasant buffoon by Hugh Bonneville – dismissive of Whitehouse and her campaigning and lusting after his secretaries.
What was bad about it?
• Surely after all the ‘filth’ she’d watched, Mary would have realised that the two men grappling with each other in the woods weren’t engaged in a ‘nature study’?
• It only covered the period up until 1969 – many of her really bonkers complaints were sadly omitted.