As someone who can now perhaps be regarded as the founding mother of modern cancel culture, Mary Whitehouse cast her net far and wide in the 1970s after springing to prominence as the high priestess of provincial opposition to the Swinging 60s. If what was known as The Establishment did its utmost to stem the tide of permissiveness and moral decay by using its in-bred influence to target pop aristocracy with drug busts that promised prison sentences, Whitehouse represented the middle-class, conservative voice of sanity for the W.I. backbone of traditional Great British values centred around deference, the Church of England and the Queen. Once established as a household name with clout, Whitehouse tackled pornography, X certificate cinema, the theatre, gay rights et al; anything she perceived as a threat to her worldview fell under her outraged gaze and she embarked on a fresh campaign to ban it. Either allied with fellow moral crusaders like Lord Longford and Malcolm Muggeridge under the Festival of Light banner or working as head of her National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association, Mary Whitehouse’s ravenous appetite for stamping out liberal decadence eventually meant her disapproval became a badge of honour for those she pursued. One of the UK’s leading ‘girlie magazines’ was even amusingly named after her.
However, Mary Whitehouse’s first love was always the BBC. It’s interesting that the Whitehouse torch has today been picked up by the other side, so that the demographic she would have viewed as the enemy 50 years ago is now the one upholding her traditions; yet at the height of her powers, the Beeb – and particularly its television output – was at the vanguard of Britain’s Cultural Revolution. Yes, she was especially infuriated by the ‘Wednesday Play’ brand of gritty, groundbreaking drama, but she also found what she regarded as the increasing coarseness of sitcoms objectionable. ‘Till Death Us Do Part’ was a favourite target, though a memorable episode responded to her criticisms by making Alf Garnett a self-confessed supporter of the Whitehouse mission. By the early 70s, she even had a go at programmes produced for a family audience that could count the majority of the country’s children amongst their viewers. ‘Doctor Who’ attracted her attention during this period, though Whitehouse was not alone in feeling the show was taking the fear factor too far.
‘Terror of the Autons’ was a 1971 adventure for the Timelord in his Earth-exiled incarnation of Jon Pertwee. This story dealt with the invasion plans of an alien intelligence and centred on its ability to control plastic; it was able to breathe life into shop window mannequins as well as manufacturing ‘Autons’, humanoid figures it could animate to pose as the real thing. The scene that landed the series in hot water concerned two policemen the Doctor and his sidekick Jo had accepted a lift from; when the Doc became suspicious, he reached out to one of the coppers and ripped the rubber mask from his face to reveal the blank, featureless countenance of an Auton! The memorable scene that followed on a classic quarry location involved the fake policemen taking pot-shots at our heroes, emphasising nobody could be trusted in this scary new landscape, not even the humble Bobby on the beat. Mary Whitehouse was suitably outraged that the bedrock of her orderly society was being presented as a potential threat to the nation’s children, but the police authorities were equally furious that their attempts at convincing kids a policeman was the one grownup stranger they could trust were being undone.
Marianne Faithfull once reflected that the drugs bust she and the Stones were subjected to in 1967 trashed her naive faith in the police as the ultimate paragons of fair play, the line she’d been fed since childhood; but within a decade the dubious activities of coppers higher up the food chain had become headline news with exposures of across-the-board corruption at Scotland Yard. That a TV show such as ‘Doctor Who’ should even tap into this, albeit accidentally, is interesting, yet the slow erosion of trust in the police force that was once a given has never really gone away. If anything, it has continued apace with a succession of highly-publicised scandals, each one serving to erode that trust even further. The past decade has lifted the lid on the kind of corruption that often makes the bent bastards operating at the Yard in the 70s seem rather quaint by comparison, and the Met has remained the standard bearer, whether via its incestuous relationship with News International or its appalling collusion with the likes of the repugnant Carl Beech and its practice of fitting up innocent men as paedos. Credible and true indeed.
Even if we put the laughably desperate ‘Woke’ leanings of the force to one side for a moment and ignore the LGBTXYZ Cars, the way in which the police freely interpreted lockdown restrictions last year stretched the lingering vestiges of trust on the part of the public to breaking point; this as much as anything else successfully persuaded the masses that if the boys in blue are policing by anybody’s consent, it is not that of the masses but the powers-that-be. Sticking to the nation’s premier force and its illustrious track record, we can see that under the disastrous stewardship of Cressida Dick the Met has plumbed new depths of unaccountability. Calls for the Met’s head to quit are something many have been demanding for a long time – and for reasons other than the activities of Wayne Couzens taking place on her watch; yet the publicising of one especially rotten apple is more than enough for that demand to be renewed.
The murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer was shocking enough, but the revelation that he abused his position of trust, enticing his victim by flashing his warrant card and staging a mock arrest on the grounds of breaking Covid restrictions in order to carry out his sickening crime, has tarnished the force’s reputation even further. Had Wayne Couzens been an ordinary member of the public his crime would be reprehensible enough, but that he should have been a member of a profession that still bases its reputation upon trust somehow adds a grotesque layer onto his vile actions. One could argue his rare punishment of a whole life sentence was reached because of this, for it’s doubtful a young woman walking down a quiet street alone would have voluntarily consented to depart with a complete stranger had he not played upon the inherited belief in the probity of the police. Of course, the politicisation of this particular murder in a way that has heaped shame upon all of those who have indulged in such shameless exploitation hasn’t helped, yet some of the shit that has hit the fan in the wake of it beggars belief.
Cressida Dick now apparently recommends any woman stopped by a lone plain-clothes policeman should hail a passing bus (should one happen to be passing) on the off-chance he should be a rapist in disguise. If this is the case, how the hell can anyone in a vulnerable position be expected to trust a stranger whose warrant card is no longer a guarantee of safe passage? The stories that have emerged since the sentencing of Wayne Couzens suggest he was a career predator with questionable behaviour that triggered few warning signs as he was transferred around Home Counties forces with no vetting system in place. According to some sources, he had even been nicknamed ‘The Rapist’, which is unnervingly reminiscent of how Peter Sutcliffe had been nicknamed ‘The Ripper’ by co-workers at the haulage firm he was employed by long before he was finally outed as the real deal. But, again, the fact Couzens was a serving police officer utterly undermines any remaining trust in the institution even further. And if the police cannot be trusted, who can be? Maybe, in her own roundabout way, Mary Whitehouse was asking the same question half-a-century ago. Sadly ironic innit.
© The Editor