Belfast Telegraph

Why Whitehouse is now a pin-up for Sixties chicks

By Robert McNeil

The trend for former advocates of the permissive society to acknowledge the error of their ways is vaguely reminiscent of show trials in Stalin's Russia.

They're all confessing, coming out — as it were — and reassessing the value of Mary Whitehouse, whose view on underpants was that they should mostly remain up.

The latest convert is Dame Joan Bakewell, now 77, and known in the sexy Sixties as “the thinking man's crumpet”.

I met her once, many years ago, though she didn't know it was me, and it was not exactly socially. I suppose in a way I was serving her.

The transaction didn't go well and, gauche as usual, I made a complete bags of the proceedings.

She was, of course, quite famous. She'd been on the telly and everything.

I'm sure she caught the flicker of recognition in my eye. I was on the desk selling tickets for a historical exhibition.

When I saw her, I became flustered in the traditional manner and, for some reason, asked her if she was unemployed and qualified for a concession.

I don't know why I did it. I suppose I was trying to treat her as a normal person whereas, in the end, with her being a bit posh, I expect I insulted her, not just by suggesting she was unemployed but by not recognising her.

My face went crimson. She asked questions about the exhibition, and at least I was able to be helpful there, replying: “I think it's something to do with history”; “I don't know”; and “Yes, this is all my own hair.”

Joan famously had an affair with the late playwright Harold Pinter.

“The Sixties,” she says, “was a good time to have an affair.”

She doesn't repudiate the decade completely.

She's more unhappy about today: middle-shelf magazines full of half-naked ladies; violent porn on the internut; drunken gals lying in the gutter with their skirts around their earlobes.

She believes the Sixties weren't so sordid, but that the above mentioned Whitehouse, M was correct to worry about sex being everywhere, thereby devaluing it.

Some of you youngsters might not have heard of Mary Whitehouse. She set up the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association (complete with apostrophes: those were the days), which campaigned against smut.

She became a figure of fun, out of step with the times.

Today, her former adversaries are retracing their steps with regret.

Germaine Greer used to be well up for it, but now comes down against it.

In her youth, she was so highly sexed she even described singer Engelbert Humperdinck as “horny-making”.

Cor. Wouldn't those sideboards tickle? Now she thinks there's too much of it about.

Sex, I mean, not sideboards.

Others — not necessarily bad girls — have joined in. The Sunday Times quoted actress Maureen Lipman bemoaning studs in the nether regions, novelist Fay Weldon saying love was rare now, and singer Kiki Dee complaining about raunchy pop videos.

Kiki says: “Some of the things Mary Whitehouse said were very, very sensible — though I remember being irritated by her at the time.”

Talk about what goes around comes around. In the Sixties, Mrs Whitehouse represented the past.

Today, she's the future. Not for prudish reasons. But because “permissiveness” has become boring and shallow.

The rude gals in the media aren't sexy, because they're not “real”.

Gals in the gutter find themselves unloved and unwanted.

And the only men that ladies with genital jewellery attract are those with large magnets.

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