As this programme started, I thought for a moment that Hyacinth Bucket was Going Mad in Dorset as Julie Walters cycled through a village past knitting pattern families. The retro effects were confusing as we got not Flanders and Swann but Armstrong and Miller singing Pee po belly bum drawers (I’m sure it was them but the credits were squashed and talked over and the BBC website is hopeless on the subject), and surely I spotted Mary wearing a Cath Kidston pinny?
The writer, Amanda Coe, chose to tell the story as an obsessive battle between Mrs Whitehouse and Hugh Carleton Green, the Director General of the BBC and included a ridiculous scene in which Mrs W had an erotic dream about him. The play had a problem, I think, in deciding whose side to be on. Surely, the side of whichever character was played by Julie Walters? :-) But she was playing a small minded provincial woman who had never heard of oral sex and made herself ridiculous complaining about That Was The Week That Was, Beatles’ lyrics and even, eventually, Pinky and Perky. To those of us who were young at the time she was indeed a figure of fun and she certainly was wrong to think that most people agreed with her; I knew a rather grand woman and pillar of the Church who was glued to Till Death Us Do Part every week.
Watching this programme though, I was struck by the intolerable smugness of Green (brilliant Hugh Bonneville), which reminded me of the dusty answers listeners get when they write to Radio 4’s Feedback programme. It’s always, ‘We know best’. Mrs Whitehouse was badly treated by him and by the BBC and you have to admire her as a feisty campaigner who stood up for what she believed in and made people listen to her. Did she make any difference? Probably not, apart from the introduction of the watershed, but programme makers must be getting something wrong as viewing figures for terrestrial TV continue to fall. The last laugh?