Thursday, May 29, 2008

Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story

I missed Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story (written by Amanda Coe and starring Julie Walters) last night but in The Guardian, Nancy Banks Smith sings the drama's praises and reflects on a bygone era.
It opened with Mrs Whitehouse cycling to church past picture-postcard cottages and whitewashed picket fences (oblivious to the occasional wife with a black eye). The background music was a jaunty version of "Ma's out, Pa's out. Let's talk rude. Pee, po, belly, bum, drawers." We might have had better luck with that one in the Eurovision Song Contest. She was 50 and looked as if she should be advertising Fairy soap, but she would soon meet the tsunami of the 60s head on.

Hugh Carleton Greene was a journalist who had reported the German invasion of Poland to the sleeping Poles and had seen all he ever intended to see of censorship. He was director general of the BBC throughout the 60s, arching over the decade like a great greenhouse. Under his beneficent protection, fresh talent flowered extravagantly: Till Death, Z Cars, the Wednesday Play and That Was the Week, which was modelled at his suggestion on pre-Nazi cabarets. They stopped the world. On certain nights the nation swarmed home like bees to the hive and, next day on the bus, buzzed of nothing else. I felt then, and have not felt since, that television really mattered.

1 comment:

  1. Posted on behalf of Gordon Bowker:

    Filth' was highly entertaining and Julie Walters gave a fine performance, though Mary Whitehouse herself was, I think,
    rather nastier and censorious than Julie was able to make her.

    Where the programme went completely wrong for me was in its portrayal of David Turner, the Birmingam playwright who became the particular target of her bile. He was portrayed as a morose and aggressive Black Country Angry Young Man, a portrait far far removed from the hilarious reality.

    I knew David Turner - he taught me drama for a year at a Birmingham College, and was the most charismatic and unforgettable person I've ever met - and I've interviewed the likes of Peter O'Toole and John Huston in my time.

    Turner was a very intense, larger-than life character, a graduate in French from Birmingham University who set himself the task of writing plays for the English stage which embodied the spirit of Moliere. So his sights were set very high. He was the first writer-in-residence at Coventry's Belgrave Theatre, where his play 'Semi-Detached' gave Leonard Rossiter his first success. I believe that David would have made a greater impact on the theatre had he not been diverted by the more immediate rewards of television and radio - he wrote for 'The Archers' until he was fired for writing peristently and wickedly against the official storyline. 'Swizzlewick', I think, was his satirical take on the Ambridge soap-saga.

    He had a strong streak of impishness which was only intensified by his strange appearance and presence. He had a great crown of blond curly hair, a slightly flushed face and a powerful and beautifully modulated voice which often soared into an explosion of infectious laughter. (There was a faint trace of Brummy in the accent but it required a keen ear to detect it.)

    The sense of nervous energy he gave off was sometimes overpowering and he quickly swept his students - and no doubt actors and directors - up into the tides of his enthusiasms. He was even enthusiatic about his entanglements with Mary Whitehouse and once, shaking with laughter, told me that he was enormously proud of the fact that he had more mentions than anyone else in Whitehouse's books.

    If the director of 'Filth' was aware of David's extraordinary magnetic personality I can see why he chose to play down the
    character. Represented faithfully he would have stolen the show and even out-Bonnevilled the excellent Hugh Bonneville.

    Gordon Bowker


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