The Way I Was: What I wanted to tell the BBC: Mary Whitehouse describes to Nicholas Roe the day she was put in charge of sex education

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I WAS 13, so this would be 1923, and I'd just won a school bursarship which committed me to going into teaching. If I hadn't won that bursarship at that point, and if I hadn't therefore gone into teaching, then nothing of what has happened to me over the last 30 years would have taken place.

I went through college, and in 1962 I had this marvellous job as head of the art department with a school in Telford.

On my first day the headmaster said, 'Mrs Whitehouse, this school has been chosen as one of five in the West Midlands to do some pioneering work in the field of sex education. As senior mistress you will be responsible for the girls.' I nearly died.

Then, the following year brought the Profumo scandal, Mandy Rice-Davies, the permissive society, the Wednesday Play, late-night satires . . . hardly a day went by when there wasn't a row about what was going on at the BBC.

And in the summer of 1963 I had to deal with five situations at school, all to do with television, and pretty well all of a sexual nature. I had a home, a husband, a job and a family. I didn't want a campaign, but I thought to myself, 'I'll tell the BBC, they're sure to want to change their ways when they realise what effect they're having.' Simple fashion.

I got to see Harman Grisewood, the deputy director-general, and eventually arranged a little supper party in a semi-detached house with him, his wife and five of the children from school.

I shall never forget it as long as I live. Harman Grisewood sitting at the end of the settee and at the other end was Pauline, a 14-year-old girl, and she turned to him and said, 'My parents are separated. I don't think they wanted to be because they came back together three times . . . don't you think it would be wonderful if the BBC could put on plays which would show people like them how to work through their difficulties?'

His eyes filled with tears. He wrote to me later and said, 'I shall never forget what Pauline said to me.' But shortly afterwards, he resigned.

That autumn things got worse. When I'd had that experience with the children I thought it was right to tell the BBC. I thought no further than that. But when that had no impression, we decided we would get up a petition with our friends, the Bucklands.

We had 2,000 forms printed demanding that they clean up TV, but then we didn't know what to do with them, and I was looking at the forms one day and I suddenly thought, 'Hey, why don't I ring up the Evening Mail in Birmingham?'

So I telephoned and a journalist appeared and said, 'What are you going to do next?' I told him that I hadn't really got an idea.

He said, 'Will you be holding a public meeting?'

I said, 'Yes. Next question?'

He said, 'Where will you hold it - Birmingham Town Hall?'

I said, 'Yes.'

So there was I, without one name on our petition, committed to a public meeting in Birmingham Town Hall, which holds 2,000 people.

You have no idea what it was like. I was teaching all day and coming back to 250 to 300 letters a day from all over the country sending for these forms. We had them all over the lounge floor, and on the day of the meeting I was praying, I thought, 'Lord, just give us 250.'

The Times the next morning said that perhaps never before in the history of Birmingham Town Hall had there been such a meeting. It was packed beyond capacity, and from that time it's continued being extraordinary.

These have been the most remarkable 30 years in every way. I've been the equivalent of twice round the world. I've been to the United States, Canada, every European country, and at the heart of it all was the fact that children were at risk. That is the original point: care for the children. It evolved and had its own momentum.

But the girl in the photograph would throw up her hands at all this and say, 'Come on, what's next?'

I remember cycling round the Cheshire lanes, and whenever I think about that I remember being at the top of a hill, letting go of my handlebars and flying down . . .

Mary Whitehouse is founder and president of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association.

(Photograph omitted)

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