Leading Article: Final credits for a telly addict

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AN AMIABLE, jolly, mumsy, pernicious, bigoted, publicity-seeking, silly, grey-haired old thing. So farewell, Mary Whitehouse, after 30 years of campaigning for less sex and violence on television. The director of private prosecutions (as she was once called) is ending her self-appointed watch. Some broadcasters welcome her departure, others treat it with studied indifference. 'I don't think she has had any effect at all,' said Michael Grade.

Yet, lately, Mrs Whitehouse has become almost fashionable. Even the most liberal linen suits are a little fatigued with the youthful ya-boo excesses of programmes like Mr Grade's The Word; to suggest, in the wake of the James Bulger trial and Professor Elizabeth Newson's recent report, that violent videos affect behaviour is no longer to invite automatic ejection from where chatterers gather. The old bat, the feeling now goes, may well have had a point all these years.

She did. But there is a lazy and arrogant assumption of a monopoly on right-thinking among our broadcasters which does not take particularly kindly to lectures from stridently-Christian non-graduate middle-aged women. Sir Hugh Carleton-Greene, the great liberalising BBC director-general, ordained that her views were of no importance and that she should not be interviewed. A more sensible view comes from Bill Cotton, one of his executives: 'She reminded you that part of your audience resented what you were doing in their living rooms.'

A point, though, with bad flaws. She must take a large responsibility for the curious association of sex and violence as activities equally to be deplored. She always seemed unable to allow any artistic purpose or justification. For Mary, heaving buttocks were always going to be heaving buttocks. But she did, in the face of any amount of sneers - and almost singlehandedly in the Sixties - keep an entertaining and important debate going. Thank you, Mary. Now turn it off and read a good book instead.

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