Sunday 17 December 2017

Something about Mary

the blood and sex of spartacus: vengeance brings BUSYBODY MARY WHITEHOUSE TO pat stacey's mind

WHAT on earth, I was thinking the other day, would Mary Whitehouse make of Spartacus: Vengeance, which has turned the raunch dial up so much you could momentarily forget you're watching an American cable series about a slave revolt in ancient Rome, and not something you might have surreptitiously purchased on VHS from a market trader in Thomas Street in the 1980s.

If you've never heard the name Mary Whitehouse before, then good for you. You've clearly not lived long enough or suffered sufficiently in this life.

Though she has been dead for more than a decade, Whitehouse -- an ultra-conservative Christian and founder of Britain's misleadingly titled National Viewers and Listeners Association (its membership figures never reflected its lofty sense of self) -- is still a byword for censorship, narrow-mindedness and busybodying interference in other people's cultural lives.

From the early 1960s, the heyday of her "Clean Up TV" campaign, to her retirement in 1994, Whitehouse was a thorn in the side of the BBC. The sheer number and range of programmes she formally complained about -- and the list on her Wikipedia page merely scratches the surface -- is staggering.


She criticised Benny Hill for using dancers on his show and branded Dave Allen "offensive, indecent and embarrassing". She damned Till Death Us Do Part's Alf Garnett for his language ("I doubt if many people would use 121 bloodies in half-an-hour") and described Doctor Who as "teatime brutality for tots".

Bizarrely, she even complained when Panorama repeated Richard Dimbleby's famous coverage of the 1945 liberation of the Belsen concentration camp, calling it "filth" that was "bound to shock and offend".

Whitehouse's No 1 hate figure was legendary BBC chairman Hugh Greene, a moderniser who blew the cobwebs off the stuffy Corporation in the '60s and made it reflect the social changes of the time through series such as Steptoe and Son, That Was the Week That Was, The Wednesday Play strand and Z Cars, the most realistic police drama of the time.

Whitehouse said she held him personally responsible for "the moral collapse" of Britain. Among many other achievements, Greene -- whose antagonistic relationship with Whitehouse was dramatised in a terrifically acidic 2008 BBC film called Filth! The Mary Whitehouse Story -- introduced the plays of arguably the greatest television writer of all, Dennis Potter, to British and Irish viewers.

If Whitehouse considered Greene to be the devil himself, Potter, whose works included the groundbreaking Pennies From Heaven and the hugely controversial and divisive Blackeyes, starring a frequently nude Gina Bellman (currently to be seen in Leverage, showing on FX), was the antichrist.

It was BBC4's repeat of Potter's semi-autobiographical 1986 classic The Singing Detective on Wednesday nights that brought the ghost of Whitehouse flickering to mind. Though Potter's dazzling, multi-layered fantasia of music, murder mystery and raw, personal drama is a television landmark and regarded as his finest work, Whitehouse hated it for a sex scene in the woods involving actors Patrick Malahide and Alison Steadman.

With The Singing Detective back on the box and Spartacus slashing, hacking and bonking his way through everything but the horses, it's tempting to imagine Whitehouse and Potter, who died in 1994, arguing on in the afterlife for all eternity. But that's probably unlikely -- and not just because of the lack of an afterlife. For all the irritations she must have caused him, Potter reportedly had a grudging respect for Whitehouse and the way she stuck to her guns in the face of widespread ridicule.

Ironic, really. But then irony is one of a dramatist's greatest tools.

>LOST AND FOUND Television is forever in search of the Next Big Thing to top the Previous Big Thing. FlashForward was supposed to be the new Lost, until everyone figured out that it wasn't even up to being the current FlashForward.

Pan Am was supposed to be the new Mad Men, but unless its ratings in the US start to gain some altitude fast it's going to have to be renamed 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea'.

Which brings us to Homeland being touted as the new 24, if only because its developers Howard Gordon and Alex Ganza also worked on that series.

Homeland is most definitely not the new 24. Entertaining as Kiefer Sutherland repeatedly saving the world is, it's still absurd hokum. Everything that has happened in Homeland, on the other hand, is frighteningly plausible. That's what makes it so gripping.

>TRAILER BLAZING Keep an eye on the opening minutes of tonight's Irish Film & Television Awards ceremony on RTE1 for an elaborate spoof trailer for a non-existent film called Confused, featuring a jumble of chase scenes, heated confrontations and bizarre flashbacks. Chris O'Dowd, who appears in it alongside Stephen Rae, Amy Huberman and IFTA host Simon Delaney, said: "It's a crazy movie trailer for a stupid film that doesn't know what it's about."

Sounds a lot like some of the nominations.

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