words by Gef White
I INADVERTENTLY LANDED Mary Whitehouse in trouble. I’d interviewed her when I was a reporter on the former Evening Tribune, which led to her getting into some legal hot water a few years later, and receiving some negative coverage in the national papers about a Nuneaton ‘sex shop’! Now, for the record, I’ll tell you the true story of that curious episode.
It started when I read in the Sunday Observer that she was born in Nuneaton in 1911 (not 1910 as her Wiki page says) as Constance Mary Hutcheson. So I bought a copy of her birth certificate from the Register Office, then in Hollybush House, Bond Gate. Her birthplace was ‘Croft House’, Croft Road – so I tried to find it. After walking the length of the road, door knocking, I was told that the corner newsagents at the top of Cock & Bear Hill used to be called ‘Croft House’. Then (late 1970s I think) it was called ‘RAM’ newsagents.
Coincidentally our local police had started raiding newsagents and confiscating top-shelf soft porn magazines, and RAM was on their hit list. Meanwhile I contacted Mary via her organisation, The National Viewers and Listeners Association, and invited her to phone me for in an interview – and to my surprise, she did! I wanted to invite her to revisit her birthplace … but it was obviously going to be a tricky phone conversation in the circumstances, given her national role as a campaigner against publicly available sex content.
Nuneaton Magistrates Court had never had an obscene publications case before, but a list of local newsagents found themselves in the dock for selling soft porn. It was a campaign by Nuneaton’s strictly moral Chief Inspector. The all-day case ended about 6pm with a guilty verdict and an order to confiscate and destroy all the seized magazines, of which there were several boxes in the now (almost empty) courtroom. So I helped the two remaining policemen carry them from the court through the underground tunnel to the police station cells area (this was all where the Justice Walk car park is now). They were destined to be incinerated, but I heard later that some ‘went missing’… not me, honest!
When Mary Whitehouse phoned me one evening out of the blue, I asked her to revisit her birthplace. She said she hardly remembered it, as her family had left when she was still a baby, but she’d consider it. I felt it was only right to tell her about the court case involving RAM and his newsagents, her birthplace, and the confiscated sex magazines (a less honest reporter would have let her walk into a trap in these circumstances). She said: “Mr White, I don’t think the ghost of Mary Whitehouse should come and haunt this poor man in these circumstances” and declined my invitation to revisit Nuneaton. (I wrote my exclusive story for the Trib about her refusal.)
When she published ‘Quite Contrary: An Autobiography’ in 1993, she incorrectly recalled this conversation and wrote that she’d heard that her birthplace had become ‘a sex shop’. RAM’s lawyers threated to sue, she had to issue an apology and correction, and the national papers had a field day! By then I’d left journalism for a while, so I kept quiet about what had really happened and why … till now.