Odd this day

4 min readSep 9


Praise be! It is the 52nd anniversary of Mary Whitehouse, Malcolm Muggeridge, Lord Longford and Cliff Richard’s ‘Festival of Light’ launch at Westminster Central Hall, which brought about this splendid headline in the following day’s Yorkshire Post:

Bogus nuns disrupt anti-porn rally

The movement was founded by two missionaries who returned to Britain after four years in India and were appalled by the “moral pollution” they saw around them “eroding the moral fibre of this once great nation”.

This extract from Paul Willetts’ The Look of Love: The Life and Times of Paul Raymond, Soho’s King of Clubs, tells us more about them:

The Responsible Society’s concerns were given a more strident tone by Peter and Janet Hill, a Baptist missionary couple who, in mid-July 1971, announced the Nationwide Festival of Light, a demonstration in support of ‘love and family life’ and against ‘pornography and moral pollution’. The event, scheduled for late September, already had the backing of Lord Longford, Mary Whitehouse, Malcolm Muggeridge, Cliff Richard and the actress Dora Bryan. It was due to begin with 200 beacons being lit all over the country, intended to ‘alert Britain to the dangers of moral pollution which is now eroding the moral fibre of this once great nation’. Two days after that, there would be a rally in Trafalgar Square, followed by a five-hour gospel music concert in Hyde Park. The overambitious organisers predicted that 100,000 people from across Britain would attend this display of moral indignation.

Who could possibly want to disrupt such a wholesome thing? Well, there’s a clue in the phrase ‘family life’, a thing heinously threatened by such horrors as… er, people of the same sex loving each other. Enter stage left the recently formed Gay Liberation Front.

A group of bogus nuns charged the rostrum at a rally held to launch an anti-pornography festival yesterday. Trouble started as Mr. Malcolm Muggeridge, one of the leaders of the Festival of Light, was speaking at the rally at Westminster’s Central Hall. The five “nuns” suddenly got up, joined hands and charged towards him.

It may have been sudden, but it wasn’t unprompted. Getting onto the subject of homosexuality, Muggeridge had said “I don’t like them.” In the words of GLF member Peter Tatchell, “the feeling was mutual”.

Tatchell may have some opinions which… don’t stand up to scrutiny, but I think that one could be described as reasonable.

There are some wonderful pearl-clutching turns of phrase in the report.

Three thousand people in the hall were astonished when the nuns, attractively dressed in blue and white. fended off hefty stewards. But it turned out that some of them were men.

…and more fun was had by Martin Corbett, another GLF organiser, by the simple, time-honoured method of pretending to have authority and therefore being granted it.

During the GLF’s famous disruption of Mary Whitehouse’s Festival of Light, Martin calmly strode into the basement of Westminster Central Hall and ordered out the staff with a wave of “official” authority. He then proceeded to plunge the Festival into darkness by disconnecting the electrical and broadcasting cables, much to the misery of Mrs. Whitehouse, Malcolm Muggeridge and Cliff Richard.

There’s more about the disruption — which included releasing mice, same-sex kissing, and a fake bishop preaching “keep on sinning” — in the excellent (and very balanced) Banned! The Mary Whitehouse Story:

And this was not, of course the last the nation heard of Gay Liberation. Whatever you may think of Peter T, he once wrote this sentence about Martin Corbett’s prop-making work, which I would argue is unimpeachable

A twelve-foot papier-mache cucumber was delivered to the offices of Pan Books in protest at the publication of Dr. David Reuben’s book, Everything You Always Wanted To Ask About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask, which claimed that gay men were obsessed with shoving vegetables up their arses.

…and if you like the headline at the top of this thread, you may enjoy reading more about the University of Essex library’s National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association Archive:

…which includes such gems as this letter from a Tory MP who wasn’t keen on porn (something of a novelty even today), and who saw this as an opportunity to blame Europe for their tide of filth:

Letter to Mary Whitehouse from Teddy Taylor, 19/10/92: Dear Mary, Thank you very much for the pamphlet about the Home Secretary and the outlawing of pornography. I hope that it might be possible to get some kind of response from Ken Clarke about selling ‘access to a porn Channel’ in Manchester. There was nothing we could do as the responsibility lay with the Dutch. I am afraid, like many other issues, the control of pornography is now largely out of our hands, which is tragic and undemocratic
I would be surprised if Teddy Taylor was ever off brand when it came to Those Dirty Europeans

There’s also this, in which — O! halcyon days — the Prime Minister’s office wrote to someone complaining about a broadcaster to say “it would not be appropriate for the Government to intervene”:

thank you for your telegram about “Till Death Us Do Part”. As Parliament has vested in the broadcasting authorities responsibility for the day-to-day management of their affairs, it would not be appropriate for the Government to intervene. Your complaint is therefore one for the Chairman and other Governors of the B.B.C. to consider. I would therefore suggest that you write to Lord Normanbrook about it. Alternatively, if you wish, I will arrange for your complaint to be passed on.
Letter from 10 Downing Street, January 10, 1967

Well, this is going off at a weird tangent

It’s also the 78th anniversary of a moth being found in Harvard’s Mark II computer, giving rise to a story that this was the origin of the phrase ‘debugging’ a computer, but it isn’t.




Purveyor of niche drivel; marker of odd anniversaries

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