Reference and contact details: GB
Title: National Viewers' and Listeners' Association Collection
Dates of creation: 1970-1990
Held at: Special Collections, Albert Sloman Library, University of Essex
Extent: 30 metres
Name of Creator: National Viewers' and Listeners' Association
Level of Description: fonds
Language of Material: English
This collection comprises the papers of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association, which was established by Mary Whitehouse (b. 1910-d. 2001) and others in 1965, to act as a watchdog and pressure group for decency in broadcasting.
Mary Whitehouse's life and aims may be summarised in brief as follows: she was born in 1910 in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. Her mother was a committed Christian who imparted to Mary her profound faith, while from her artistic father she acquired a life-long interest in the arts, and consequently became an art teacher. She married Ernest Whitehouse in 1940; they had three sons.
During her teaching career at Madeley School in Shropshire, Mary Whitehouse came increasingly to believe that a direct connection could be made between television standards and her pupils' moral outlook on life. In 1963, Mary Whitehouse, together with her husband Ernest and the Reverend Basil and Mrs Norah Buckland, launched the Clean-Up TV Campaign. Half a million signatures were gathered and a petition was presented to the Governors of the BBC. But Mary Whitehouse was convinced that this did not have sufficient impact. So in September 1964, she outlined her views on television standards in a Birmingham public meeting, famously declaring: 'if violence is shown as normal on the television screen it will help to create a violent society'. In 1965, she founded the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association (NVALA).
Mary Whitehouse consistently claimed that her intention was not to restrict the media but to improve standards. She thus recognised the media's power, and believed that it could directly influence society's values.
NVALA immediately set about pressuring television authorities. In 1972, NVALA launched the Petition for Public Decency, backed by 1.5 million signatures. Such initiatives may have borne fruit. Certainly, simultaneously, several Parliamentary acts were passed. The Protection of Children Act in 1978 made child pornography illegal, and in 1981 the Indecent Displays Act was passed. NVALA campaigning also led to the establishment in 1989 of a media advisory body - the Broadcasting Standards Council (BSC). Meanwhile, the association sought to praise good programmes by presenting awards.
Mary Whitehouse was president of NVALA for thirty years. She courted controversy and opposition and was widely vilified for her views. Official recognition for her campaigning for better standards in British media was accorded her in 1980, when she was awarded CBE. She corresponded regularly with leading politicians, appeared frequently in conferences and television shows to promote NVALA in the United Kingdom and overseas, and also wrote a number of books. She lived in Ardleigh, near Colchester, Essex. On her retirement, John C. Beyer took over as director of NVALA, which became eventually Mediawatch-UK.
The archive includes a considerable body of correspondence by Mary Whitehouse, to leading politicians and key persons in various successive UK governments and television stations, as well as letters of complaint by members of the public. Also included are notes for books and publications by NVALA, newsletters both local and foreign, newspaper cuttings, photographs of Mary Whitehouse's overseas tours, and audiovisual material.
The collection has come to the Albert Sloman Library in various batches, giving rise to five separate sections. Section 1 was received in 1993; Section 2 was in 2000, Section 3 in 2001 (John Beyer's correspondence), and Section 4 in 2002. Section 5 is a miscellaneous collection of unsorted material received in 1999 relating to various items and issues central to NVALA's objectives.
The content may be summarised as follows:
Section 1: Correspondence praising Mary Whitehouse; complaints by viewers over programmes; NVALA constitution and publications; executive committee meetings; NVALA accounts; publications on various issues, such as blasphemy, cable TV and broadcasting by satellite, obscene publications, pornography, school children's viewing habits, AIDs, videos; NVALA newsletter; regional executive committees; monitoring surveys of TV, film, theatre content; monitoring drink and violence on radio and TV, as well as human relationships; films and film broadcasting on TV objected to by NVALA, as well as theatre productions, records, books, and radio programmes objectionable to NVALA; viewers' correspondence; correspondence with BBC top personnel; petitions and reports by NVALA to the BBC; correspondence with chairmen and directors general of ITA and IBA; correspondence with various government ministers, plus questionnaires given to ministers; Annan Committee on the future of broadcasting; Williams Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship; bills and parliamentary acts relating to obscenity, including posters and advertisements about the need for legal changes; material associated with books about and by Mary Whitehouse, including correspondence, press cuttings, speeches, articles and drafts; Mary Whitehouse on television and radio, including correspondence, transcripts, newspaper articles relating to her media appearances; correspondence with and from members of the public, and with the Church, the Order of Christian Unity, and the Conservative Family Campaign; issues central to NVALA campaigns: sex education, pornography, sex shops, videos, Cable TV, violence on TV, alleged subversive tendencies in the media, homosexuality, race relations, drink and drugs, censorship, Nationwide Festival of Light, ABUSE (Action to Ban Sexual Exploitation of Children), Albany Trust and PIE (Paedophile Information Exchange); the Responsible Society, Family Planning Association and other forums and organisations; overseas correspondence and Mary Whitehouse's visits to the USA, Australia and South Africa; John Beyer's correspondence as organising secretary; and miscellaneous press cuttings
Section 2: Comprises NVALA executive committee papers and regional branch group papers; campaigns outlawing pornography; campaigns about religious education and sex education; general correspondence and correspondence on specific issues, such as child abuse; Mary Whitehouse's tour of Britain
Section 3: John Beyer's correspondence from 1988 to 1999; office diaries from 1988 to 1994; miscellaneous papers and correspondence; newspaper cuttings; letters to and from NVALA; NVALA responses to government measures; reports and publications
Section 4: Correspondence with solicitors; NVALA accounts and finances; Mary Whitehouse's correspondence with 10 Downing Street, with Margaret Thatcher and John Major, as well as various other politicians; John Beyer's correspondence; NVALA publications; convention speeches
Section 5: Various issues of concern to NVALA, such as abortion, alcoholism, drugs, violence, homosexuality and AIDS; BBC programmes monitored from 1985 to 1995; information on various organisations both local and foreign sympathetic to NVALA aims; newspaper cuttings; letters and complaints by members of the public alerting NVALA to certain television episodes, or theatrical productions.
Papers, photographs and audiovisual material are ordered in numbered boxes and are arranged as follows:
The papers were held by the NVALA until various batches deposits were with the Albert Sloman Library in 1993, 2000, 2001 and 2002.
In consultation with academic colleagues, the library special collections acquisitions staff evaluate collections by assessing their relevance to the teaching and research interests of the University.
It is unlikely that the collection will be added to, but the possibility should not be ruled out entirely.
By written application to either the Librarian or Deputy Librarian. A letter of introduction may be required and prospective users will be obliged to sign an undertaking outlining the terms and conditions of access to the research materials.
No part of the Special Collections material may be reproduced, published, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the Albert Sloman Library. This may be obtained by application to the Librarian or Deputy Librarian.
Special Collections, Albert Sloman Library, University of Essex.
A record for all materials in the Special Collection is available via the Albert Sloman Library, Special Collections web page.
This record was compiled by David Borg-Muscat, UK Data Archive, using entries from:
Albert Sloman Library (2000) A Note on Special Collections, (University of Essex: Albert Sloman Library), p. 5.