History, University of Birmingham
In the October of 1972, the popular programme Till Death Us Do Part joked that God and the Virgin Mary had not had any more children except Jesus Christ because they were on the pill. What followed was illuminating: a backlash from Mary Whitehouse’s devout following of social conservatives demonstrated the specific anxieties in 1970s Britain over issues surrounding religion and ‘liberated’ sexualities, and how these anxieties flared up when faced with the supposedly changing attitudes towards abortion, divorce, sexuality, and Christianity in Britain from the 1950s onwards.
This is one piece of a much larger, unexplored puzzle: in a decade which historians typically characterise by the experience of left-wing progressives, people were mobilising against a perceived threat to their conservative utopia of a God-loving, disciplined and innately Victorian-values based society, via a plethora of actions, from the small act of letter writing to the more violent acts seen in far-right groups. This project will explore the different individuals and movements from the conservative (small ‘c’ and big ‘C’) section of the British past, such as: “Youth Impact” clubs across Britain, the Catholic Young Men’s Society, Youth Watch Committees, the Public Morality Council, Mary Whitehouse and the National Viewers and Listeners Association, The Nationwide Festival of Light, and the Community Standards Association. At a national level, the project will look at events such as the Lane Committee Report on the Abortion Act, and the attitudes of prominent individuals such as Margaret Thatcher. It will unpack their adherence to supposed ‘traditional values’ and opposition to challenges to the established order. The aim of the project is to paint a bigger picture of Britain in crisis; of Britons trying to navigate the new moral landscape of Page Three, ‘moral laxity’, ‘video-nasties’ and the “undermining [of] family life” as a whole, whilst still carrying their personal ideological baggage of ‘traditional’ values, Christian faith and patriotic nostalgia. It will ultimately explore how social and political conservatives draw on systems of the past in order to shape the present when faced with perceived immorality. The project will use 1950 as its starting point – the decade in which the aforementioned groups and individuals begin to crop up – and end with 1990, after the tumultuous decade of the AIDS crisis, Margaret Thatcher, and the notorious Section 28.
Supervisors and Institution(s):
Professor Matthew Houlbrook (University of Birmingham)
Dr Christopher Moores (University of Birmingham)
Dr Matthew Francis (University of Birmingham)