LONDON: Britain’s self-appointed arbiters of morals, the Festival of Light, has won an albeit temporary victory against the fair presentation of gay sex on television when Ross McWhirter, better known for compiling the Guinness Book Of Records and meddling in comprehensive education, managed to con the Court of Appeal into stopping ITV’s planned screening of a documentary by photographer David Bailey on Any Warhol, without bothering to see it.
McWhirter, perhaps in an attempt to win a record for stupidity, could not claim any greater knowledge of the programme’s content. He, too, had not seen the documentary made for the Midlands ITV company, ATV, before spending a day getting the law to rush through its due processes with undue, and almost obscene, haste.
He started with Mr Justice Forbes, sitting in private. Judge Forbes dismissed McWhirter’s objection to the programme. Within hours – not the months any mere mortal would have to wait – McWhirter was in the Court of Appeal conning three judges into passing an opinion on the programme none of them had seen.
Lord Justice Cairns said that he didn’t think the court had any right to stop the screening of the programme. But all the same he didn’t think it was the type of thing people should be allowed to see. The other two judges, Denning and Lawton, thought they could judge the programme and meddle in ITV’s schedules.
The trouble started when Lord Longford, whose self-appointed commission into pornography tried to silence sexual liberty, and other Festival of Light trouble-seekers decided they didn’t like the idea of a programme about the American movie-maker and artist that didn’t put him down.
Longford lashed out with his first broadside safe in the knowledge that he knew enough about porn to be able to criticise Bailey’s work on Warhol without moving his ass and bothering to see the film.
What he didn’t like about the movie he hadn’t seen was that he’d heard that the hadn’t seen was that he’d heard the movie Bailey had made for ATV’s documentary spot on the ITV network contained references to and the sight of “homosexuals, lesbians, transvestites” and such like.
“And on the strength of that it ought not to be shown.”
To make matters worse, David Bailey, who appears seemingly nude in bed with Warhol, who remains fully clothed, included footage from Andy Warhol factory movies. During this characters used the word ‘fuck’ four times, Lord Longford had heard. ‘Fuck’ is a word heard more than four times in the average AA-movie in the commercial cinema.
Just as the Festival of Lighters were sitting down eager to be shocked and disgusted by ATV’s cavorting around the New York movie factory the news came that the judges of the Appeal Court had come to the unprecedented decision of letting the Lighters have their way in getting the Warhol documentary banned.
The Independent Broadcasting Authority, the ITA as was, the authority that has the responsibility of making sure that all ITV output is ‘up to standard’, held out longer against the attacks from the Festival of Light than the BBC has of late in its brushes with the Festival and Mary Whitehouse’s National Viewers’ Association, but in the end it was outmanoeuvred by the self-righteous moral guardians who managed to get the programme banned.
Where Longford and the Festival of Light with their usual under-the-counter tactics – usually so effective on Lord Hill and the BBC – failed, Ross McWhirter succeeded.
McWhirter is new to the business of being a clean-up television campaigner, and could be said to have done much to encourage violence by working for the BBC as a rugby commentator. In the past he has battled to get comprehensive school plans scrapped for Enfield where he lives waiting to be discovered for Parliament.
The position at the time of going to press was that the IBA was appealing against the Appeal Court’s ban. At this hearing the judge may actually see the programme instead of dispensing justice blindfold.
Critics in Fleet Street are unhappy about the ban, which they feel smacks of dictatorial censorship.
They are even unhappier that McWhirter got the injunction stopping the screening of the Warhol movie partly through his claims that television critics who’d seen the movie were shocked by it.
John Howkins of Time Out, Tom Hutchinson of the Evening Standard and Elkan Allan of The Sunday Times issued a statement dissociating themselves from McWhirter’s protest.
Tom Hutchinson wrote, in a remarkable front-page attack on the ban in the Standard: ‘Some of the objected-to words are in fact contained within clips from Warhol’s own films which the cinema-going public has already been granted the privilege of seeing or not.
‘Of course, now my appreciation of the film has accelerated. Bailey’s point has been substantiated beyond my first reaction. For it seems very true now, that as Bailey suggests, Warhol is what you make him and what you think he is – even without seeing him’.
When the programme was cancelled, Thames TV, the London week-day television station, was besieged with telephone calls. All of its 84 ones were blocked for 90 minutes, the IBA reported a bigger-than-ever response to any of the programmes the ITV companies had been allowed to show. All the callers were complaining that the documentary had been shelved. Mr McWhirter may claim to represent the silent majority, but the majority, in this case, were against his under-hand, old-school-tie censorship tactics.
Thames compounded the silliness, which Anglia TV had already added to by individually refusing to show the programme, when London viewers were told that there had been a programme change – just that – with no reference to the court battle that had forced the chanage.
During the safe replacement documentary on a Nottingham craft centre – a programme which had been shown before – the BBC had The Old Gray Whistle Test on BBC2, including David Bowie’s Andy Warhol track, from the Hunky Dory album – played in sympathy?
QUOTES: Andy Warhol (in New York): “How quaint. How old-fashioned. Maybe they should see my movies.”
Jimmy Vaughan, Warhol’s European agent: “This is a terrible blow – it is censorship of the worst kind. Surely people have a right to decide what they watch.”
The National Council for Civil Liberties: “While a minority has a right to persuade, it does not have the right to impose its views with the blunt weapon of censorship. The NCCL urges the IBA to show this film at the earliest opportunity and let the viewing public decide on its merits or deficencies.”
Peter Thompson, secretary of the Festival of Light: “Thank God for men like Mr McWhirter.”
David Bailey: “I am amazed that the judges can make the order stopping the film without having seen it. Hitler used to burn books he hadn’t read.”