National Viewers' and Listeners' Association Collection

Scope and Content

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.

Administrative / Biographical History

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.


Papers, photographs and audiovisual material are ordered in numbered boxes and are arranged as follows:

  • Section 1: 
    • Boxes 1 to 18: the NVALA, constitution, conventions and publications - Executive Committee minutes from March 1965 to 1991, plus membership lists, letters and related documents; annual accounts for various years; various conventions; publications including reports and booklets - NVALA newsletter from Spring 1969 to Summer 1988; branch files and Midlands Regional Council; memoranda and circulars.
    • Boxes 19 to 36: monitoring TV, films, theatrical productions - files on individual controversial films; films broadcast on television; television programmes; theatrical productions; records; books, radio programmes.
    • Boxes 37 to 53: BBC/IBA; Mary Whitehouse / viewers' correspondence - articles by Sir Michael Swann; BBC correspondence, from several directors general and chairmen; BBC related material, press cuttings, papers, BBC policy and practice; also correspondence with ITA [later IBA] and ITV companies.
    • Boxes 54 to 68: politicians, legal matters, Parliament, litigation, questionnaires sent to MPs; Mary Whitehouse's correspondence with MPs, with the Attorney General, with the Home Office and Home Secretary, with 10 Downing Street, with the Postmaster General / Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, with various politicians and party leaders; Annan Committee on the Future of Broadcasting; Williams Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship; Stoporn Now campaign (No to Williams); Gay News blasphemy case; Committee on Privacy; Cinematograph and Indecent Displays Bill; Indecent Displays (Control) Bill; Mary Whitehouse, litigation (1965-86)
    • Boxes 69 to 76: Books, articles etc by and about Mary Whitehouse, materials used by Mary Whitehouse for her various books, including reviews, correspondence, press cuttings, typescripts and proof copies of books; interviews of Mary Whitehouse; TV and radio slots featuring Mary Whitehouse; typescripts of books about NVALA and Mary Whitehouse.
    • Boxes 77 to 94: Mary Whitehouse's correspondence, letters from members of the public; correspondence and press cuttings relating to the award of CBE to Mary Whitehouse; correspondence and press cuttings relating to Mary Whitehouse's UK tour; correspondence with churches; correspondence with the Conservative Family Campaign.
    • Boxes 95 to 123: Issues, organisations and individuals: sex education; pornography; sex shops; videos; cable television; violence on television and its effects; subversion (alleged left-wing bias in the media); homosexuality; race relations; drink and drugs; censorship; 'evidence' files containing correspondence, press cuttings etc on a range of issues; 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; National Coalition on Television Violence (USA) and International Coalition Against Violent Entertainment; Community Standards Association; GLC debate on film censorship; Hastings report; Brunel Conference on Censorship, 1975; National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs; Institute of Contemporary Arts; Family Forum; Law Society; Royal Television Society; Reports (non-NVALA); and various correspondents.
    • Boxes 124 to132: Mary Whitehouse's overseas correspondence, tours and visits: visit to the USA in 1972; to Australia and New Zealand in 1973; Australia and New Zealand in 1978; Australia in 1984; South Africa in 1976.
    • Boxes 133 to 142: John Beyer's correspondence from 1976 to 1990.
    • Boxes 143 to146: press cuttings - miscellaneous.
    • Box 147: Audio visual material: obscene publications; audio cassettes of speeches at Annual Conventions, from 1980 to 1987; Videotape of The Late Show feature entitled 'The Mary Whitehouse Story'.
  • Section 2: 
    • Box 1: Executive committee papers
    • Box 2: Minutes and accounts
    • Box 3: Midland Regional Council papers
    • Boxes 4 to 6: Regional branch group papers
    • Box 7: Constitution; conventions 1970 to 74; Awards 1970 to 71.
    • Box 8: Publications
    • Box 9: Publications, campaigns to outlaw pornography
    • Box 10: Clean-up TV Campaign 1964-65
    • Boxes 11 and 12: Save Religious Education Campaign
    • Box 13: 1968/69 TV Licence Campaign
    • Box 14: Sex education
    • Box 15: Programme surveys 1966
    • Boxes 16 to 20: correspondence with MPs, with the BBC, general correspondence, as well as newspaper cuttings for 'new book'
    • Box 21: Newspaper articles (1950s)
    • Boxes 22 to 28: speeches; TV appearances and radio broadcast (1978), conferences attended 1973, and appointments 1971 and 1973; Tour of Britain, 1979-1980; photographs
  • Section 3: 
    • John Beyer's correspondence from 1988 to 1999
    • Office diaries 1988 to 1994
    • Two files of correspondence
    • Seven boxes of miscellaneous papers
    • News paper cuttings, letters to NVALA from members of the public, and replies
    • NVALA's responses to government measures
    • Reports and miscellaneous publications
  • Section 4:
    • Box 1: Correspondence with NVALA solicitors 1979 to 1983 and 1991 to 1992
    • Box 2: NVALA accounts, 1988 to 1993
    • Box 3: NVALA Executive Committee minutes and papers, 1976 to 1992
    • Box 4: Mary Whitehouse correspondence with 10 Downing Street, including twenty-five letters from Margaret Thatcher and ten from John Major, as well as correspondence from various MPs
    • Box 5: Mary Whitehouse, speeches and articles 1976 to 1993
    • Box 6: NVALA Convention speeches 1977 to 1991, and Conservative Party Conference 1989
    • Box 7: NVALA Publications
    • Box 8: Monitoring surveys, 1975 to 1996
    • Box 9: Video Recordings Bill (1984), Correspondence on Obscene Publications Act (1959), NVALA publications - Indecent Display Bill, NVALA statement 1981
    • Box 10: Council of Europe, papers and correspondence 1976 to 1990
    • Box 11: John Beyer, correspondence 1976 to 1981
    • Box 12: John Beyer, correspondence 1982 to 1989
    • Box 13: Non-NVALA publications
  • Section 5: 
    • Boxes 1 to 23: Abortion, Advertising, America, AIDS and homosexuality, AGAL/H, Watts/Obscenity, Alcohol, Australia, New Zealand, Bad Language, BBC, Duke Hussey, BBC General, D. Potter, Black Eyes, Singing Detective, BBC, Michael Checkland, John Birt, Alasdair Milne, BBFC, BBC Programmes 1985 to 1995
    • Box 24: [Retained by NVALA]
    • Boxes 25 to 26: Broadcasting Bill, Peacock Committee, Bristol Family Life Association, British Telecom
    • Boxes 27 to 31: [Retained by NVALA]
    • Boxes 32 to 41: Cable authority, Care campaigns, Censorship, Christian Broadcasting campaign (CBC), Christian Standards Society, Citizens for decency, Community Standards Association, Contacts, Council of Europe, Denmark, Election Material 1987, Child abuse, Pornography, Incest, Films - violence, films - general, Sex, Homosexuality
    • Boxes 42 to 44: [Retained by NVALA]
    • Box 45 to 47: Family, Youth Concern, Family - various, Focus on the Family, Dr James Dobson
    • Boxes 48 to 55: [Retained by NVALA]
    • Boxes 56 to 57: ICAVE, NCTV, News, International
    • Boxes 58 to 61: [Retained by NVALA]
    • Boxes 62 to 64: Liberal Democrats, SDP, Magazines, Comics, Books, Letters to newspaper
    • Boxes 65 to 67: [Retained by NVALA]
    • Boxes 68 to 74: Order of Christian Unity, Paedophiles, Prestel, Teletext, Gramaphone records, Madonna's concert and video, Prince of Wales, Programme reviews, Prostitution, Radio, Religious broadcasting
    • Boxes 75 to 77: [Retained by NVALA]
    • Boxes 78: Royal Television Society
    • Box 79: [Retained by NVALA]
    • Box 80: Sex education BBC

Access Information

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.

Acquisition Information



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.

Record entered by Nadeem Ahmad of Qualidata, UK Data Archive, University of Essex.

Other Finding Aids

A record for all materials in the Special Collection is available via the Albert Sloman Library, Special Collections web page.

Conditions Governing Use

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.

Appraisal Information

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.

Custodial History

The papers were held by the NVALA until various batches deposits were with the Albert Sloman Library in 1993, 2000, 2001 and 2002.


It is unlikely that the collection will be added to, but the possibility should not be ruled out entirely.

Additional Information

University of Essex: Albert Sloman Library.

Corporate Names