Mar. 4, 2022
‘School’s Out’ Was Considered Too Scandalous For British Television
For several decades in the 20th century, a moral guardian named Mary Whitehouse crusaded against the BBC. The network kept airing programming that corrupted the public, said Whitehouse and her organization the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association.
She issued complaints about Doctor Who showing children how to build explosives. She issued complaints about sitcom characters using the word “bloody.” She issued complaints about the BBC reporting on the liberation of concentration camps (“It was bound to shock and offend,” she said, as she found the coverage “very off-putting”).
The publicly funded BBC must listen to public complaints, and sometimes, Whitehouse’s demands succeeded. When one of her critics called her a fascist, she sued for libel and won. When a gay newspaper published a poem about someone lusting after Jesus, she sued them on the grounds of “blasphemous libel”—and again won. Note: The UK does not have terribly strong free speech protections enshrined in law.
In 1972, she objected to the Alice Cooper song “School’s Out.” It’s an innocent song about children celebrating the end of the school year, except for the lyrics that imply the singer leveled the school with explosives, taking the lives of the staff in the process. She tried to get the BBC to pull the song altogether, and while that didn’t succeed, she did convince them to stop playing it on their high-profile countdown show Top of the Pops.
Alice Cooper credits this with the song’s resultant outsize popularity. “School’s Out” became an anthem in pubs and clubs and went to number one, and then the US heard about the controversy and suddenly made the band a success. Cooper sent Mary Whitehouse a thank you note and a bouquet of flowers.
Of course, Whitehouse didn’t object to everything on television. Her organization gave an award for “wholesome family entertainment” to one BBC presenter, Jimmy Savile.