We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Fact check, please

I never thought I would find myself agreeing with anything written by Johann Hari, but in today’s Evening Standard he has a piece deploring the rehabilitation of Mary Whitehouse. I agree that she was a dangerous evil old woman, not remotely funny, not a gentle eccentric.

However, there is in the piece something that does not ring at all true, viz –

In an old episode of her favourite show, Dixon of Dock Green, you can see the dark side of the world she fought to preserve. When Constable Dixon stumbles across a woman being beaten black and blue, he reassuringly tells the camera it’s nothing to do with the police.

If that is true, it is appalling. Not actually a mark against Whitehouse (which illustrates why Hari is untrustworthy – Whitehouse cannot be held responsible for every item of content in a programme she allegedly liked), but appalling nonetheless. Dixon of Dock Green was a top-rated show, and one criticised in the 60s and 70s for its rosy-tinted view of East End police-work. So if a sentimental prime-time show really did show domestic violence as accepted by the police (whether it was in reality or not at the time), then the social attitudes endorsed by the BBC in the early 60s were even more alien than I thought… Except, as someone who takes and interest in cultural change, I would have heard about it before now. And the clip would be familiar from dozens of documentaries, would it not?

Is my education very lacking, or is Hari just making this up? If not, where has he got it from? Who else makes the claim? Is there an incident in Dixon of Dock Green or some other contemporary drama that has been so interpreted as to have directly or indirectly given rise to the tale?

21 comments to Fact check, please

  • Rob

    I wouldn’t trust Hari if he told me he was gay.

  • RAB

    Well I’m old enough to have watched a lot of Dixon when a lad in the 50s and I dont remember that plot line.
    Mind you I dont remember much of a dramatic nature taking place week after week.

    Couple of burglars, the odd shoplifter. That was it!

    Much more zip in the Lone Ranger!

    Fact is, domestic violence was looked the other way about by the police back then.

    Social trends turn for the good as well as the bad
    thank god.

  • Charlemagne

    As I recall, the clip involves Dixon speaking straight to camera and saying something to the effect that he can’t respond every time someone knocks their missus around.

    The implication being that such knockabout stuff is part of the fabric of life in the East End of the time.

    This ‘institutional chauvinism’ , though obviously deplorable from the summit of moral perfection we all occupy in 2008, is quite different from the dramatic depiction of Dixon witnessing some poor woman getting duffed and simply strolling past.

  • guy herbert

    Fact is, domestic violence was looked the other way about by the police back then.

    Indeed, but was that fact ever portrayed in Dixon of Dock Green with approval?

  • guy herbert

    Charlemagne,

    If so, it doesn’t sound like Hari was distorting too badly… and maybe I owe him an apology for the radical skepticism (two unforseeable events in one day). But can anyone supply the exact reference?

  • Charlemagne

    I’m not sure, and I should stress I’m dredging my memory for this.
    But if my recollection is broadly sound then there seems an important difference between a policeman acknowledging what must have been a widely felt distinction between the private and public domains, and him witnessing an assault and doing nothing.

  • Ian B

    As I recall, the clip involves Dixon speaking straight to camera and saying something to the effect that he can’t respond every time someone knocks their missus around.

    Is that the phrase “knocks their missus around?”. The actual scrpt would be crucial here. For instance, “slaps his missus” would be much milder.

    I’m also skeptical that knocking the missus around was ever considered socially acceptable, though it may have been considered an internal family matter you don’t get involved in, which lots of things were in more private times. The kind of “I wish I could do somethign about that awful man next door, but that’s their business” kind of thing. Waffling a bit, but I remember seeing a production of Cider With Rosie (never read the book, sorry) and one of the narrations in that alludes, rather rosily to implications of incest in the village, something about long dark winter evenings or something. That was never approved of either, but was rather more the preserve of suspecting it of the family with the funny looking late arriving kid.

    My father was born in 1929. It so happens we were talking about his early life t’other week, and he talked about how his father would get drunk and beat his mother. My father could never forgive him for it. Was he very precociously politically correct, or was it not approved of back then either?

    The other thing is “beating black and blue” is extreme. People slapping or punching each other was somthing back then that the police didn’t necessarily get involved in. An assault was a more serious matter. A woman who complained to the police that her husband slapped her might well have been ignored. But frankly I doubt I’d get much attention if I went and said my wife slapped me even these days, would I?

    Anyway waffle waffle. Unless we could see the clip, and youtube astonishingly doesn’t seem to have it, then it’s hard to judge the context.

  • Charlemagne

    Well I never.
    Hansard, no less.

    “Many hon. Members will have seen an interesting television programme that recently featured in the top 10 of TV cop series—”Dixon of Dock Green”. When we watched the programme, we heard the familiar strains of the theme followed by the words, “Evenin’ all”. There was a little homily at the end of each show, one of which was, “Well, of course it’s been a quiet night, but if I had to go to every house where a chap thumps his wife of an evening, I’d have nothing else to do.” ”

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmhansrd/vo031202/debtext/31202-26.htm

  • Incident like this were known as “Domestics” and the police were reluctant to interfere. Frequently the wife refused to press charges,often, if the police did intervene. it was not uncommon for both man and wife to assault the police.

    But isn’t the little twerp Hari stretching a point,finding one offensive part of a fictitious and rather anodyne television series which ran for years? Let’s face it the old bat didn’t write the bloody script,she only watched it.

    Lastly, it is ridiculous to apply present day mores to history.

  • Kevin B

    OK, I’ll bite. Someone has to.

    “Well, of course it’s been a quiet night, but if I had to go to every house where a chap thumps his daughter or sends her off to Pakistan to marry her uncle or tops her because she’s looked at an infidel kid at school, I’d have nothing else to do.”

  • Donavon Pfeiffer

    Thank you so much. I had always wondered who “Mary Long” was. it was always my favorite Deep Purple song and I never knew who it was about.

  • guy herbert

    Charlemagne,

    I’m afraid I’m not much impressed by parliamentary utterances. Politicians are more apt than journalists to make things up that suit their case or to quote them in a partial or decontextualised way. They can’t be sued for what’s in Hansard.

    Kali Mountford is an MP of whose rigorous research and intellectual honesty I would be particularly suspicious. She may be Hari’s source. She may be (and I think this more likely) quoting – or retelling – the same unfounded legend.

    Lots of dubious assertions and made-up stories circulate in the sub-academic sub-cultures of ‘critical studies’. There is even a common justification of retelling things that are made up on the grounds that they are mythical narratives that represent some essential truths about the nature of oppression. (See, for example, some of the work of Professor Patricia J Williams.) Some proponents of this ‘method’ have even the chutzpah to suggest that it is legitimised precisely by its failure to conform to white, masculine, paradigms of logic, fact and intellectual rigour.

    Ron Brick,

    Incident like this were known as “Domestics” and the police were reluctant to interfere. Frequently the wife refused to press charges,often, if the police did intervene. it was not uncommon for both man and wife to assault the police.

    Still true sometimes, I believe, but much less so than it used to be. The law was recently changed to permit prosecutions without a complainant in such cases, which I’m not sure was entirely wise.

    Lastly, it is ridiculous to apply present day mores to history.

    No it isn’t. No more than it is to disagree with present majority opinion. What’s ridiculous is to criticise historical figures for failing to bring modern-day sensibilities and assumptions to their situation – which is something most frequently done by those most rigidly bound to received wisdom themselves.

    Why Whitehouse was pernicious was her in her determination to force other peoples behaviour and media images of it into a shape that didn’t offer any challenge to her view of how the world ought to be. She was the great aunt of New Labour’s conceptual totalitarianism, an inheritor of the creed:

    Orthodoxy means not thinking — not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.

    Dixon never pretended to be other than fiction.

  • Whitehouse once objected to a show because someone said “knickers”. It was a film by the Beatles. I bet she was no fan of the lovable mop-tops. Was that her real motive.

    She also objected to Pinkie and Perky (think a sort of proto-Alvin and the Chipmunks).

    It wasn’t just the sex and violence and swearing.

    A question. Did she ever oppose the BBC at an existential level? Or did she approve of a Reithian “improving” BBC? Somehow I suspect the latter.

    It makes a difference because she’d have every right to say I object to paying for this filth. But I don’t think she was of the minset that thought, “Those Sex Pistols are obscene so I’m not buying the album.”

    Why Whitehouse was pernicious was her in her determination to force other peoples behaviour and media images of it into a shape that didn’t offer any challenge to her view of how the world ought to be.

    Two thumbs up guy. Absolutely right.

    From guy’s link:

    In the Monty Python’s Flying Circus election-night satire, John Cleese says “Mary Whitehouse has taken Umbrage—no surprise there.”

    Brilliant!

  • “Lastly, it is ridiculous to apply present day mores to history.

    No it isn’t. No more than it is to disagree with present majority opinion. What’s ridiculous is to criticise historical figures for failing to bring modern-day sensibilities and assumptions to their situation – which is something most frequently done by those most rigidly bound to received wisdom themselves.”

    Which is what I meant,reasonably obvious in the context.

  • ian

    I can’t remember the exact lines, but yes I do recall references to such wife beating as ‘only a domestic’ and explicitly therefore not a matter for the police.

  • Dave F

    “Hey you Whitehouse, haha, charade you are …”

    — Pink Floyd, Animals

  • Charlemagne

    I’d have thought the pressure of tongue against cheek was audible in ‘Well I never. Hansard, no less’ :)

    In any case Hansard wasn’t my source. I have seen the clip (Not, I should add, when first broadcast), and it’s pretty much as Kali Mountford reports.

  • MDC

    Is anyone watching the programme about Whitehouse on BBC2?

    It is insanely biased. Not against anyone in particular; everyone is being portrayed badly. Not as being wrong per se, just as being foaming-at-the-mouth crazy.

    The whole thing is quite odd.

  • Paul Marks

    My father (Harry Marks) came from the East End of London – and he always maintained (as did all my East End relatives) that a man who raised his hand to a women was a coward – lower than shit.

    This included the man’s wife.

    On the other hand – if a wife hit her husband (even with a weapon) it was considered something to be not spoken about (to be covered up). It was “that time of the month” (or whatever) is the only thing that might be said by the man sporting the black eye or whatever.

    By the way – Harry Marks was by no means a peaceful man (actually he was violent man) and nor were his relatives or friends.

    But wife beating – no that is bullshit.

  • Bexleyite

    Kali Mountford has a 1501 majority. She’s probably worrying more about her pension and her next job right now.

    I don’t think she ever watched Dixon of Dock Green.

    With a name like Kali, I thought she was going to look like an Indian goddess.

  • Sunfish

    Rather than talk about spousal abuse, I’ve got a question:

    Where can I find Dixon of Dock Green on DVD? (Well, region-encoded for the US would be ideal, since like a moron I bought a region-aware player)

    I mean, I can only watch so much of my usual TV before I need something that isn’t animated by Matt Groenig or Seth McFarlane.