The great Chuck Berry has passed away at 90 but through his amazing back catalogue of sublime rock & roll songs, his music and influence will live forever. Of his many hits, one stands out as a cheeky novelty song, and I thank David Todd for tweeting a reminder about a blog post of mine mentioning morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse's objections to a BBC Top of the Pops that featured Chuck Berry's My Ding-a-Ling (a 1972 number one hit in the US, Canada and the UK).
Mrs Whitehouse's campaigning life is documented in a brilliant book called Ban This Filth! Letters From The Mary Whitehouse Archive, edited by Ben Thompson and published in 2012 by Faber and Faber.
Mary Whitehouse wrote to the BBC's Director-General, Charles Curran:
Dear Mr Curran,
Now that the controversy over the pop record, Ding-a-Ling, has died down, we feel it is important that you should understand our reasons for criticising the Top of the Pops presentation of this disc. Our complaint was based on the objections coming to us not only from parents, but from teachers. One teacher told us of how she found a class of small boys with their trousers undone, singing the song and giving it the indecent interpretation which - in spite of all the hullabaloo - is so obvious. She was, by no means, the only one with experience of this kind. Parents too were very upset by the stories their children were bringing home about the actions which were accompanying the singing of this song amongst their friends. I tell you this, not to justify our complaint, but because I feel sure that in your position of responsibility, you would wish to know. We trust you will agree with us that not is in no part of the function of the BBC to be the vehicle of songs that stimulate this kind of behaviour - indeed quite the reverse.
Extracts from Charles Curran's response:
Dear Mrs Whitehouse,
........This record has been among the most popular of the records on sale in recent weeks to the public........the BBC aims to broadcast all the most popular records on current release, and in programmes such as Top of the Pops there is clear expectation that it will do so. We do not, however, accept a record for broadcasting if we consider it to be in any way corrupting or frightening or disturbing for young people. My Ding-a-Ling begins with such a clear account of the contraption in question* including bells, that although the possibility of a double entendre was recognised, we decided that it could be broadcast at the discretion of producers according to the context and character of their programmes. We did not think it would disturb or emotionally agitate its listeners and we believe that the innuendo is, at worst, on the level of seaside postcards or music hall humour.........I have noted with interest the question which has been widely asked as to whether the record would have remained in a high position in the charts for such a long time without the publicity attendant upon the publication of your comments.
"When I was a little bitty boy
my grandmother bought me a cute little toy
silver bells hanging' on a string
she told me it was my-ding-a-ling-a-ling......"
I'll leave it with you.