23 SEPTEMBER 1972, Page 7

The Longford Report


George Gale

One of the odder by-products of our age's public preoccupation with all matters sexual is Lord Longford's public concern with pornography. One of the consequences of this concern is the very odd compilation Pornography: the Longford Report (Coronet Books, 60p), which itself chronicles some of the doings, sayings and thinkings of the private and pompous 'Longford Committee Investigating Pornography.' Lord Longford's report, as has been expected, proposes new legislation; and there will be many people in the country who will say, "and about time" (when they are not saying "keep Britain white '", and the like). It is an illiberal document, and in the increasingly illiberal climate of this time and place it may well flourish.

It is not only illiberal, and possibly not chiefly. It is also funny. Lord Longford himself is a great comic character as, to some extent, he is aware (if he were fully aware, he would not be a great comic character at all, but a charlatan, and this he is not). "One would expect," he writes in his Introduction to the Report, "that we would be either ignored or denounced or ridiculed. In the event we have certainly not been ignored. For a time we certainly were denounced, but rather half-heartedly. In a country as proud, on the whole rightly, as Britain of its rational discussions it is hard to go on denouncing an Inquiry as such. So ridicule it had to be. It has been ladled out with a liberal though hardly ever, if ever, malicious hand. It is difficult to say whether on balance it has proved a plus or a minus." No doubt Lord Longford and his committee were, as he says, ridiculed. But also, he and they were, on occasions (as he does not seem to be aware), genuinely ridiculous; and one is not ridiculing a man by saying he is being ridiculous if, in fact, he is being ridiculous. The Report, having discussed the references to Denmark in the Arts Council Working Party's report on Obscenity, declares: "It was clear that some members at least of our Committee must pay a visit to Denmark." Led by the intrepid explorer into the darkness of the Continental jungle, they ventured, and here is the Porn Report's account of a trip around Copenhagen's night life: Two visits were paid to so-called live shows from both of which the Chairman felt compelled to walk out after brief encounters in the second case with a "lady" who appeared afterwards to have been a man. In his own words he had seen enough for science and more than enough for enjoyment. When asked whether he had not expected to meet these phenomena he replied that he had not foreseen the audience participation required of him. The rest of the team proved to be of sterner stuff though making no secret of their distaste or "boredom". They were able, therefore, to fill in gaps in the investigation which were left by the Chairman's departure. The

main purpose of the visit was not of course to witness lurid exhibitions but to take part in discussions and to acquire factual and, where rossible, statisical knowledge (see p. 125).

Turning to p.125, the "statistical knowledge"acquired from the visit turns out to be "the official Danish information sheet which was of the utmost value to us" and which, according to this Report, shows "a significant drop in sex offences was occurring all through the 1960s in Denmark." The statistics show nothing of the sort, and presumably the "official Danish information sheet" was available in London; but why carp, when the Danish trip produced such comedy? "Enough for science," the Chairman exclaims, and walks out, leaving "the lady " to sort herself/ himself out with the likes of the distastefilled or " bored " Peregrine Worsthornes and Gyles Brandreths of this world. An unfair remark? Of course; but as his Lordship said, enough for science. Brandreth, an initial member, dropped out. Worsthorne stayed in, and contributes indeed a signed piece in which he roundly declares: "The pornographers are the new blasphemers, and it should be the rationalists and humanists driving them out of the Temple, far more than the Christian moralists, since it is now their religion which is being put at risk." Such glib knockabout philosophisings are characteristic also of the report itself; and it will surprise few observers of the current trend in trad that Malcolm Muggeridge, in his role as chairman of the Committee's subcommittee on broadcasting, concludes his pet homily thus:

In seeking to mirror society, television mirrors the failings, the temptations and desires, to which man is prone, setting love at a distance, dehumanising and destroying it. Exceptionally, the truth of a greater love, of someone giving a life for others, as witnessed by a Mother Teresa, will shine through the poisoned darkness of the television screen. But the ideals of human love, being so frail, so intimate and personal, can never be successfully upheld against the falsifying and degrading power of the lens, with its obsession with visual fantasies and sensations.

If this Longford Report were nothing more than an anthology of such fulminations it would be treated with deserved contempt, or read for laughs. There is, however, the possibility that it will be taken seriously — and not only by the press. It panders to those who wish to repress; and it does so in language which does not always conceal its strident undertones. Referring to Denmark, the report says: "We should make it clear, however, that in terms of British discussion the connection between pornography and delinquency is a subsidiary issue. We are, of course, concerned with this, but more deeply with the far wider issue of the connection between pornography and national morals" (my italics). The presumption is that if only pornography could be got rid of, if somehow the place could be "cleaned up," then the moral fibre of the nation would at once be strengthened. And at this point, one realises that there might be something — not a lot, but something — in the opposed creed which declares, according to Maurice Girodias, "moral censorship is really nothing but political censorship in this disguise" (The Obscenity Report, Olympia Press, 50p). It is a mark of modern dictatorships that they seek to improve "national morals" by rigid censorship; and those who think that totalitarianism in one or other of its manifestations has been for many years, is now, and will remain in the foreseeable future, easily the greatest political and moral danger to which we are subject, will be, initially, deeply suspicious of, and, upon consideration, profoundly opposed to, the chief conclusions of this Longford Report.

It proposes a new Obscenity Bill which includes a revised test of obscenity under which "an article or a performance of a play is obscene if its effect, taken as a whole, is to outrage contemporary standards of decency or humanity accepted by the public at large." It is worth recalling, at this point, that Hitler's persecution of the Jews, gas chambers and all, taken as a whole, did not in the least outrage the contemporary standards of decency and humanity accepted by the pre-1945 German public at large. I am not impressed by those who argue that the nature of the human race has improved since 1945; and in this regard I am, I suppose, at one with the signatories of this Report. Also, it seems to me that it is certain that pornography has the capacity to influence behaviour, and I do not personally doubt that crimes have been committed, which, had the criminal not had access to pornographic material, would not have been committed. The Bible has influenced behaviour; so too have Plato's Republic and Das Kapita/ and Mein Kampf and I dare say that Justine has or even L'Histoire d'O. To my mind, the Republic Is the most dangerous of these books, and has done the most damage: is, that is, the most corrupting. Others will choose differently. But who would say that the pornographic books were more corrupting and therefore potentially more corrupting than the religious or philosophical or doctrinaire? The pornographic is peripheral and not central, and it propounds nothing. It influences, but only marginally. Despite subjecting themselves, for the sake of the cause, to a vast amount of pornography, the brave volunteer members of Lord Longford's Commission, including Chairman Longford, do not seem to be much the worse for wear, and indeed, judging from the conversations I have had with some of the members, they enjoyed themselves tremendously. What the Report is saying, although I imagine that only Peregrine Worsthorne among its members will admit the fact, is something like this: "Pornography does not corrupt me; but it might corrupt you and it will corrupt them." But even if the elitist argument were accepted, it still does not follow that pornography ought therefore to be banned — and banned, what is more, under a new — and potentially far more capacious — definition to do with indecency and inhumanity.

What is being proposed is an extension of censorship. Lord Longford and his crew are trying to tell you and me what we may and may not read and publish. The printed word, like the spoken word, must not be subjected to a new censorship. The freedom of speech is altogether more important than Lord Longford and his crew realise; for freedom of speech is necessary to resist the depravity and corruption brought about by the totalitarians, just as censorship is necessary for the success of the totalitarians to be assured. The Longford test would never have saved the Jews from the gaschambers, nor Russians from Stalin's purges, but instead would have encouraged the persecutors; nor did it save men, when another, but similarly motivated, censorship refused to intervene. Christian advice — as this Commission gives — is rendered void by the Inquisition and the Index: the deeds of the Inquisitors speak louder in history than the miracles of Mother Teresa.

It is not sufficient to dislike pornography, even to believe that it is " against " men or love or beauty or God, to say that therefore it must be censored. The laws of libel and slander provide sufficient — indeed, as framed and executed, too much — restriction upon the freedom of the spoken or written word, not to mention the modern, regressive and reactionary Race Relations legislation. To introduce a new test to do with popular ideas of " decency " and " humanity " would be another step backwards into the dark and closed societies where censors and moral watchdogs prowl.

Does this, then, mean that there should be unbridled licence? The answer must be " Yes " as far as freedom of speech is concerned, and as far as the dissemination and discussion of ideas — all ideas — is concerned. There is, however, an area of activity presently described as pornographic which has to do with the publishing in books and magazines, on stage and screen, of representations of real or simulated sexual intercourse of one sort or combinations of sorts or another. Rabbi Raymond Apple, chairman of the Jewish Marriage Education Council, writes, in the briefest and best contribution to the Longford Report, "Because it is an intimate, private expression of love, intercourse is not permitted in any public place; and this prohibition would apply to real or simulated intercourse on the stage or screen." Hereabouts, I think, is to be found a partial remedy for what is a social illness and the remedy has to do with prohibition, about which there is less room for argument. It should be made an offence to produce, photograph, film, record, direct, act in, stage or publish representations of real or simulated sexual intercourse. There is no need to produce and publish such material; freedom of speech and of ideas is not harmed by the prohibition; the respect for privacy is encouraged, and actors and actresses are protected from the appalling pressures put on them by those seeking to profit from the commercial exploitation of their real or simulated sexual intercourse. Such a prohibition would naturally fall within the area of a Law of Privacy; and it is here, and not with yet another Obscenity Law, which will inevitably be subject to uncertainty and argument and also and. inevitably be conducive to a new kind of repressive censors:hip, that a civilised and liberal answer to a minor, but real, problem will be discovered.