I think I can go one better than David Conroy (Letters, 1 April) in surviving the Mary Whitehouse experience. In the 1970s, I was part of the small team in the Department of Health and Social Security responsible for policy on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Part of my job was to reply to letters. They could be very wide-ranging, and we devised a stock reply, basically telling the correspondent where they could find information on STDs and, if need be, treatment.
Mary Whitehouse was a constant correspondent – a pain in the neck, frankly. She wrote to the secretary of state for health and social security, in her usual high dudgeon, having heard about a “new” disease, herpes genitalis.
The letter was delegated to me, so I sent her the stock reply: “Dear Mrs Whitehouse, Thank you for your recent letter about herpes genitalis. The information you seek can be found in Dr Robbie Morton’s The Venereal Diseases, available through your local library. If you think you have caught the disease, your nearest local clinic is …”
It led to a personal apology from the secretary of state and to me being threatened with the sack for implying that Mrs Whitehouse, of all people, had caught an STD.
Washington, Tyne and Wear
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