Towards a Quaker View of Sex

The Friend 22 Feb 1963


The Friend published this commentary on the appearance of Barnes and Bidder on BBC television and on the first reviews by major newspapers.


Reproduced by permission of The Friend, February 22, 1963, pp. 215-16.


The Friend
February 22, 1963

"Towards a Quaker View on Television"

For this viewer, one of the most striking things about "Meeting Point" on BBC Television last Sunday night, when Towards a Quaker View of Sex was discussed, was the attitude of the unnamed consultant psychiatrist who appeard in the programme with Kenneth Barnes and Anna Bidder under the chairmanship of Paul Ferris of The Observer.

To some extent the course of the discussion was predictable. It ws to be expected--and faith--enough that Paul Ferris should select some of the more controversial points of the essay and invite Anna Bidder and Kenneth Barnes to justify to expand them. On behalf, as it were, of orthodox morality, he asked the awkward (and occasionally irritating) questions that are best designed to draw out the "victims" in such programmes. It was to be expecte4d, too, that Kenneth Barnes and Anna Bidder would stick firmly and fearlessly to their views and expound them soberly and well.

The unknown quantity was the unnamed psychiatrist; and many Friends must have been gratified, and some others perhaps reassured, to hear him speak highly of the essay. That a group, however unofficial, of any religious body should produce such a document had clearly impressed him. "Most encouraging" and "extremely valuable" were among the words he applied to it.

Kenneth Barnes explained at the beginning of the programme that he and Anna Bidder were speaking for themselves and could not commit the Society. Many listeners presumably would disagree strongly with some or much of what was said, but every thoughtful viewer must, one feels sure, have been impressed by the forthrightness and thoughtful sincerity of our Friends who said it. The broadcast will have increased, not diminished, in many home the respect in which the society is held.

The essay had a good press, in the sense that it was given a great deal of space in the newspaperes. The authors must indeed have been encouraged by the attention given to it by the more responsible papers. The Observer last Sunday gave rather more than a column to an account which, after quotations from the report, included a brief interview with Anna Bidder and quoted the reaction of a number of Churchmen. The Rev. John Huxtable, Principal of New College, London, was quoted as saying that he thought the eesay "too muddle-headed to do any real good" and that "most Quakers I know are likely to be pretty scandalised by it." The pamphlet was welcomed by the Archdeacon of London, the Ven. George Appleton, although he felt that the section dealing with the "triangular situation" was ambiguous.

The Sunday Times gave a column summary to the repirt, but spoiled some fair and objective treatment by publication of a little article entitled "The Two Voices of the Quakers" which, though perhaps intended to be complimentary, gave a somewhat curious impression of Quakerism and Friends' ways of conducting business. Friends will, no doubt, have realised that it was based upon a reporter's misunderstanding of a conversation by telephone with George Gorman (in which it was made quite clear that the essay would not be the subject of discussion at the forthcoming Yearly Meeting). Many of the ideas and expressions in the article were obviously not those that an experienced Friend would hold or use of the Society.

The Guardian last Monday gave about 500 words to the essay; The Times rather less. The Daily Mail, in addition to a half column summary, made the pamphlet the subject of its front-page column of "Comment". The comment was not profound. The following day the Mail had a cartoon by Emmwood, and an article by Monica Furlong, "Why I'm on the Side of the Quakers," in which the pamphlet was strongly defended.
Almost without exception these reports contained an explanation that the essay was the work of an unofficial group of Friends and not an official statement of the Society. This accorded with a prefatory note in the pamphlet itself, which states:

The Literature Committee of the Friends Home Service Committee has been glad to publish Towards a Quaker View of Sex for the group of Friends which prepared it, as a contribution to thought on an important subject. The views expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the attitude of the Friends Home Service Committee or of the Religious Society of Friends."