Monday 23 October 2017

Mary Kenny: From Playboy to puritanism?

If we are entering a new moralist era, the lives of two men may illuminate why

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

That venerable national treasure, former senator Professor John A Murphy, has expressed concern we are moving into a new age of puritanism. This worries him, since he is old enough to remember the old puritanism when the word 'breast' could get a book banned and a Doris Day movie which contained the expletive "darn!" was registered as indecorous, if not actually shocking.

But if there is a new puritanism, then it's probably a reaction against the previous liberalism, known as "the permissive society". Two men died earlier this month whose lives symbolised, rather well, that era of libertinism: Victor Lownes (88), the most influential executive of Hugh Hefner's Playboy empire; and Lord Snowdon (86), Princess Margaret's former husband.

I wouldn't want to be unkind about Tony Snowdon, who was obliging to me when I was researching a book about the British royals and Ireland, and who spoke affectionately about his boyhood visits to Birr in Offaly, where his mother was the Countess of Rosse. The Rosse tradition of science and technology helped Snowdon as a boy, when he discovered a Victorian photographic studio in Birr Castle. Later, he brought Margaret to Birr - the first visit by a British royal to the Irish Republic, and it served as an ice-breaker in Anglo-Irish relations.

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