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Oh Carol Thatcher, Oh Golly: A Brief History Of The Golliwog

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CAROL Thatcher’s “golliwog” remark has put the issue into the news for the first time in forty years.

I’m sorry, I’ll start again.

Carol Thatcher’s “golliwog” remark has put the issue into the news for the first time in four months. As recently as October 2008 the Enid Blyton shop was under attack for stocking gollies. And in four months’ time another golly non-story will probably come along

Although I find it amazing that the views of a woman who dresses like a Jimmy Savile impersonator are taken seriously enough to launch a national debate, I acknowledge that there is a serious issue at stake regarding banning/free speech etc.

What I find incomprehensible is the endless argument about the golliwogs themselves.

The “respectable’ argument put forward in defence of golliwogs is that they are dolls, not people, and therefore not racist.

(The racist version would be that they are friendly little fellows who bear no relation to the dark menace that haunts our streets.)

Another point that’s often made is that children think of them as dolls and are completely unaware of their controversial nature, so what’s the harm?

Today’s “gollies” as they are now known are indeed friendly little fellows, and are unlikely to be taken as anything other than toys by British children in the 21st century.

But what is strange is why anyone tries to deny the racial connection, which well documented as well as being completely obvious to anyone with half a brain.

For the record he original Golliwog (spelt Golliwogg) was based on a “Negro minstrel doll” and appeared in a book by Florence Kate Upton in 1895. He is described as “a horrid sight, the blackest gnome”. Nevertheless, he is “lovable” and basically benign.

Half a century later, Enid Blyton’s Gollywog books appeared, relating the adventures of three little fellows called Golly, Woggy and Nigger, who liked nothing better than to stride along, in Blyton’s own words, “arm-in-arm, singing merrily their favourite song – which, as you may guess, was Ten Little Nigger Boys”.

Hmm. Then there were her Noddy books, in which they feature once more. In one incident, Noddy is attacked by golliwogs, who steal his car and leave him stranded.

The publishers of Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel Ten Little Niggers made the symbolic connection completely unambiguous. The cover showed a lynched golliwog hanging from a tree.

The Enid Blyton quote came from The Three Golliwogs, which was still being reprinted in its original form in 1968. Later versions changed some of the more sensitive parts.

By this time golliwogs were generally referred to as a “gollies”, and the gollies most likely to spring too mind were the ones on the Robertson’s jam label, with its vouchers for golly badges. These were more cartoon-like and less sinister looking.

All the same, even “golly” was still a controversial figure. The Average White Band were a Scottish soul outfit whose singer had a ginger afro. When they started, the logo on their drum kit (and the cover of their first album) was a white golly very like the Robertson’s version. This image, like their name, was obviously intended as a droll comment on the fact that they were a bunch of pasty-faced Jocks playing black music. But it’s interesting to note that by the time the band had broken through in America, they had replaced the golly with a new logo. (This featured the initials AWB in the shape of a woman’s bottom, and the irony is that this too would probably be considered offensive nowadays – but that’s another story…)

So here we are in 2009, and the “Negro minstrel doll” is still with us. Some people want him banned, others want him celebrated.

I don’t want him banned, any more than I want to ban weirdos from dressing up in Nazi uniforms and attending Second World War reenactment weekends in Kent.

Better to leave the golly fans to live in their 1950s fantasy world, surrounded by as many rag dolls as they like, while the rest of the world concentrates on more important issues.

Like Peaches Geldoff’s marriage and Wayne Rooney’s food vouchers.

For mote gollies see

Ed Barrett

  • Joe Easy

    Quite right. Of course these dolls are racist. Just like Barbie dolls are an ethnic slur on whites. It’s about time we respected the feeling of teddy bears too. I am 65 and had the doll whose name can not be mentioned. I am so pleased to be informed I was a racist aged two, I just never realized.

    How typical. I don’t see it your way so I must have ‘half a brain.’ True, but I happen to have the other half as well.

  • June
  • Joe Easy

    I did not mention that they were used as soft toys for boys to take to bed. In those days of ignorance it wasn’t proper for little boys to take ordinary dolls to bed. It had to be something different – a Golli or an animal, bear, kitten. Please don’t try to read anything there.

    I have heard people from Afghanistan referred to non-pejoratively as Afghans or Afghanis, persons from Kurdistan called Kurds. Yet if you were refer to people from Pakistan as Pakis, that would be considered an ethnic slur.

    Is it PC to say someone is not PC?

  • Karen

    I overheard a ned on a bus say ‘why would you call someone a P*ki when you could call them a c*nt?’. He sounded genuinely perplexed.

    If they ever outlaw sexism we’re all screwed beatch. :mrgreen:

  • PeterMac

    “In one incident, Noddy is attacked by golliwogs, who steal his car and leave him stranded.”
    Shouldn’t have driven into Brixton then. It is his own fault. Just because he has a cervical tremour he thinks he runs the place.
    (A prophet is not without honour, save in his (her) own time.)

  • dairy

    JoeEasy – the problem with the word “Paki” is that it has been used as an offensive description in this country for many years, whereas “Afghan” or “Kurd” have not.

  • dairy

    Anorak – is there any chance I might be un-moderated any time soon? getting a bit fed up with the delays to posts….?

  • Ian Thorpe

    There is a story of the origin of Gollies that suggests they are not British or American in origin but were first seen in Holland and were a caricature of boy chimnry sweeps. The while eyes and white band around the red mouth gives some authority to this.

    But of course it is too innocent an explanation for the Politically Correct Thought Police who are utterly convince anyone who has a laugh or whose life is not as sterile as a mule’s bollocks has to be, just has to be, no doubt about it, a RACIST.

    And so the most reasonable explanation was shouted down and we continue to ignore the fact that nobody is actually black.

    In the Guardian last week one of the wussier writers was wailing (while wringing his or her hands in despair no doubt) that midle class people do not routinely admonish cab drivers, labourers or other working class ruffuians (OK, I translated that rather freely from Politically Correct Newspeak) whom they overhear using racist epithets.

    Very sensible too. Anyone who did would probably get their face punched in.

  • yampster

    They should come to Brum. Any racist epithets from Cabbies are likely to be directed at the white folks. I tried to get a Cab home one night only to find there were only half a dozen running after midnight. It was Eid.

  • June

    did they charge double? the cabbies round here do at Xmas New year etc…..

  • yampster

    None to be found. They take their holidays seriously

  • BlackBob

    What’s “an offensive description” when it’s not at home? I would imagine most people use “paki’s” to indicate which particular shop. Where I live it is used as a shortened version for packed lunch “Who’s having a paki?”
    What ever happened to the chap from Bradford (Not a joke) who made the “Paki Power” clothing range?

  • June

    We have ‘the shop’, or the Post Office (which we all fought hard to keep) around 2 corners from here, the proprietors are called Mandy and Dev – tell me their nationality, BlackBob

  • BlackBob


  • BlackBob

    Karen, those neds are probably the same guys who have posted a tribute to a “Glesga midget” of the P persuasion on youtube! Scotland one nation, many cultures.

  • Percy Stilton

    I find it a bit of a shame that it seems that not one Pakistani or black seems to have an opinion or comment on this thread as to whether they find the words Paki or Gollywog offensive in anyway. If I am wrong, correct me now.

  • Percy Stilton

    ….oops…apart from BlackBob that is….sorry I nearly left you out….no offence meant

  • chenier

    Possibly people whose families originally came from Pakistan get a bit bored with the endless inquiries about where they come from; one of my daughter’s friends invariably, and truthfully, replies ‘Islington’, and if I’m around I always add ‘and I’m from Egypt’ which confuses people who think that the colour of one’s skin determines one’s nationality…

  • Percy Stilton

    my experience is…if you called someone this to their face….you might expect more than a thump in the face….that is the reality….unless of course they are your “friends”
    …or you are Royalty.

  • BlackBob

    “P” bashing at your age Percy? Steady on old chap.

  • BlackBob

    Percy boys, Percy boys, laced up boots and corduroys!

  • Percy Stilton

    oh Blackie…I never knew you cared about me…I love you too bro

  • http://anorak Justlooking

    Percy Stilton,
    Speaking for our family which is mainly ‘coloured’ with a few ‘white’ people mixed in, ( incidently, is it offensive to call non-coloured ‘whites’?) NO ONE attributed Paki or Gollywog as being racist. This continuing story in the media if anything, is counter-productive to the promotion tolerance in our society.

    IMO, only the sanctimonious PC brigade and a tiny minority of ‘coloureds’ are bothered by these 2 examples- and only because they allow themselves to be baited.

  • Percy Stilton

    thanks for that Justlooking….one of my friends used to call me Whitey & I used to call him Blackie… a few other things in between…but that was between him & me and, hopefully, it offended nobody. The BBC seem to be a lot more sensitive & PC than most in Carol’s case, a guilt reaction ,probably.

  • Percy Stilton

    ….and heres my last piece of PC honesty….if anybody else happened to call Blackie, …but me…he would rip their fucking head off!!

  • Percy Stilton

    June….. bring out the cricket bat…but be gentle with me….I’m feeling a bit sensitive lately

  • June

    Oh Percy tsk!

    I’ll have to think about it…

  • Grande Finale

    Percy Stilton Says:
    February 9th, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    June….. bring out the cricket bat…
    Being an animal lover (Not literally!) those words could be construed as being very offensive. Offensive to “crickets “bats ” and other peace loving flying species.

  • Rupert Thingybob

    Have you noticed how the price of turnips and swedes continues to rise at an alarming rate.