Thursday, 24 January 2008


The original Golly was a glove puppet and he resides today in the Bethnal Green Museum of childhood, London. Tiny, just a few inches high. A black glove, two buttons for eyes, a bit of felt for the mouth - and then some red trousers and a blue coat. This rag doll, improvised from a simple glove, was the best friend and comfort blanket of Florence Upton who, in 1895, wrote him into her illustrated children's story - The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg. Golly became a worldwide phenomenon, an international best-seller, and the first world-wide idol of the nursery world, well pre-dating the teddy.

In the 1950s it was perfectly acceptable to collect Golly badges by sending away to Roberstons - manufacturers of jams and marmalades. Golly dolls and picture books about gollies also abounded. (James Robertsons and Sons Ltd opened its famous jam works in 1890. At first, stone jars were used for the marmalade, but were eventually replaced by glass jars in the 1930's. The famous 'Golly' trademark was adopted in 1910 and is said to have originated from one of the Robertson's grandchildren who owned a rag golly doll with a happy face.)

The Golly was also popularised in the Enid Blyton Noddy books but was replaced in the latter years of the century by a white goblin.

To me, the connection between the golly and black people just didn't seem to exist - the golly was very obviously not real. It would have been like assuming Homer Simpson was supposed to be real in some way and a symbol of vaguely jaundiced people. Not that I am advocating the return of the Golly but it certainly was not the racist symbol it has subsequently been made out to be.

The same conclusion has been reached in an academic study by Dr David Rudd. Although it could be argued that the golliwog was not originally intended as a representation of a black person, anti-racists fastened on to the character as a key symbol of racism and sought to ban it, which gave it a status and significance it did not originally have. Part of Dr Rudd's study is based on what children - rather than disapproving adults - think about Enid Blyton. "All I can say is that, of the children who were not previously aware of the equation 'golliwog equals ethnically black person', none made it," he writes.

By contrast the writer and broadcaster Darcus Howe said he was relaxed about the new study but added: " When I was a child in Trinidad, my parents associated the golliwog with colonial pomp and banned it from the house. I continue to take the same position. "

Golly has gone - perhaps it is as well - but he is not forgotten as yet.

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