Things are looking up for Humpty Dumpty. Having spent the past 200 years as a mere yellowy splodge on the footpath, the equilibrium-challenged egg is finally getting it together.
In a revised version of the nursery rhyme that aired recently on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s children's channel CBeebies, the tale – which first appeared in print in 1810 – no longer ends with “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men/Couldn’t put Humpty together again”. Now, a crack squadron of His Majesty’s finest hard-boiled military personnel has found the recipe to make Humpty Dumpty “happy again”. How eggsellent.
Soon, no doubt, we’ll be hearing that the three little pigs have invited the big bad wolf to take a quarter share in their organic farming co-op; that a guilt-riddled Jack has atoned for his giant-killing by establishing a golden-goose-funded orphanage for the oversized; and that Hansel and Gretel have gone into the bakery business with a kindly old lady in the remnant old-growth forest of Tasmania.
And then we can all live happily ever after.
Leading the charge to alert the world to the BBC’s heavy-handed editing was Labor MP for Glasgow South Tom Harris. A former journalist and party press secretary, Harris knows his way around a beat-up, and used his award-winning blog And Another Thing to whip up a frenzy of outrage over this latest example of “the excesses of PC” (political correctness).
Predictably, the British media was quick to scramble to a response.
Sticking the boot into PC madness no doubt plays well in Harris’s working-class electorate, as it does throughout the rest of Britain, where everything from Robertson’s fruit mince to Enid Blyton’s bedtime stories has been subjected to the sensitivity scanner in recent times, and mostly found wanting.
To the dismay of many, golliwogs are gone, from both the Robertson’s label and from the latest addition to the Noddy oeuvre, released earlier this year by Blyton’s granddaughter Sophie Smallwood. Paddington Bear was lured out of retirement in early 2008, only to find himself in the clutches of immigration police because, as a Peruvian stowaway, he could produce no official papers.
Last week the BBC announced it was considering new guidelines for its comedy programming to ensure that “unduly intimidatory, humiliating, intrusive, aggressive or derogatory remarks must not be celebrated for the purposes of entertainment”.
Attention-seeker though Tom Harris undoubtedly is, it’s hard not to agree that Britain is in the grip of a very firm-handed nanny, and she’s stifling the life out of her charges. And reactionary though much of the response in Britain has been, it’s also the case that the dignity-and-respect argument is done a massive disservice when its proponents pretend that sensitivity is a simple case of black and white.
Take that line and, before you know it, some fool will be arguing that stocking a golliwog in a toy shop is the same thing as a white man performing in blackface in front of millions of people.
Thankfully, we know that would never happen here.