Belfast Telegraph

Lindy McDowell: Golly, you can’t say that, Carol

Oh golly, Carol, you just can’t use words like that.The economy is in meltdown and on the streets crime is rising; abroad war continues and at home even the weather takes a turn for the worse. So the major talking point du jour? Of course! The golliwog.

The week’s news has been dominated by a new drama at the Beeb featuring Carol Thatcher (begat of Margaret), Adrian Chiles and Jo Brand (no relation to Russell) in conversation, off air.

Describing a French tennis player (mixed race), Ms Thatcher compares him/his hairdo (precise details are unclear) to the golly on the jam label.

Offence is taken. She is asked to apologise. She apologises. (But not ‘unconditionally’. Whatever that means.) She is sacked.

Viewers complain. Some are angry about what she said. Some are angry about her dismissal.

Carol’s friends say she is being singled out because she is Maggie’s daughter. That’s why the Beeb have sacked her.

Far be it from me to defend the BBC, but this is not entirely logical. If they sacked her because she was Maggie’s daughter, how come they employed her in the first place?

Carol, it will be recalled, is no stranger to accusations of causing offence. During her stint on I’m a Celebrity (which she won) she was filming having a sneak pee in camp.

But where do we stand on Gollygate? Where should we stand?

Interestingly the row presents a clash of two reasonable guidelines. One, that we should say no to racism and, two, that we should defend the right to free speech.

On point number one the golly’s defenders claim that its 19th century inventor was not being racist in her depiction (hardly the way it comes across to me, I have to say.)

They argue that it was only later that the contentious last syllable of the toy’s name was misappropriated as a term of abuse. Many, many others however, say the golly is obviously offensive and undeniably racist.

The counter freedom-of-speech argument points to the fact that this was a private conversation between fairly feisty adults. If parties were appalled they should have said so and demanded an apology on the spot. Did they really need to sack the woman — remember Jonathan Woss etc, etc?

Which side should we be on? The side of common decency, I’d say.

A post-modern parable to illustrate what I mean comes from — of all things — the recent Celebrity Big Brother. Debate there raged as Coolio, who’d reduced Michelle to tears for alleged flirting (you don’t need to know), was defended by some for speaking his mind but accused by others of bullying.

As the house argued, suddenly the small, clear voice of Verne (Mini Me, Austin Powers) spoke up. “I just think,” he said, “it’s not nice to make a girl cry.”

And there you have my stance entirely. What we know is that many, many people are deeply and genuinely offended by the golliwog and by reference to it. They are hurt by it. That in itself should be enough reason to seal its fate.

It’s a stuffed toy not some irreplaceable cornerstone of our culture.

Let’s dump the damn thing for once and for all. Consign it to the museum and delete it as an acceptable point of comparison. End of.

There are other more important issues on which to defend the right of free speech in 2009.

As for the woman at the centre of the row, you can’t help feeling she might benefit from some exposure to more 21st century playthings.

Not for the first time, it has to be said, Carol Thatcher could do with a Wii.

Belfast Telegraph


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