Saturday, 10 May 2014

Post Office sexism shock

A press release from the Post Office introducing a new range of twelve stamps illustrating "some of the most popular shows from over 60 years of children’s television". You can see the stamps here.

The characters are, chronologically:

Andy Pandy and Teddy
Ivor the Engine
Dougal (from The Magic Roundabout)
Windy Miller (Camberwick Green)
Mr Benn
Great Uncle Bulgaria (the head of the Womble family)
Paddington Bear
Postman Pat
Bob the Builder
Peppa Pig and
Shaun the Sheep

The press release continues: "Stamps are designed so each character ‘breaks out’ of the border".

Up to a point; one border remains unbroken-out-of. Apart from Peppa Pig (who is, one can't help noticing, a pig) all the characters are male (although that's a term tested to breaking point in the case of Andy Pandy). This is reflected in their bilabially plosive names - Bob (builder), Pat (postman), Paddington (Bear), Bagpuss (bag, puss) and Ben (no first name, and a bit of an enigma).

We don't expect today's Post Office to be trailblazers in progressive social values - this isn't the 1930s - but surely even the dimmest Marketing wonk at Mount Pleasant could see that this is a Bad Thing.

Who might they have chosen? From The Magic Roundabout for a start there's Florence (the lead character, as I recall) and Ermintrude the trilling pink cow. Camberwick Green had a large cast of female characters (the dotty Mrs Honeybun comes immediately to mind); the Mitford-like Lady Rosemary from The Herbs; Little Weed, Bill and Ben's shrieking amanuensis; the psychedelic Crystal Tipps (who had a biddable dog named Alistair); Mary (of Mary, Mungo and Midge fame); Daisy the capricious diesel railcar (in the Thomas the Tank Engine books and films, although the female engines all tend to be temperamental and unreliable while the steam locomotives are all decent hard-working chaps - Edward, Henry, Toby, Percy and so on. Middle-class too. Thomas's carriages (Annie and Clarabelle) are female and all the trucks are grubby uncouth proles. Then of course there's . . . but enough already.

No. Not enough. Miss Zaza and Miss Kiki (cat and frog respectively, friends of the pompous hound Hector, who had a House); most of the Tellytubbies (I think); Tiny Clanger (although the Clanger gender isn't easy to establish and I don't care to speculate about their secondary sexual characteristics); Mrs Pogle of Pogle's Wood (and you'd be forgiven for not remembering that). And finally there's Looby Lou (Andy Pandy's rag doll companion) with her suggestive theme song:

Here we go looby Lou
Here we go looby Lie
Here we go Looby Lou
All on a Saturday night.

It really wouldn't surprise me if Looby Lou didn't prompt the rise of laddette culture in the 1990s. She's the prototype for the gobby 'post-feminist' Caitlin Moran.

And, come to think of it, how about Dora, the kohl-eyed and nervy stable girl from Follyfoot? Somebody once convinced me that Ted Hughes wrote the scripts for that overwrought Yorkshire drama, based on books by Monica Dickens. Admittedly Dora was played by a human being, Gillian Blake, but there's no reason that 'much loved children's characters' shouldn't be living breathing creatures. There's Rolf Harris, Jimmy Saville . . . 

Really enough already. Great piece here by Germaine Greer in the current New Statesman on the failures of new feminism. the failures of new feminism.

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