My comments tonight are sparked by a Channel 4 television show: It was Alright in the 1970s. Episode two focused on old-fashioned Britishness on TV in the 70s. From blacking-up pre-watershed, through to rampant homophobia and xenophobia, it asked whether the 70s was the decade that taste forgot. Narrated by Matt Lucas, this two-part series included interviews with the people who appeared in the programmes, those who watched them and those who made them, and asked them ‘what were you thinking?’ at the time.
The programme included clips of shows I remember watching such as the ‘Black and White Minstrel Show’ and ‘The Goodies’. There were also bits of comedy from the series ‘Mind your Language’. One of the sequences included a flick through pages from a television guide (probably TV Times, as it included adverts). On one page there was an advert that said: ‘Golly it’s Good’.
This included a picture of a golly (it is no longer politically correct to use the full version of the word). This was the marketing symbol for many years for Robertsons jams, made in Scotland. Jars of Golden Shred were a common sight on the breakfast table when I was growing up. But six years ago, after being part of British life since 1864, the jam was phased out. The golly character had become very much non-PC.
The black-faced minstrel doll with his natty red bow tie and trousers, flowing blue jacket and distinctive yellow waistcoat, danced his way across the label on pots for the best part of a century. Critics complained that the image was an offensive caricature of black people and was based on slave dolls.
In 1983 the Greater London Council stopped buying the firm’s jam and marmalade, saying Golly was racist. A year later, councillors in Islington, North London, banned a Golly-bearing road safety poster as ‘offensive’.
The Working Group Against Racism in Children’s Resources called it ‘undoubtedly an offensive caricature of black people; it embodies the mythical qualities such as the love of music and rhythm, superstition, large appetites, primitive simplicity and savagery’.
For years, Robertson’s defended Golly as a fictional nurseryland character, not a depiction of a black person. However, the character was axed from television adverts in 1988, and then disappeared from the labels printed in 2002. Premier Foods, who bought the brand from RHM in 2007 got rid of Robertson’s jam forever and promoted its other brand Hartley’s instead.
Golly! I had better watch my language in future in case of causing unintentional offence. However that did not seem to bother a 21st Century comedian on television last night. Des Bishop was very funny in parts but much of his sexually explicit language was in my view offensive.