NEW POLL: was the BBC right to ban Carol Thatcher from The One Show?

I’ve avoided for as long as possible the uber-hyped ‘nowtrage’ over Carol Thatcher’s off-air-but-in-the-studio comment that a still-to-be-identified tennis player looks like a ‘golliwog’.

It does of course pose lots of interesting questions for liberals: the conflict between freedom of speech, and the offence that may cause; to what extent unbroadcast behind-the-scenes remarks should be regarded as private; whether remarks that cause offence are best dealt with by individuals at the time, rather than by being referred to an ombudsmanperson.

The Lib Dem blogosphere has wrestled with many of these issues and more, and given more time to the issue than I have the heart for, here:

>> Liberals should be supporting Carol Thatcher (‘Costigan Quist’ at Himmelgarten Cafe);
>> Carol Thatcher – an issue of free speech? (Paul Walter at Liberal Burblings); and
>> Carol Thatcher, praying nurses and the abolition of private life (Jonathan Calder at Liberal England).

What depresses me about the ensuing debate (with the honourable exceptions above) is quite how tired and predictable it has so quickly become, with battle-lines drawn generally along political lines.

Many on the right argue that Ms Thatcher’s banning once again displays the BBC’s deplorable, hypocritical, political-correctness-gone-mad standards (slipping thereof). Many on the left argue that anyone who sticks up for Carol Thatcher is, pretty much by extension, a racist. Both arguments strike me as rather pathetically extreme.

My view? The word ‘golliwog’ may be considered by some to be innocuous (and, yes, I too had a golliwog soft toy as a child) but its imagery and association is racially-charged. For generations, it was the image for millions of ‘what black people look like’, only one step away from that ultimate phrase of unconscious racism, ‘they all look the same to me’. As far as I know, there is no equivalent soft toy held to represent a single image of ‘what white people look like’. There’s a reason for that: we all look different, and we’re all individuals. That is why the label ‘golliwog’ became associated with racial stereotyping, and why the term itself is generally regarded as a racial insult.

So, Carol Thatcher was, in my view, wrong to use the word ‘golliwog’, however jokily/ironically/post-modernly. That she did so, unthinkingly, in front of people she didn’t know, on BBC premises, while being paid by the BBC, gives them the right to discipline her in a proportionate manner. This they did by offering her the opportunity to make a full apology, and when she declined to do so, exercising their rights as her employer to ban her from the show she was contributing to at the time of the incident.

It then became – for no good reason – a national furore, with the incident used by those with their own agendas to score political points off each other. All of which I find deeply tedious.

But let’s open this up to the LDV readership, and ask:

Do you think the BBC was justified in banning Carol Thatcher from The One Show for using the term ‘golliwog’?

Yes or No?

Over to you…

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This entry was posted in Voice polls.


  • As far as I know, there is no equivalent soft toy held to represent a single image of ‘what white people look like’.


    The modern hysteria over “they all look the same to me” is misplaced. It is entirely normal that a population will “look the same” to a new observer. Someone who has never seen a cat before will think that a leopard, cheetah and jaguar all look the same. That doesnt make them a bigot – it makes them someone who doesnt have experience of cats.

    What would be a problem is if they say “they all look the same to me… therefore they all ARE the same.”

  • If you say something without thinking, and it offends someone, isn’t it only good manners to apologise?

  • In my Young Liberal days we (or some of us) used to refer to a certain local (Lib Dem) councillor as golliwog because of his hairstyle. Was it offensive? Only to the gentleman concerned. Was it racist? Definitely not!

  • Is it racist or in any way offensive to call a redhead a “Belischa beacon” or a Nordic blonde a “snowman”?

    And was it racist for Enid Blyton to create a character called “Gilbert Golly”? Should Noddy books be censored?

  • Ruth Bright 5th Feb '09 - 7:26pm

    It’s interesting that these high-profile cases usually seem to involve racist rather than sexist remarks.

    When I was a PPC a leading member of my local party thought it was OK to make a remark comparing the breast size of two councillors. On another occasion a male Lib Dem councillor complained that a Tory councillor was a “cow” and “needed to be milked”.

    When I protested about these remarks it was made pretty clear to me that the comments were fine because they were made in good humour and in private meetings.

  • I’ve made my position clear on my blog:

  • Martin Land 5th Feb '09 - 8:02pm

    Sorry, I don’t get. Surely being the child of ‘She’ should be enough toget her banned?

  • Perennially Bored 6th Feb '09 - 12:45am

    Ruth – couldn’t agree more.

  • David Evans 6th Feb '09 - 4:53pm


    The BBC fires Carol Thatcher for using the term “golliwog”, once, off the air, with little indication of what the context was, but only suspends for three months Jonathan Ross, who deliberately targets over a sustained period on the air, an old guy, Andrew Sachs.

    Does this mean that publicly attacking someone on the air is not as bad as using a term that people consider racist in a small conversation? I know which I think will set a worse example for our society. Many people seem to hold the elderly in near contempt. Racism is rightly denounced; Ageism, apparently less so. On the other hand, perhaps Jonathan Ross was too famous to be sacked.

    What price liberty – About £4 million a year?

  • Lesley Newland and Philippa Devoy 12th Feb '09 - 5:53pm

    Ross did not apologise for several days after the event, his first apology was sung on tv with Brand. Do you think if Andrew Sachs had been black Ross would still be in his job, no of course he wouldn’t.

    Adrian Chiles is a back stabber and a nasty little man, I have he get his just desserts. Jo Brand is a foul mouthed nothing, she belongs in the dustbin.

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