Gale Review Team
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│ By Rebecca Bowden, Associate Acquisitions Editor │
Everybody knows Noddy. Created by Enid Blyton in 1949, the Noddy books – and subsequent television show – tell the story of a wooden man who runs away from the toy store and finds himself in Toyland. There he makes his home after the town’s residents have established that he is, indeed, a toy. The adventures of this blue-hatted man and his friends (Big Ears, PC Plod, Dinah Doll, Tessie Bear et. al.) are a staple of the British childhood, enduring through years of changes and controversy. With this year marking Noddy’s 70th birthday, we take a look in Gale Primary Sources to uncover the history of the little man in the red and yellow car.
The obvious place to start is with the first appearance of Noddy in Gale Primary Sources. The primary source below is an advert from the publisher Sampson Low, found in the Times Literary Supplement in 1949. It offers a 51/2×7 inch book for 3s. 6d. Published on 25 November, that book was Noddy Goes to Toyland: the starting point of Noddy’s legacy.
“Sampson Low.” The Times Literary Supplement, 4 Nov. 1949, p. 714. The Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/EX1200083233/GDCS?u=webdemo&sid=GDCS&xid=5a413437
The next Noddy milestone comes from the 15 January 1955 issue of Picture Post. The article, full of pictures of happy children and elaborately dressed actors, tells us that Noddy Goes to Toyland has now been made into a play – the first new children’s play since the war. By 1955, the country’s love for Noddy was already well established.
Another significant milestone represented in Gale Primary Sources, (in a testament to Noddy’s enduring legacy – it’s a temporal leap forward from 1955) is from 1992. The Daily Mail is one of many articles by a myriad of newspapers that describe how the rights to Noddy had been bought by the BBC, after its previous owner, Macdonald, had gone into administration. The BBC planned to turn it into ‘its biggest money-spinner, earning £20 million over the next ten years’. It is here that Noddy’s television career began.
The following year there were talks around Noddy making the leap from the small screen to the big screen, with rumours of a Noddy film in the works, according to both The Times and The Independent. Clearly, the BBC’s big plans for the little man were coming to fruition.
Since being bought by the BBC, Noddy has changed hands a number of times, but throughout he has continued to spread across the world. In 1971 the Financial Times reported that the then owners, the British Printing Corporation, were ‘exploring the possibilities of publishing Enid Blyton’s Noddy books in Europe’. In 1998 Noddy was shipped over to the USA, where he topped American television ratings, according to The Independent, and in 2004 he made his way East, with the Daily Mail reporting that he was ‘being exported to China, with the hope of winning over the 95m under-fives in the population.’ The enjoyment of Noddy was universal, and he’s now a childhood staple. This love becomes especially apparent when original drawings or letters come up for sale – the sheer amount they go for at auction is gobsmacking. A ‘one-page illustrated letter, marking the introduction of Noddy, Big Ears and other Enid Blyton characters, fetched $40,000 at Sotherby’s’ in 1997, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Despite his widespread appeal, however, Noddy is not without his controversies. Perhaps the most well known involved accusations of racism, so much so that the books were banned from schools and libraries for a number of years. The original Noddy stories featured gollywogs, a children’s toy now extinct in modern toyshops due to their racist connotations, as well as a story about a little black doll called Sambo who was sad because the child wouldn’t play with him, but when it rained and the black paint washed away, leaving him pink, he was loved and everyone was happy. Although even Enid Blyton was surprised she had written something so obviously problematic, even the less overtly racist sentiments that wove their way through the original Noddy books are distasteful to a modern audience. In the early nineties, the gollywogs were written out and replaced with a new character that did not give a ‘negative ethnic image’, and for the TV series, Dinah Doll was developed into a proper character, ensuring that diversity remained amongst the cast of Toyland. There was also an increase in female characters, and they no longer contributed only passive, domestic roles – Dinah ‘shares in some of Noddy’s adventures instead of Big Ears’.
Blyton’s books were also banned for another reason: they were seen as puerile and trivial; ‘educationally undesirable’ according to this article by the Daily Telegraph. Still, it seems none of this was enough to stop children wanting to read them.
Perhaps less monumental, but nonetheless controversial, was an update to Noddy that caused an outcry in 1998-99, because he now had a Canadian accent. When the show was aired in the USA, it was dubbed, overriding the character’s traditional British accents and replacing old-fashioned phases such as ‘I say,’ with the more American friendly ‘gee-whiz’. This, of course, upset many on this side of the pond, with articles appearing in multiple newspapers, from the Daily Telegraph to The Independent, so much so that he had to be redubbed with a British accent when the show aired in the UK. Blyton’s daughter even told the Daily Mail that ‘he’s an English character and has been for 50 years. It sounds very strange and foolish for anyone to even have to discuss whether Noddy should speak English. Of course, he should.’ That’s that then.
While Gale Primary Sources allows us to trace this history of Noddy, much of this information is widely known. Where the archives really shine is how they uncover parts of the story that might otherwise be lost to time. For instance, did you know that Britain’s Post Office was in trouble with the UN in 1997 because it celebrated Noddy on its commemorative stamps, instead of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Or that a woman who robbed a building society in 1995 was caught because her disguise looked like Noddy? Or that in 2003, Noddy launched his pop career, going for a Christmas Number One? No? Well, you do now.