Posted on March 16, 2007

Police Seize Golliwogs In Racism Probe

James Tozer, Daily Mail (London), March 15, 2007

When police received allegations of racism, their reaction was impressively swift.

They swooped on the premises in question and seized a pair of suspects to help with their inquiries. Questioning them was not an option, however—for they were both rag dolls.

Their alleged crime was that they were designed in the style of a golliwog, and a visitor to the shop where they were on sale had complained to police.

As a result shopkeeper Gavin Alexander faced a £1,000 fine after being accused of a public order offence.

Police have since returned the dolls and said charges were not being pressed. But Mr Alexander, 39, attacked the decision to take the complaint seriously in the first place.

“Surely the police have got more important things to do?” he said. “It’s cases like this that cause racism.”

His shop, In Touch in the village of Wrightington, Lancashire, sells soft toys, curiosities, furniture and other products.

The £4.50 “golly rag dolls” and matching keyrings were on display with African statues and Buddha figures.

Apparently a woman customer called police to complain that the golly-style dolls were racially offensive.

The next day two officers arrived and confiscated one 6in doll and one keyring. They took a statement from Mr Alexander and told him to remove the remaining gollies from sale.

Finally, however, it was concluded that no offence had been committed and the dolls are now back on sale.

Mr Alexander is the latest trader to face prosecution for selling golliwogs, once popular toys but now shunned as crude racist stereotypes.

Last year shopkeeper Donald Reynolds was threatened with prosecution for offensive behaviour after displaying golliwogs in his hardware shop in Bromyard, Herefordshire.

Furniture store boss John Scadgell was threatened under the same legislation over gollies in the window of his shop in Worthing, West Sussex.

The Commission for Racial Equality said the question of whether golliwogs were considered racist depended on the context in which they were displayed.

“Some people might find them offensive, some people might not,” said a spokesman.

Last night Lancashire Police said: “This incident was reported to us by a member of the public.

“No offences have been committed and it is no longer a police matter.”

The golliwog first appeared in a children’s story by American writer Florence Kate Upton in the 19th century and was popularised in Britain when jam manufacturer James Robertson & Sons adopted it as a symbol for its products in 1910.

By the 1980s, however, it was increasingly seen as offensive and Robertson’s dropped the golly in 2001.