Posted on January 5, 2009

BBC Gives ‘Too White’ TV Doll a Darker Face

James Robinson, The Observer (Manchester), January 4, 2009

The BBC has agreed to replace a toy doll of Upsy Daisy, a brown-skinned character in the hugely popular children’s television show In the Night Garden, after parents complained it had been manufactured to appear white.

Executives at BBC Worldwide, the corporation’s commercial arm, denied the doll had been lightened for commercial reasons, but following a consultation they have asked Hasbro, the toy’s American manufacturer, to create a new version with a darker face.

The commitment to alter the colour of the toy has been made to defuse an unlikely racism row, though the programme’s maker, Ragdoll Productions, insists the character is “not intended to represent a specific race or culture”. The BBC points out the existing toy is modelled on an animated version of the character that runs at the end of the show, which they say it is a lighter colour than the larger-than-life puppet that appears on the main body of the programme, which is aimed at pre-school children.

One parent, who did not want to be named, welcomed the decision, but said she did not accept the BBC’s argument: “The animation is only a tiny part of the show. All the dolls are very light. Obviously they are fantasy characters but [Upsy Daisy] does look like a doll with African heritage and that’s one of the nice things about the show. It gives children good role models.”

Following a “small number” of formal complaints, bosses at BBC Worldwide decided to commission brand consultancy Sparkler to review the likeness of all the In the Night Garden characters on and off screen. A spokesman for BBC Worldwide said: “The findings showed most consumers were happy with the toys, but a number of people wanted the Upsy Daisy doll to have a darker face colour to more closely represent how she appears in the live-action element of the TV show.”

Ragdoll describes In the Night Garden as “a thoroughly modern interpretation of a nursery-rhyme picture book”, featuring “a host of wonderful characters, based loosely on toys, living together in a caring, happy community”. Ragdoll was co-founded by Anne Wood, a former teacher and magazine publisher, in 1984. It has made a string of hits for children, including Rosie and Jim, Pob’s Programme and Teletubbies. Wood made a personal fortune of around £55m, much of it made by selling the American rights to Teletubbies, which has also attracted controversy. Some educationalists criticised the programme for encouraging young children to mimic the infantile sounds of its characters and Christian leaders in the US, who claimed that one of its characters, Tinky Winky, was gay.

Last year, In the Night Garden became Britain’s most successful children’s television franchise, making almost £18m in the year to 31 October, 2008.