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Wednesday 24 November 2021

The great yellow golliwog panic of 1961

The golliwogs in question were (or would have been if they existed at all) little handmade yarn dollies from scraps (we made our own entertainment in those days, but  I see that there are still instructions available on how to make these).

But, anyway, in the summer of the 1961 there was a panic about schoolgirls wearing yellow golliwogs as badges, which had sinister import. This first appears to have surfaced in a speech at the British Medical Association Annual Representative Meeting, 17 July 1961, by Dr R. G. Gibson, a member of Council, who averred that 'at a girls' school in England' (unnamed and not more specifically located, no indication of who might have been his informant) a yellow golliwog pinned to a girl's chest 'indicated to [her] fellow pupils that [she] had lost [her] virginity'. And this was a sign of the loss of moral discipline that was sweeping the country. He went on to advocate a return to corporal punishment instead of all this soft psychiatry. (Supplement to the British Medical Journal, 22 July 1961, p. 48)

This was quite immediately taken up by the press - e.g. 'Doctors discuss loose living: Moral Problem of the Yellow Golliwogs', Birmingham Post, 18 July 1961, p. 4), and a question raised in Parliament: 

The newspapers this morning contained a terrible indictment of the kind of society in which we live. Girls in one of our schools are now putting yellow golliwogs on their tunics to show that they have lost their virginity.  (William Hamilton, Fife, West:  Hansard 18 July 1961)

A question that springs to mind is, had anyone, at this point, ever actually seen a schoolgirl wearing a yellow golliwog, or were these entirely chimerae of fevered minds? 

Nonetheless, this was a moral panic with traction, a trope about moral decline as embodied in those perennial figures of concern, adolescent girls. In a letter to The Times in September of the same year, the Rev Leslie D. Weatherhead (a veteran writer of sexual advice from a religious angle), wrote expressing his anxieties over the alleged rise in venereal infections among young people, the increase in teenage single mothers, and the claim by the unnamed headmistress of an unidentified 'large girls' school in London' that not one of the sixth-formers was a virgin (paging Dorothy Parker: 'How could she tell?') ('A Nation in Danger: Need of Moral Challenge: To The Editor of The Times', 20 September 1961). 

The announcement of a 'searching and enlightening enquiry' by the Sunday Times - 'Your Teenage Daughter: Dilemma of the Middle-Class Parent', opened by invoking 'the much publicized yellow golliwog on the gym-slip... a sad little badge of non-chastityamong young British schoolgirls' (The Times, 8 December, 1961).

Leading one to wonder whether, whatever the truth of the original sightings of the yellow golliwogs, they did in fact get taken up by schoolgirls wishing to seem in the swing of things? (Whether or not they signalled actual sexual experience.)

The trope went muttering on and being invoked for several more years, although, a rather more realistic and cynical note was injected a couple of years later at a conference of sixth formers by an actual schoolgirl: 'Yellow golliwogs do not necessarily mean that the wearer has had an affair: only that, not wishing to seem different, the wearer wishes other people to believe them unchaste' ('Sixth Form View on Chastity', The Times, 18 February, 1963).

And the consequence was: the X-rated  movie The Yellow Teddybears (aka Gutter Girls) 1963: 'embarrassingly inept' (Daily Herald, 13 July 1963, p. 6) - 'mediocre entertainment' (Sunday Mirror, 14 July 1963, p. 23).

Were there ever yellow golliwogs?  Were they ever sighted being sported pinned on a gymslipped bosom?

However, maybe younger generations turning out attics and old boxes wonder what this old faded yarn dolly of granny's was and why she kept it... Any findings, please report!