A black and white problem? Police officers visit pub to confiscate 'Golly' dolls despite force having previously decided no laws were broken. Council confirms display does not breach its rules

By Nub News Reporter

6th Apr 2023 | Local News

Chris and Benice Ryley at the White Hart. Picture by the EastNews Agency.
Chris and Benice Ryley at the White Hart. Picture by the EastNews Agency.

SIX Essex police officers descended on a borough pub this week and confiscated a number of dolls that have been hanging behind its bar for many years.

They were responding, in a repetition of a similar incident in 2018, to a complaint that the dolls – replicas of the historic Robertson jam jar golliwogs - are racially offensive.

It's a little more than five years since police last turned up at the pub, the White Hart on Argent Street in Grays, following a previous complaint and concern raised by Thurrock Council's licensing team.

In 2018 pub landlords Chris and Benice Ryley, backed by their regulars, insisted the dolls were a part of British history and that they were on display in a privately-owned venue and had been for many years.

They refused to remove the dolls and - and after investigations by both the council and police - nothing further happened.

That is until Tuesday (4 April) this week when, 15 minutes before the pub was due to open at lunctime, a number of officers arrived at the pub and told Benice they were taking the dolls away because there had been a complaint and a visitor to the pub had been 'quite upset about them'.

The collectable Coronation Golly badge

This time, it is entirely a police action. A statement issued by Thurrock Council confirms: "This is not a matter which the council has any powers to act on under the Licensing Act 2003 or Public Order Legislation."

Benice explains what happened, saying: "Chris is away abroad and will be until the middle of May. Police said as he is the licensee they need to interview him and they have taken the dolls away in the interim.

"I don't understand why we have to go through all this again. They have even taken away the badges that used to be given out by Robertsons and a book that explains the history of the marketing.

"We have the police taking away information that is literally the history of this country. And why? We are quite happy to call them dolls, not golliwogs, but even the officer who wrote down the inventory as he was taking them away described the larger one as a golliwog and the others as golly dolls. So even the police don't know what to call them.

"I understand that some people may not like them and they are entitled to that view, but they don't have to come into the pub.

"As far as we are aware we are not breaking any laws by displaying them, and that was proved last time when we were investigated. If we were not breaking the law then, why are we breaking the law now?"

It transpires the police action on Tuesday follows a complaint made 39 days ago.

In the interim since its receipt the force made the call that it believes there was sufficient reason to believe a 'hate crime' has taken place. So six officers were dispatched.

A statement from the police says: ""We are investigating an allegation of hate crime in Grays reported to us on 24 February.

"On Tuesday, 4 April, we attended a location off Argent Street, Grays, and seized several items in connection with our investigation."

The force has declined to explain why it took a contrary position in 2018.

The debate over the dolls has raged long and hard.

A golliwog is a black doll that started appearing in children's books in the late 1800s.

It is historically linked to the term 'blackface' - white people blacking up to imitate black people to entertain - and "wog" is a derogatory form for people with dark skin.

Most notably in the UK, the term golliwog became associated with a jam company.

The Robertson's golliwog symbol (not seen as racially charged at the time) appeared in 1910 after a trip to the US to set up a plant in Boston by company owner James Robertson.

His son John noticed local children playing with little black rag dolls with white eyes. Mr Robertson senior bought one of the dolls and brought it back to Britain.

Intrigued by the popularity of the 'Golly', he thought it would make an ideal mascot and trade mark for the Robertson's range of products and it was first used in 1911.

In particular the company created small metal badges featuring the dolls and a large number of styles were created, including ones that celebrated the coronation in 1937.

The Robertson 'Golly' was not only limited to badges. There were Robertson golly dolls, ceramic, golly games for children, the 1979 illustrated storybook 'Here Comes Golly' by Gyles Brandreth  and even golly clothing. At the start of the 1980s the hard enamelled badges were replaced with cheaper-to-produce acrylic badges, but this did not affect their popularity.

When production stopped in 2001, more than 20 million golly badges had been sent out. Samples of the badges were among the items confiscated by police at the White Hart.

And there have been many instances – perhaps most notably children's author Enid Blyton - of golliwog character being featured in books

Robertson's officially retired 'Golly' in 2002. The company had found that their trademark was, on the whole, no longer popular with children, although the scheme was still successful and popular with adult collectors.

Enid Blyton's book.

Robertson's always insisted that they did not retire the image because of the pressure of political correctness, but simply for commercial reasons.

The brand director at Robertson's at the time commented: "We are retiring 'Golly' because we found families with kids no longer necessarily knew about him. We are not bowing to political correctness, but like with any great brand we have to move with the times."

The issue over the public's view on golliwogs in the modern day is encapsulated in an article published by noted academic Professor Tim Bale of Queen Mary University in London, where he speaks of his own dislike and taste of the doll, the image and the term - but he says the wider public have vastly differing opinions.

The article can be read via this link.


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