Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A nice story about a sheep

Today's story about the Health and Safety Executive and the excuse it's given everyone to dust off those stories about goggles for conkers, hanging baskets and the like, reminded me of this, which I wrote for the Eye back in March (issue 1154, fact fans).

Halley’s comet, Peter Mandelson resigning, Ulrika getting dumped and Tim Henman getting knocked out of Wimbledon: some stories can be relied upon to turn up regularly in the papers with only the tiniest alterations required to bring them up to date.

One such is that which reappeared in the Sun, Mail, Times and Mirror, and most spectacularly, emblazoned across the front of the Daily Express last week: “Political Correctness goes mad at the nursery: NOW IT’S ‘BAA BAA RAINBOW SHEEP’.” “Teachers at a government-backed school were ordered to change the lyrics of the classic Baa Baa Black Sheep,” stormed the Express. “The idea was to ‘avoid offending children’ and keep in line with ‘equal opportunities’.”

This tale – wherein a politically correct administrator insists that children remove all references that could be considered racist from ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ – first surfaced in February 1986, when the Daily Star and Sun declared that “loony left-wing councillors” had banned children at Hackney play groups from singing the rhyme. It was not true then either. Neither was it true in October of that year, when the Daily Mail claimed play leaders on a Haringey council racism awareness course had been told to stamp out the song, nor in 1987, when Islington Council went to court to stop an SDP party political broadcast which falsely claimed they had imposed a ban, in 2000 when various papers relocated it to Birmingham, nor in 2005 when the Mail on Sunday moved it all the way up to Aberdeen.

For the record, the charity Parents and Children Together, which runs the two play groups at the centre of last week’s outbreak told the Press Association that “children at the two family centres sing a variety of descriptive words in the nursery rhyme to turn the song into an action rhyme. They sing happy, sad, bouncing, hopping, pink, blue, black and white sheep etc. This encourages the children to extend their vocabulary.” Curiously, this explanation went unreported by any of the national papers.

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