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10th September
2014 Interviewer: Harriet Barrett-Dowling

00.00 – Annebella: Well I think I had quite a lot of cuddly toys generally and all my sisters did as well. My brother just had one teddy bear which I still have. I have it now. We all had lots of toys but I was particularly interested in gollies. I had lots and lots of golliwogs and that’s because from the age of about 7 or so I started collecting them. And I started just with one that I particularly liked and because I liked it so much, my mum knitted me one for the following Christmas. And then, the next Christmas or birthday I got another one, and I started looking out for them as well as being given them. And so they were the main toys that I played with and so the collecting of them was part of the – that was my sort of leisure activity or my hobby, my interest for all of my primary school years for sure.

Harriet: And can you describe the gollies a little bit more? Were they quite varied or did they have…?

01.15 – Annebella: Well the first one I didn’t actually know was a golly. I didn’t know what golliwogs were. It was just a toy with a black face and actually I think I had to ask my mum what it was. And it wasn’t a very conventional one. In fact I still have it, if you’d like to see it. This is it. [Holds up golly] This is Gary, Gary Golly as he later became known. And he hasn’t got any hair. They traditionally had spiky hair and they often had a bow tie and a little jacket and things like that as well. He doesn’t have that. He has some other elements that a lot of gollies have. Stripy trousers. Red lips and a white insides of a mouth and white eyes. I don’t know whether he ever had hair. He came from a bazaar.

I think he was second hand when I got him. I think he was old when I got him and for some reason, I just really liked him. He doesn’t look anything special now but you can see, he’s had a lot of use. He’s sewn up on all sides and he’s absolutely disgustingly filthy and completely faded. But yes, it all started with this thing. And I called him Gary because it just went nicely with golly. When I found out that it was this thing called a golly. So I called it Gary Golly and all of the other ones that I was given or that I bought after that also had names beginning with ‘g’.

And in the end, I think I had something like 130 of them until I think I stopped actively collecting them when I started secondary school because I just became less interested in them but it was a vigorous pursuit throughout all of my childhood. Also because even then, in the late ‘70’s, early years of the 80’s, they were rare. They weren’t commonly sold anywhere so they had to be sought out, so the pursuit of finding them was part of the kind of pleasure of having them as well because they were either – you either bought them second hand or you had to get them … You got them from sort of craft fairs where people handmade them. Or people made them for me.

03.21 – Harriet: What kind of games did you play with him?

Annebella: Actually, do you know?, I don’t actually remember playing games with him. As I said to you that I played with them, I don’t think I ever did really play with them. I didn’t make them act out scenarios. I just enjoyed having them. I don’t know what I did with them really. I had them on display. I wrote about them. I’ve always written things and I wrote a little book about them. So that was what I did with really, was I lined them up according to sizes. I was of an age where I was a bit too old to kind of have tea parties with them and I was sort of curious about them. So they had personalities and I gave them names but I don’t remember actually remember really playing with them. That might be because something’s preventing me from remembering. But I don’t think I actually did play with them. I did line them up a lot. I had them in a box and I used to get them out and I used to sort of write stories about them and things. But I don’t think I made them dance or sing or …

04.35 – Harriet: Do you have any of the stories still?

Annebella: Yeah, I haven’t got very much from my childhood actually. When I was about 16 I threw loads and loads of things away. All of my school books and lots of things from my childhood including this book, which is a book I wrote about it. But one of my sisters made me rescue it and she said that she thought I ought to keep it. It’s called The Golly Pad and it’s in a note book that was produced by Golden Shred, Robertson’s marmalade and they famously used to have a golly token on the back for many, many years. They don’t any more. In the 1980s they produced a range of merchandise and I avidly collected it because it would be very hard to get anything to do with gollies apart from through that company and so anything that they sold, I bought. [Refers to the Golly Pad book] So I’ve got various things in here. I’ve got a list of all the golly names. As I said, they all began with ‘g’. Graham, Grace, Goliath, Gail, Gregory, Gwen, Glenda. Sometimes I had to make some up because it got quite hard after a while to come up with over 100 names beginning with ‘g’.

There’s some content by my sister in here as well …my sister Jane. There’s a song. [Leafs through the pages] I think I might have wrecked some library books. There’s some cut- outs, some collages, something that I wrote. I can remember the tune but I’m not going to sing it for you. [laughs] More gollies cut out of books. Again it was … you had to look into history to find them because they were already not common. They weren’t common but you could find them in old Enid Blyton books and I’d inherited quite a lot of old Enid Blyton books from my auntie so the next generation up. I wrote a poem.

There’s funny little interventions that are bits of advertising. So there’s information here about sending off for golly brooches. There’s a history page, which is a history taken from Robertson’s. A little book review [laughing]. I’m not sure what the genre of this is. It’s kind of somewhere between an annual and it’s got colouring in and things to do. I don’t know who I thought was going to do it but it’s like an activity guide.

06.48 – And then there’s a bit of social reportage, because in the 1980s… actually you can see me sort of coming into consciousness about the race issue. There was starting to be quite a lot of discussion in the newspapers about whether gollies should be banned and lots of debate about whether gollies were racist or not and so I’ve cut out and collected and transcribed a few newspaper articles about them going in and out of favour.

From the Daily Express, this one is, and I think that’s because my parents got the Daily Express, a rather right wing tabloid. [Continues to turn pages of Golly Pad] So a story … I listed all the things I owned. You see I was very proud of being a collector. There’s another … yes, there’s something there from 1984 from the Daily Express called “Not so Good Golly”. Over the last 30 years somewhere that’s fallen out. But I’ve got a little newspaper cutting of a golly with a sad face. And I was starting to, sort of, obviously think about this idea that they were offensive and insulting. But I’ve got a little historic thing. Someone gave me a 1950’s historical Roberson’s article. I’ve got a competition that you could send in and I would judge the prize. No one sent anything in, ‘cos no one ever saw this. Colouring in and a review of a play. Another poem.

And then I’ve got dates and descriptions of all of the gollies that I kept with full, sort of, object outlines of what they look like, which was deeply fascinating to me and not at all interesting to anyone else.

Harriet: It’s very interesting how you sort of created an almost literary world around them rather than, as you said, playing with them in a scenario. I mean is there … how did you feel about them?

08.42 – Annebella: I felt very invested in them. I felt very enthusiastic about them. Most weekends I used to go out in pursuit of them. If I ever had any money, I spent it on golly- related things. My mum knitted me a golly jumper. I was interested in, I suppose, the whole thing around them. The history and the stories, the fact that they were rare. I suppose latterly I probably got interested in the fact that they were controversial.

But I definitely thought, in my very childish way, that they were somehow kind of alive and important. I had … my older brother is 8 years older than me and he did, as older brothers do, he teased me all the time and one of the things he used to like teasing me about was whether or not my toys were real. He used to say to me: “They’re just made of cotton and stuffing”, a bit like you’ve just asked me. I said “They’re not just made of cotton and stuffing, they’re real”.

I did invest a lot of personality in them. And if anyone had asked me whether I thought they were racist, I would have said “No, they’re just cute”. But that’s not really a defence of them. But to a child, to a primary school-aged child, that’s what I thought of them.

Harriet: So you touched a little on the political element. Did you find that changed how you felt about them or wrote about them? Or was it just as you say, it’s cute and it’s …

10.10 – Annebella: Well I think when I cut out those articles, I was cutting them out because it was an image of golly and I cut out anything I could find on them, wherever I could find anything, so although I must have engaged on some level with the debates and some people did talk to me about it, even when I was a collector, because I was aware that some shops didn’t sell them and sometimes I’d ask and they’d say “Oh no, we don’t sell that anymore”. So I was aware that they had a sort of contentious status but I suppose, in my childish understanding, I thought it was just that they had fallen out of style or fallen out of favour and become old-fashioned. But obviously I grew much more knowledgeable about that as I got older, and even just a few years older, because I remember when I was in at secondary school, I still had a lot of them.

For a long time I had them but didn’t do anything with them and they were just in boxes but I also didn’t want to get rid of them because I was so attached to them. And at some point when I was an older teenager, I suppose I was about 15 or something, so I was still living at home, my mum thought that she would offer some to her brother who had younger children, so to my cousins. And those cousins lived in South London and I remember being there and my mum said to my uncle “Would you like any of these? Would your kids like any of these because, you know, she doesn’t play with them anymore and we’re trying to pass them on”. And he said “No way. We’re not going to have gollies in South London”, and obviously thought of us as being these country bumpkins and, you know, maybe they meant something different in a decade earlier, in Devon than they did a decade later in multicultural London. And because I remember that so clearly, I think that must have been a moment of crystallisation and I thought “They’re different now”.

12.02 – And as I’ve got older, I’ve thought about them over the years and I hear about people collecting them and I see them in museums and, you know, they’re still sort of on my radar because they were such a part of my childhood. But now I’m fully aware of how they’re deeply offensive and the more knowledgeable I’ve got about their origins, the more I look differently on them because now I can see by looking at them that they’re absolutely part of a tradition of minstrelry and you know, mockery of black culture, which I couldn’t see at the time because I didn’t have that visual knowledge, to see images of gollies next to images, you know, that mock … You know, thick lips and a shock of hair. And I already could see in children’s books the golly was often the villain, in a very simplistic way, because a golly’s black face is often cast as the impish or naughty one. You can see it from Noddy and all the famous Enid Blyton books. But I’ve now come to realise that they’ve always had that status and I didn’t realise it, rather than that their status has changed because somebody’s forced it upon them. So it’s a rather complicated feeling about them now.

ENDS 13.33

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10th September 2014
Location: Interviewee’s home
Interviewer: Harriet Barrett-Dowling
Videographer – Dan Cash

00.04 – Annebella: I was born in Plymouth in 1973

Harriet: And whereabouts did you spend your childhood?

Annebella: I lived in Plymouth until I was about 16 or 17 and I lived fairly near the city centre and I lived in a terraced house with my mum and dad and my three sisters and a brother, all of whom were older than me.

Harriet: And did you play with any dolls?

00.35 – Annebella: I didn’t really like dolls in the sense of plastic or china faces and I never had any. I found them a bit scratchy. I didn’t like the feeling of them under my nails or hands so I didn’t really have any. I had cuddly things but not hard faced dolls as such.

00.56 – Harriet: Can you tell me a bit more about the cuddly toys?

Annebella: Well I think I had quite a lot of cuddly toys generally and all my sisters did as well. My brother just had one teddy bear which I still have. I have it now. We all had lots 1 of toys but I was particularly interested in gollies. I had lots and lots of golliwogs and that’s because from the age of about 7 or so I started collecting them. And I started just with one that I particularly liked and because I liked it so much, my mum knitted me one for the following Christmas. And then, the next Christmas or birthday I got another one, and I started looking out for them as well as being given them. And so they were the main toys that I played with and so the collecting of them was part of the – that was my sort of leisure activity or my hobby, my interest for all of my primary school years for sure.

Harriet: And can you describe the gollies a little bit more? Were they quite varied or did they have…?

Annebella: Well the first one I didn’t actually know was a golly. I didn’t know what golliwogs were. It was just a toy with a black face and actually I think I had to ask my mum what it was. And it wasn’t a very conventional one. In fact I still have it, if you’d like to see it. This is it. [Holds up golly] This is Gary, Gary Golly as he later became known. And he hasn’t got any hair. They traditionally had spiky hair and they often had a bow tie and a little jacket and things like that as well. He doesn’t have that. He has some other elements that a lot of gollies have. Stripy trousers. Red lips and a white insides of a mouth and white eyes. I don’t know whether he ever had hair. He came from a bazaar. I think he was second hand when I got him. I think he was old when I got him and for some reason, I just really liked him. He doesn’t look anything special now but you can see, he’s had a lot of use. He’s sewn up on all sides and he’s absolutely disgustingly filthy and completely faded. But yes, it all started with this thing. And I called him Gary because it just went nicely with golly. When I found out that it was this thing called a golly. So I called it Gary Golly and all of the other ones that I was given or that I bought after that also had names beginning with ‘g’. And in the end, I think I had something like 130 of them until I think I stopped actively collecting them when I started secondary school because I just became less interested in them but it was a vigorous pursuit throughout all of my childhood. Also because even then, in the late ‘70’s, early years of the 80’s, they were rare. They weren’t commonly sold anywhere so they had to be sought out, so the pursuit of finding them was part of the kind of pleasure of having them as well because they were either – you either bought them second hand or you had to get them … You got them from sort of craft fairs where people handmade them. Or people made them for me.

04.11 – Harriet: And can you tell what he’s made of or what kind of manufacturing approach?

Annebella: I think he’s handmade. Possibly not but he’s just made out of fabric, stuffed with something. Something enduring because some of the other ones that I had which I kept hold of, they’ve just disintegrated if they were filled with nylon stuffing. They haven’t lasted 30 odd years and they’re now just the outside and all sort of saggy and rather kind of hideous. These caved-in toys. But I don’t know … maybe he’s stuffed with, perhaps old tights or something if he’s handmade. My mum used to make a lot of toys and she used to shred old nylon tights and use them as stuffing. So perhaps that …I don’t know… he’s not bulgy. I don’t know what he’s made of actually. But he’s definitely a kind of cotton thing. He could be washed but I would never wash him because he’d lose his personality in the wash. He’d disintegrate I think.

05:11 – Harriet: What kind of games did you play with him?

Annebella: Actually, do you know?, I don’t actually remember playing games with him. As I said to you that I played with them, I don’t think I ever did really play with them. I didn’t make them act out scenarios. I just enjoyed having them. I don’t know what I did with them really. I had them on display. I wrote about them. I’ve always written things and I wrote a little book about them. So that was what I did with really, was I lined them up according to sizes. I was of an age where I was a bit too old to kind of have tea parties with them and I was sort of curious about them. So they had personalities and I gave them names but I don’t remember actually remember really playing with them. That might be because something’s preventing me from remembering. But I don’t think I actually did playwiththem. Ididlinethemupalot. IhadtheminaboxandIusedtogetthemout and I used to sort of write stories about them and things. But I don’t think I made them dance or sing or …

06:26 – Harriet: Do you have any of the stories still?

Annebella: Yeah, I haven’t got very much from my childhood actually. When I was about 16 I threw loads and loads of things away. All of my school books and lots of things from my childhood including this book, which is a book I wrote about it. But one of my sisters made me rescue it and she said that she thought I ought to keep it. It’s called The Golly Pad and it’s in a note book that was produced by Golden Shred, Robertson’s marmalade and they famously used to have a golly token on the back for many, many years. They don’t any more. In the 1980’s they produced a range of merchandise and I avidly collected it because it would be very hard to get anything to do with gollies apart from through that company and so anything that they sold, I bought. [Refers to the Golly Pad book] So I’ve got various things in here. I’ve got a list of all the golly names. As I said, they all began with ‘g’. Graham, Grace, Goliath, Gail, Gregory, Gwen, Glenda. Sometimes I had to make some up because it got quite hard after a while to come up with over 100 names beginning with ‘g’.

07.32 – There’s some content by my sister in here as well …my sister Jane. There’s a song. [Leafs through the pages] I think I might have wrecked some library books. There’s some cut-outs, some collages, something that I wrote. I can remember the tune but I’m not going to sing it for you. [laughs] More gollies cut out of books. Again it was … you had to look into history to find them because they were already not common. They weren’t common but you could find them in old Enid Blyton books and I’d inherited quite a lot of old Enid Blyton books from my auntie so the next generation up. I wrote a poem.

There’s funny little interventions that are bits of advertising. So there’s information here about sending off for golly brooches. There’s a history page, which is a history taken from Robertson’s. A little book review [laughing]. I’m not sure what the genre of this is. It’s kind of somewhere between an annual and it’s got colouring in and things to do. I don’t know who I thought was going to do it but it’s like an activity guide.

08.39 – And then there’s a bit of social reportage, because in the 1980’s… actually you can see me sort of coming into consciousness about the race issue. There was starting to be quite a lot of discussion in the newspapers about whether gollies should be banned and lots of debate about whether gollies were racist or not and so I’ve cut out and collected and transcribed a few newspaper articles about them going in and out of favour.

From the Daily Express, this one is, and I think that’s because my parents got the Daily Express, a rather right wing tabloid. [Continues to turn pages of Golly Pad] So a story … I listed all the things I owned. You see I was very proud of being a collector. There’s another … yes, there’s something there from 1984 from the Daily Express called “Not so Good Golly”. Over the last 30 years somewhere that’s fallen out. But I’ve got a little newspaper cutting of a golly with a sad face. And I was starting to, sort of, obviously think about this idea that they were offensive and insulting. But I’ve got a little historic thing. Someone gave me a 1950’s historical Roberson’s article. I’ve got a competition that you could send in and I would judge the prize. No one sent anything in, ‘cos no one ever saw this. Colouring in and a review of a play. Another poem.

And then I’ve got dates and descriptions of all of the gollies that I kept with full, sort of, object outlines of what they look like, which was deeply fascinating to me and not at all interesting to anyone else.

Harriet: It’s very interesting how you sort of created an almost literary world around them rather than, as you said, playing with them in a scenario. I mean is there … how did you feel about them?

10:34 – Annebella: I felt very invested in them. I felt very enthusiastic about them. Most weekends I used to go out in pursuit of them. If I ever had any money, I spent it on golly- related things. My mum knitted me a golly jumper. I was interested in, I suppose, the whole thing around them. The history and the stories, the fact that they were rare. I suppose latterly I probably got interested in the fact that they were controversial.

But I definitely thought, in my very childish way, that they were somehow kind of alive and important. I had … my older brother is 8 years older than me and he did, as older brothers do, he teased me all the time and one of the things he used to like teasing me about was whether or not my toys were real. He used to say to me: “They’re just made of cotton and stuffing”, a bit like you’ve just asked me. I said “They’re not just made of cotton and stuffing, they’re real”.

I did invest a lot of personality in them. And if anyone had asked me whether I thought they were racist, I would have said “No, they’re just cute”. But that’s not really a defence of them. But to a child, to a primary school-aged child, that’s what I thought of them.

11.49 – I felt differently about them as I got older and as I became less invested in them and engaged in them. But they were so much a part of who I was in those years and what I did. It was … I got golly-related things for every birthday and Christmas for probably 4 or 5 years. If anyone ever asked me what I wanted, I wanted something from the brochure that you could get, the merchandise brochure from the Robertson’s factory. And I wrote to Jim’ll Fix It. I wrote to Jimmy Savile – thank God I didn’t get on! [Laughing]. All those people who didn’t get on to Jim’ll Fix It are now delighted that they didn’t get on!

But I did write to Jim’ll Fix It, asking to be shown around Robertson’s factory. I suppose that’s the embodiment, isn’t it, of your childish wishes? Because Jimmy Savile was a wish granter, or so it seemed at the time. So if you had any wish, you wrote it to him. So that’s a sign of how interested and invested in them I was.

Harriet: So you touched a little on the political element. Did you find that changed how you felt about them or wrote about them? Or was it just as you say, it’s cute and it’s …

Annebella: Well I think when I cut out those articles, I was cutting them out because it was an image of golly and I cut out anything I could find on them, wherever I could find anything, so although I must have engaged on some level with the debates and some people did talk to me about it, even when I was a collector, because I was aware that some shops didn’t sell them and sometimes I’d ask and they’d say “Oh no, we don’t sell that anymore”. So I was aware that they had a sort of contentious status but I suppose, in my childish understanding, I thought it was just that they had fallen out of style or fallen out of favour and become old-fashioned. But obviously I grew much more knowledgeable about that as I got older, and even just a few years older, because I remember when I was in at secondary school, I still had a lot of them.

For a long time I had them but didn’t do anything with them and they were just in boxes but I also didn’t want to get rid of them because I was so attached to them. And at some point when I was an older teenager, I suppose I was about 15 or something, so I was still living at home, my mum thought that she would offer some to her brother who had younger children, so to my cousins. And those cousins lived in South London and I remember being there and my mum said to my uncle “Would you like any of these? Would your kids like any of these because, you know, she doesn’t play with them anymore and we’re trying to pass them on”. And he said “No way. We’re not going to have gollies in South London”, and obviously thought of us as being these country bumpkins and, you know, maybe they meant something different in a decade earlier, in Devon than they did a decade later in multicultural London. And because I remember that so clearly, I think that must have been a moment of crystallisation and I thought “They’re different now”.

14.57 – And as I’ve got older, I’ve thought about them over the years and I hear about people collecting them and I see them in museums and, you know, they’re still sort of on my radar because they were such a part of my childhood. But now I’m fully aware of how they’re deeply offensive and the more knowledgeable I’ve got about their origins, the more I look differently on them because now I can see by looking at them that they’re absolutely part of a tradition of minstrelry and you know, mockery of black culture, which I couldn’t see at the time because I didn’t have that visual knowledge, to see images of gollies next to images, you know, that mock … You know, thick lips and a shock of hair. And I already could see in children’s books the golly was often the villain, in a very simplistic way, because a golly’s black face is often cast as the impish or naughty one. You can see it from Noddy and all the famous Enid Blyton books. But I’ve now come to realise that they’ve always had that status and I didn’t realise it, rather than that their status has changed because somebody’s forced it upon them. So it’s a rather complicated feeling about them now.

16.27 – Harriet: You mentioned earlier that you don’t still have all of them. How many do you still have?

Annebella: Well I’ve got a daughter who’s now sixteen and when I … I suppose there was a whole series of getting rid of them, some of which I remember and some of which I don’t … I remember that sort of point at which some of them got given away and I think actually there was a core group of them that I was really enthusiastic about and that would have been the first one that I got; the one that my mum gave me … A couple of really significant ones … on my tenth birthday, I got a three foot high one! That was the piece de resistance of the Robertson’s catalogue and it was the thing that I really wanted. Because I was ten, double figures, I got this massive one. It came in a huge box that was bigger than me. And you know, the really significant ones, I held onto but there was a time when I just got any, because I wanted – as with all collectors – I wanted to kind of bump up the numbers of my collection. I wanted to have 80, 90, 100.

17.31 – So I’d got some that I didn’t actually particularly really like. Or I’d got kind of multiples that were really similar and I don’t remember where or how I got rid of them but somehow some of them went. Then when I left home and my parents separated and the family house was sold, my dad sent me quite a lot of stuff that was still mine that was left over that I hadn’t, kind of, taken with me to my first independent home, to my first flat.

And so I trailed a few of them round with me but I moved house a lot in my twenties and I think I must have pared them back. And then when my daughter was born, I thought maybe she might like to have one or two of them and they’ve just sort of remained in a box for about 15 years. And there’s probably about ten of them and I still don’t know now whether I’m going to get rid of them all because now I’m a historian by trade and, you know, I’m interested in what we do with controversial things from the past and what you should do with a part of your own history but are also quite, kind of, difficult objects. And I think I have a sort of historian’s eye view of them as well as the view of them as a former collector or an adult view of a childhood thing. And I suppose I don’t think that all difficult things in the world should be destroyed. There’s a whole lot of difficult things in the world, from terrible ethnographic photographs objectifying colonial people to, you know, Nazi memorabilia, but, you know, some of those things can be kept and they can become kind of educational or they can offer people a way of thinking through, sort of, difficult issues. So I don’t know what I would do with them.

19:26 – I did see that there’s a museum in the States that – I don’t know how they’ve collected their material – but they include gollies among a huge range of racist memorabilia that’s produced throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century, kind of popular culture representations of black people that are based on mockery. And they actually keep a collection as a means of educating people so I don’t know whether I’d ever donate them to that but I’ve hung on to them in the way that I actually hang on to lots of things.

You probably can’t see my house in this interview, but I’m quite … not a hoarder, because I’m selective, but I have a lot of things. I decided about 20 years ago not to throw things away that I was attached to, cause I’d thrown away things that I’d been formerly attached to and really regretted them … clothes, records, books, not toys. So I suppose now I don’t throw things away unless I need to. They’ve become part of my personal archive of things. Things that define me at various different stages, even if I don’t play with them or talk about them or think about them.

20.38 – Harriet: And what are some of your best memories about the golly collection, playing with them or otherwise?

Annebella: I now look back and think it was quite bizarre that I created quite a lot of sort of cultural [laughing] just, as I say, a whole cultural world around them. I mean it was quite a feat to give them all names beginning with ‘g’ and to write fiction about them and to research them. So I suppose that’s the thing that I remember most about them.

21:10 – I mean I did used to sleep with some of them, I used to take them to bed. And I suppose the legacy of collecting as well. That now, I don’t always define myself as a collector, because, unlike some collectors, I don’t have one thing that is the reason for getting up in the morning and going out at the weekends. I don’t have one thing that I obsessively pursue and accumulate and display and I don’t belong to any kind of collectors’ clubs but I do think that there was something about having that experience of collecting in my childhood, that’s informed some of my later interests.

21.52 – And I’ve got very interested as an academic in collecting as a practice and I have researched people collecting and I’ve got quite a lot of books about collecting and collectors. A lot of my friends are collectors and I’m quite interested in people who have that collecting gene, or whatever it is.

And so I suppose some of the things that I treasure about them are the way that it shaped me as a person. When I look back at the golly book, I see that as a precursor of books and articles and things that I’ve written now – and so they’ve shaped my thinking in a lot of ways. And I’m very interested in my professional life about objects and their meaning to people. I teach material culture which is often about the material objects that people hold most dear and why they treasure them and what those relationships mean between people and things. So I suppose I reflect on them when I’m thinking about that; when I think about attachment to objects, when I think about collecting, when I think about difficult objects.

23.07 – And mostly now, you only really see them in museums or in places where retro 7 objects are for sale. So now, they’re about history as well as being about politics and ethics.

So they’re – looking from an adult perspective – what I’m interested in about them is the way they speak to me now. And as I say, I can’t really remember playing with them as a child but having them and knowing about them and writing about them and thinking about them seems to have been more important to me. I might be looking back with adult glasses but those are the things that matter to me most and that I remember most when I think about them.

Harriet: You mentioned your brother a little bit and his view of the gollies. Were your other siblings … your three other sisters?

Annebella: Yeah, I’ve got three older sisters and a brother. He’s older too.

Harriet: Did they interact with the collection at all?

Annebella: My sister Jane who is two and a half years older than me, she contributed a bit of content to the golly book and she was really interested and enthusiastic about them as well. She was the one who stopped me throwing the golly book away, when I was making a kind of bonfire of all my school text books and exercise books. And she has been interested in collecting in her own way, different kinds of things. I think my three older … my brother and my two older sisters, they’re quite a bit older than me so my eldest sister is 9 years older than me and she left home when I was 8 and my brother is 8 years older than me and he left home around a similar time, when he was a little bit younger.

25.05 – So, I think at the point when they left home, this was still my interest. This was still going on. So I think they were that much older and perhaps not interested. I do remember my sister taking some photographs of me with them so I don’t know. I think they thought it was funny. They do still mention it every now and again now. They sometimes ask me about it in a giggly way; ask if I’ve still got them.

25.36 – Harriet: Is there anything else about the gollies that you wanted to cover or you feel we haven’t touched on that might be interesting?

Annebella: I don’t know … One of the things that has made me think about them again really recently is something quite local that came up in the news. There’s a shop in Kensington Gardens that sells all sorts of retro kitchen supplies and kind of cute, brightly coloured kitchen implements and they’ve been selling objects from the Robert Opie collection. I don’t know if you know Robert Opie, he’s got the Museum of Brands and Packaging in Notting Hill in London. A really, really interesting museum of sort of ordinary objects of everyday life, a great cluttered museum, full of stuff and he is a collector par excellence. He’s a collector who created a museum to house his collection.

And he produces bits of merchandise and memorabilia: scrap books and posters and reproduction post cards and I think probably does very well out of it because there’s a market for retro advertising and you know, re-made, historic objects. And in this shop in Kensington Gardens is full of Robert Opie merchandise, including some old adverts for Robertson’s jam that have been made into fridge magnets, I think. Possibly they’ve been made into other things as well, place mats. In fact I think in the Toy Museum there’s also some of Robert Opie’s merchandise for sale. And in the old Robertson’s reproduction adverts, there’s a golly sat in a teddy bear’s picnic-type setting and I read in the Argus, or perhaps saw on the local news, that somebody had written to the council, asking for them to be taken away and saying, “There’s a shop in Brighton that’s selling racially offensive material. You know, under the guise of it being kind of retro and cute, and it ought to be removed”. And somebody from the council, an older member of the council, said, on the record, “Oh I don’t think it’s racially offensive, I just think they’re nostalgic and charming”.

28.02 – And it caused a big debate and the whole discussion about whether gollies, golly- related merchandise and so on should be sold was raised again. And I thought that was really interesting. You know, every time something like that comes up, I review my position. I think back to my childhood collection and I review where I’m at with it now and I think that was very interesting. I watched a little clip on the local news about it and the news company did a very quick poll in the street outside the shop in Kensington Gardens and they asked people what they thought of the gollies and whether they thought they were offensive or not.

And it was very interesting. There was a real generational divide. Younger people said “I can’t believe they’re selling this stuff”. You know, “I thought that stuff was all part of the past and ought to be left in the past”. Older people said “Oh, I remember them, I had them. Haven’t seen them for ages. Oh, how sweet, that reminds me …” and got very nostalgic about it.

And then interestingly, they asked a couple of black people, just in this very non- representative poll, “What do you think about the selling of these items in this shop in Brighton?” And one guy said “I find this really deeply offensive. Why would anyone want to sell this stuff? We’ve been campaigning against these kind of representations for years,”

And they even got somebody from the local Black History Month, Brighton Black History group, to give his opinion on it. And he said: “Golly and golliwog were used throughout my childhood as insults. I was hounded by people with those words and really think these things need to be left behind.”

29.45 – So that happened very recently. I don’t know if it was a year or two ago, something like that. And every time that sort of thing comes up, I sort of think: here I have this material. What does it mean to me now? And I feel uncomfortable about having it but I can’t erase it. It was who I was and it was in the culture of Plymouth, in the ‘70s and 1980s. It was a different place and time but I’m incredibly sympathetic to those points of view and so now I just think very carefully and very reflectively about what it meant to be a white child in a monocultural environment, collecting gollies. And it’s quite an uncomfortable thing to look back on your childhood and revisit it in that way. But I think it’s shaped me and I think having that opportunity to reflect on it has been an interesting opportunity.

30.49 – Harriet: It does sound interesting how it’s continued to develop in your adult life, in a way that most childhood memories, are not a closed door, but it’s sort of over isn’t it?

Annebella: I think you repeatedly look back on your childhood according to what stage of your life you’re at. You know, I appraise my childhood differently at various different stages, including when I became a mother myself.

31.14 – The way that I read my childhood now is through my daughter’s eyes. And I look at the way I was brought up and instead of just seeing it about my experience, I look back at my parents as human beings. As, you know, ordinary people trying to raise a child, which I certainly didn’t think of them as being human beings. I thought of them as being strange aliens for quite a long time.

And you know, I reappraised my childhood when my mum died. I reappraised my childhood when my dad died.

31.45 – And sometimes you find out things about your parents later on in life from members of the extended family, for example, and that makes read your childhood in a different way. So memories aren’t stable. It’s a curious thing.

And I’m part of quite a big family. We all remember our childhood very differently. So even though those things are past, they’re not closed and they’re not stable and I’ll probably think again about things in my childhood. I’ll probably think again about things in my golly collection you know, as debates change and as I become, you know, more educated, my opinions change. I might think differently again about them.

32.30 – Harriet: Did you have any other kinds of dolls or was it just the golly collection?

Annebella: I have a few things from childhood that I’ve kept. I did have quite a few other bears, teddy bears, but none have, sort of, captured my imagination in the same way. I’ve got a really, really nice bear who I think is from the 1930s. A very elegant sort of hard-stuffed bear who cries like a baby. He’s got a – I call him a ‘he’, cause he’s called Tedward, my mum named him – but when you turn him over, instead of growl, he’s got a baby doll cry inside him. So he’s quite an odd toy.

But that wasn’t something I had when I was very small, that was something that a slightly confused neighbour, someone on our street, gave to my mum when we were young teenagers. I think I was possibly about 11 and it was something from her childhood. And she gave it to my mum because she was under the mistaken impression that my mum ran a children’s home! [laughing] ‘Cause there was so many of us and so many children coming in and out. She was a slightly strange lady. I also remember that she told my mum that she looked as lovely as a pound note, which is not a phrase I’ve ever heard before or since. But she gave my mum this teddy bear, Tedward. And my mum kept him.

We always thought he was rather lovely. He is rather nice. And I’ve got him now. But he wasn’t really a childhood toy. And he’s more associated with my mum and those stories than he is to do with childhood affection.

34.16 – I have also my brother’s only teddy bear. He’s called Tough Ted. When my brother was a teenager, he was a punk, in the late ‘70’s, early 80’s, and so was this bear. He’s dyed and shaved and generally abused and my brother didn’t want him when he left home but because he was quite a distinctive bear – at one point he was sprayed gold and basically he matched whatever hair my brother had for a while – I’ve hung on to him. And I gave him to my daughter when my daughter was born. At one point she was playing with him and a load of pins came out so I think he’d also been used as a voodoo doll. And that was …[laughing] my daughter went “Mum, I’ve found pins inside the teddy bear”. I don’t know what had happened, that he’d ended up with pins inside him, but I still have that bear from my childhood and not very much else.

No other toys had such a sort of significant place in my life as my golly collection.

35.28 – Harriet: So did you keep your brother’s … did you keep Tough Ted because you couldn’t bear to see him thrown away, because he held so much family history or was it that you had played with him or sort of felt an affinity with him when you were younger?

Annebella: I think I was quite proud of this peculiar, rebellious Ted. I was quite proud of my brother. I remember drawing a picture in a school book of my brother as … I remember drawing a picture of all my family members and my brother was really big, with a massive Mohican and bleached jeans and a t-shirt that said “The Damned” and a leather jacket on. I put loads of detail into drawing him so I think, in a way, I probably held this bear in similar esteem. Some of my brother’s, sort of, being a teenage punk was, you know, quite cool when you’re 8 or whatever I was.

36.22 – So I think perhaps it was some of that association. I’ve never liked throwing things away. Now in my work, I write about things that people throw away and I’m interested in processes of recycling and my partner works in house clearances and in bric a brac and antiques dealing so we’re very interested in what gets thrown away and what gets kept and how values change over time. So, it was probably something to do with not wanting to throw away. But also, when my daughter was born, I was the first person in my family to have a child so I became a sort of unofficial custodian of quite a lot of family objects, including the bear of my mum’s and my brother’s bear.

My brother’s now had a daughter of his own and he’s asked for the bear back so the bear’s going to go and have another life in Italy now.

37.15 – I don’t think I’ve got any other toys from my childhood but my sister has loads. My sister Jane and some of my other sisters still have a lot of their old toys. I think perhaps we’re quite a sentimental family. My sister in America has got a huge collection of cuddly monkeys. So I think we are collectors and accumulators and sentimentalists, or some of us are anyway.

37.44 – Harriet: Did you swap much or did you have your collection?

Annebella: Oh no, that was forbidden, no. Nobody’s playing with my things! We did sometimes have matching items. I do remember that a few of us, maybe all of us at one point, had similar bears. My mum was very concerned about us not fighting over things so sometimes we had similar things but in a different colour variation. I very clearly remember having a yellow bear and my sister Jane having one that was the same but blue and one of my other sisters having one exactly the same but in another colour. And maybe that was somebody from outside the family who’d brought us presents and had done that. But my mum was very conscious about us not fighting over things and often used to buy matching stuff for us all anyway to, kind of, avoid the fighting.

38.40 – Harriet: And just coming on to construction toys, did you have any of those?

Annebella: I don’t recall every having any. It might be a gendered thing. I don’t recall ever having any. I do remember playing with Lego and I remember playing with Lego with a girl from school who had a Lego collection. And I remember being quite jealous of the amount of Lego she had. And we went round there and we built … my sister and I went round there after school a couple of times and built really unimaginative things like walls of houses and tall, straight towers and things like that. It was just solid blocks in primary colours; maybe some windows as well. I don’t remember there being other kind of complicated parts. I don’t remember having a huge enthusiasm for it.

We didn’t have Meccano and I don’t remember us having any other construction toys either. It wasn’t something that figures in a big way in my childhood, no.

39.49 – I have remembered some other toys that I had but they’re not really dolls or construction toys. I had a lot of Fisher Price things that you could make into schools and a garage with cars and a slide and a roundabout and things like that. But they were not dolls or bears or construction toys strictly speaking.

40.12 – Harriet: It’s interesting isn’t though because I think we’re loosely defining construction toys as anything you can assemble. So in a way those …

Annebella: So other kinds of kits do you mean?

Harriet: It could be. It could be I s’pose.

Annebella: It may be my imagination that’s limiting me. When you say kits I’m thinking of kind of Airfix kits. I didn’t have those.

Harriet: Well, I suppose just thinking of the Fisher Price things you were mentioning

Annebella: Yeah, they’re relatively limited though, aren’t they? They’re sort of ready-assembled that you can, kind of, put together in different formations. You’re not really constructing in the sense that you’ve got raw material you’ve put together to make an end-product.

40.53 – Harriet: And how about action figures? Did you have any of those?

Annebella: No. I do remember my brother having an Action Man. If you can call Action Man an action figure. He’s not an action figure in the way I think of action figures now. I think of action figures as being figurines of superheroes but I guess action figures can be quite broadly defined. I remember the thing at the back of his head, the eagle eye thing that could make his eyes move. No I don’t think I had anything that could be described as action figures and I never had a Barbie either. I just didn’t like them. I found them really ugly. I did have a Barbie washing machine but no Barbie.

We used to sometimes go for a walk in an area not far from our house, which was a sort of wasteland area, of which there were quite a few in Plymouth. There were quite a few in the early ‘80’s. Now there aren’t any of these places. But I sometimes used to go with my sisters and brother. We would just wander round these places and we’d sometimes pick up springs and you know, it was just playing in a bit of wasteland basically. And it … there was a valley between two streets of housing and people used to just chuck stuff in there and we used to root through it and find stuff and I remember finding a Barbie twin tub. I didn’t know what it was because I hadn’t seen a twin tub. It was a bit dated. A Barbie twin tub which made amazing bubbles. I remember putting lots of washing up liquid in it and making lots of bubbles.

42.25 – And some Weebles with the eyes caved in. Do you remember those little egg- shaped characters that used to wobble but never fall down? So we had never been bought those or even wanted them or asked for them but we picked them up when they were discarded on a rubbish dump.

42.45 – Harriet: Did you ever want any bears, dolls or construction toys that you couldn’t have or asked for them but didn’t get?

Annebella: I think I used to feel jealous about some people’s toys. Yeah, I do remember some people had, you know, really fancy stuff. And there were adverts on television, you know, for extremely complicated and extremely expensive things but I don’t remember there ever being a hope in hell of getting them [laughing] so I never, kind of, set my heart on them because I couldn’t have them. And actually I think I liked … I was most fond of quite home-spun things. My mum made a lot of cuddly toys. I really clearly remember that she made toys to sell to raise money for our school. When I was at primary school, she made toys to go on a toy stall. And my sister and I were absolutely heartbroken because we’d fallen in love with them and we couldn’t keep them and she’d let us play with them before they went on the stall. And then we weren’t allowed to keep them because they were to raise money for some school fund or something. And my sister and I got really early at the front of the queue. When there was the queue for the school fete, we were first in. We ran to the toy stall and we bought them back with our own money. My mum saying “Why are you so stupid, to do that?”

But my sister’s still got them and one of them is just two ovals of orange felt and two white circles with sort of blue blobs in the centre, a completely unsophisticated toy. My mum made a lot of … she did a lot of sewing and knitting. She was really, really productive but they weren’t always the most complex constructions. So this was, I suppose, like a Humpty Dumpty-type figure and we absolutely loved it. So I had a lot of toys like that that were really simple.

One of my favourite toys was a golly that used to be a penguin and it was basically just a bit of black and white felt that was completely flat. Almost like an oval shape with a bit of foam inside. And it was white and black on one side and it had, kind of, penguin features and it was black on the back and I think my mum sewed or glued some eyes to it and it might have been something really basic like those paper reinforcements that you put on the holes for paper that’s going in ring binders to kind of reinforce the paper and give it strength. Very simple circular, white stickers. And I think it had that and maybe half a sticker covered in red for the mouth. And I managed to form some really affectionate bond with this thing that was, kind of, just an old, discarded toy and two bits of felt and a bit of foam so I think … I don’t want to make out that I’m really puritanical and I’m saintly and I didn’t have any desires for expensive stuff, because I surely did. But all of my deep affections were for quite humble things. I mean even the first golly in my collection is a bald, homemade, second-hand, possibly a bit pre-loved item. So it was more about the face of the object and how appealing its face was and its tactile qualities if it’s particularly soft or malleable or comforting or something, then I would have had more of an affection with it than if it was something quite complicated – lots of parts and … I didn’t find it as easy to form an affectionate relationship with plastic-y objects.

46.20 – Harriet: Do you have any other memories that you want to talk about of bears, dolls or construction toys?

Annebella: I don’t think so. I think I’ve said everything.

Harriet: Yeah. That’s fine. Well thank you, that was really fascinating.

RECORDING ENDS 46.4

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Read the transcript of the audio track

10th September 2014
Location: Interviewee’s home
Interviewer: Harriet Barrett-Dowling
Videographer – Dan Cash

Harriet: Do you mind just saying for the record that you’re alright with this being recorded?

Annebella: Yes, I’m fine with it being recorded thank you.

Harriet: Thank you. Alright so can I just ask where and when you were born?

Annebella: I was born in Plymouth in 1973

Harriet: And whereabouts did you spend your childhood?

Annebella: I lived in Plymouth until I was about 16 or 17 and I lived fairly near the city centre and I lived in a terraced house with my mum and dad and my three sisters and a brother, all of whom were older than me.

Harriet: And did you play with any dolls?

01:01 – Annebella: I didn’t really like dolls in the sense of plastic or china faces and I never had any. I found them a bit scratchy. I didn’t like the feeling of them under my nails or hands so I didn’t really have any. I had cuddly things but not hard faced dolls as such.

01:21 – Harriet: Can you tell me a bit more about the cuddly toys?

Annebella: Well I think I had quite a lot of cuddly toys generally and all my sisters did as well. My brother just had one teddy bear which I still have. I have it now. We all had lots of toys but I was particularly interested in gollies. I had lots and lots of golliwogs and that’s because from the age of about 7 or so I started collecting them. And I started just with one that I particularly liked and because I liked it so much, my mum knitted me one for the following Christmas. And then, the next Christmas or birthday I got another one, and I started looking out for them as well as being given them. And so they were the main toys that I played with and so the collecting of them was part of the – that was my sort of leisure activity or my hobby, my interest for all of my primary school years for sure.

Harriet: And can you describe the gollies a little bit more? Were they quite varied or did they have…?

Annebella: Well the first one I didn’t actually know was a golly. I didn’t know what golliwogs were. It was just a toy with a black face and actually I think I had to ask my mum what it was. And it wasn’t a very conventional one. In fact I still have it, if you’d like to see it. This is it. [Holds up golly] This is Gary, Gary Golly as he later became known. And he hasn’t got any hair. They traditionally had spiky hair and they often had a bow tie and a little jacket and things like that as well. He doesn’t have that. He has some other elements that a lot of gollies have. Stripy trousers. Red lips and a white insides of a mouth and white eyes. I don’t know whether he ever had hair. He came from a bazaar. I think he was second hand when I got him. I think he was old when I got him and for some reason, I just really liked him. He doesn’t look anything special now but you can see, he’s had a lot of use. He’s sewn up on all sides and he’s absolutely disgustingly filthy and completely faded. But yes, it all started with this thing. And I called him Gary because it just went nicely with golly. When I found out that it was this thing called a golly. So I called it Gary Golly and all of the other ones that I was given or that I bought after that also had names beginning with ‘g’.

And in the end, I think I had something like 130 of them until I think I stopped actively collecting them when I started secondary school because I just became less interested in them but it was a vigorous pursuit throughout all of my childhood. Also because even then, in the late ‘70’s, early years of the 80’s, they were rare. They weren’t commonly sold anywhere so they had to be sought out, so the pursuit of finding them was part of the kind of pleasure of having them as well because they were either – you either bought them second hand or you had to get them … You got them from sort of craft fairs where people handmade them. Or people made them for me.

04:31- Harriet: And can you tell what he’s made of or what kind of manufacturing approach?

Annebella: I think he’s handmade. Possibly not but he’s just made out of fabric, stuffed with something. Something enduring because some of the other ones that I had which I kept hold of, they’ve just disintegrated if they were filled with nylon stuffing. They haven’t lasted 30 odd years and they’re now just the outside and all sort of saggy and rather kind of hideous. These caved-in toys. But I don’t know … maybe he’s stuffed with, perhaps old tights or something if he’s handmade. My mum used to make a lot of toys and she used to shred old nylon tights and use them as stuffing. So perhaps that …I don’t know … he’s not bulgy. I don’t know what he’s made of actually. But he’s definitely a kind of cotton thing. He could be washed but I would never wash him because he’d lose his personality in the wash. He’d disintegrate I think.

05:36 – Harriet: What kind of games did you play with him?

Annebella: Actually, do you know?, I don’t actually remember playing games with him. As I said to you that I played with them, I don’t think I ever did really play with them. I didn’t make them act out scenarios. I just enjoyed having them. I don’t know what I did with them really. I had them on display. I wrote about them. I’ve always written things and I wrote a little book about them. So that was what I did with really, was I lined them up according to sizes. I was of an age where I was a bit too old to kind of have tea parties with them and I was sort of curious about them. So they had personalities and I gave them names but I don’t remember actually remember really playing with them. That might be because something’s preventing me from remembering. But I don’t think I actually did play with them. I did line them up a lot. I had them in a box and I used to get them out and I used to sort of write stories about them and things. But I don’t think I made them dance or sing or …

06:48 – Harriet: Do you have any of the stories still?

Annebella: Yeah, I haven’t got very much from my childhood actually. When I was about 16 I threw loads and loads of things away. All of my school books and lots of things from my childhood including this book, which is a book I wrote about it. But one of my sisters made me rescue it and she said that she thought I ought to keep it. It’s called The Golly Pad and it’s in a note book that was produced by Golden Shred, Robertson’s marmalade and they famously used to have a golly token on the back for many, many years. They don’t any more. In the 1980’s they produced a range of merchandise and I avidly collected it because it would be very hard to get anything to do with gollies apart from through that company and so anything that they sold, I bought. [Refers to the Golly Pad book] So I’ve got various things in here. I’ve got a list of all the golly names. As I said, they all began with ‘g’. Graham, Grace, Goliath, Gail, Gregory, Gwen, Glenda. Sometimes I had to make some up because it got quite hard after a while to come up with over 100 names beginning with ‘g’.

07.56 – There’s some content by my sister in here as well …my sister Jane. There’s a song. [Leafs through the pages] I think I might have wrecked some library books. There’s some cut-outs, some collages, something that I wrote. I can remember the tune but I’m not going to sing it for you. [laughs] More gollies cut out of books. Again it was … you had to look into history to find them because they were already not common. They weren’t common but you could find them in old Enid Blyton books and I’d inherited quite a lot of old Enid Blyton books from my auntie so the next generation up. I wrote a poem.

There’s funny little interventions that are bits of advertising. So there’s information here about sending off for golly brooches. There’s a history page, which is a history taken from Robertson’s. A little book review [laughing]. I’m not sure what the genre of this is. It’s kind of somewhere between an annual and it’s got colouring in and things to do. I don’t know who I thought was going to do it but it’s like an activity guide.

09:02 – And then there’s a bit of social reportage, because in the 1980’s… actually you can see me sort of coming into consciousness about the race issue. There was starting to be quite a lot of discussion in the newspapers about whether gollies should be banned and lots of debate about whether gollies were racist or not and so I’ve cut out and collected and transcribed a few newspaper articles about them going in and out of favour.

From the Daily Express, this one is, and I think that’s because my parents got the Daily Express, a rather right wing tabloid. [Continues to turn pages of Golly Pad] So a story … I listed all the things I owned. You see I was very proud of being a collector. There’s another … yes, there’s something there from 1984 from the Daily Express called “Not so Good Golly”. Over the last 30 years somewhere that’s fallen out. But I’ve got a little newspaper cutting of a golly with a sad face. And I was starting to, sort of, obviously think about this idea that they were offensive and insulting. But I’ve got a little historic thing. Someone gave me a 1950’s historical Roberson’s article. I’ve got a competition that you could send in and I would judge the prize. No one sent anything in, ‘cos no one ever saw this. Colouring in and a review of a play. Another poem.

And then I’ve got dates and descriptions of all of the gollies that I kept with full, sort of, object outlines of what they look like, which was deeply fascinating to me and not at all interesting to anyone else.

Harriet: It’s very interesting how you sort of created an almost literary world around them rather than, as you said, playing with them in a scenario. I mean is there … how did you feel about them?

10:55 – Annebella: I felt very invested in them. I felt very enthusiastic about them. Most weekends I used to go out in pursuit of them. If I ever had any money, I spent it on golly-related things. My mum knitted me a golly jumper. I was interested in, I suppose, the whole thing around them. The history and the stories, the fact that they were rare. I suppose latterly I probably got interested in the fact that they were controversial.

But I definitely thought, in my very childish way, that they were somehow kind of alive and important. I had … my older brother is 8 years older than me and he did, as older brothers do, he teased me all the time and one of the things he used to like teasing me about was whether or not my toys were real. He used to say to me: “They’re just made of cotton and stuffing”, a bit like you’ve just asked me. I said “They’re not just made of cotton and stuffing, they’re real”.

I did invest a lot of personality in them. And if anyone had asked me whether I thought they were racist, I would have said “No, they’re just cute”. But that’s not really a defence of them. But to a child, to a primary school-aged child, that’s what I thought of them.

0:12.13 – I felt differently about them as I got older and as I became less invested in them and engaged in them. But they were so much a part of who I was in those years and what I did. It was … I got golly-related things for every birthday and Christmas for probably 4 or 5 years. If anyone ever asked me what I wanted, I wanted something from the brochure that you could get, the merchandise brochure from the Robertson’s factory. And I wrote to Jim’ll Fix It. I wrote to Jimmy Savile – thank God I didn’t get on! [Laughing]. All those people who didn’t get on to Jim’ll Fix It are now delighted that they didn’t get on!

But I did write to Jim’ll Fix It, asking to be shown around Robertson’s factory. I suppose that’s the embodiment, isn’t it, of your childish wishes? Because Jimmy Savile was a wish granter, or so it seemed at the time. So if you had any wish, you wrote it to him. So that’s a sign of how interested and invested in them I was.

Harriet: So you touched a little on the political element. Did you find that changed how you felt about them or wrote about them? Or was it just as you say, it’s cute and it’s …

Annebella: Well I think when I cut out those articles, I was cutting them out because it was an image of golly and I cut out anything I could find on them, wherever I could find anything, so although I must have engaged on some level with the debates and some people did talk to me about it, even when I was a collector, because I was aware that some shops didn’t sell them and sometimes I’d ask and they’d say “Oh no, we don’t sell that anymore”. So I was aware that they had a sort of contentious status but I suppose, in my childish understanding, I thought it was just that they had fallen out of style or fallen out of favour and become old-fashioned. But obviously I grew much more knowledgeable about that as I got older, and even just a few years older, because I remember when I was in at secondary school, I still had a lot of them.

For a long time I had them but didn’t do anything with them and they were just in boxes but I also didn’t want to get rid of them because I was so attached to them. And at some point when I was an older teenager, I suppose I was about 15 or something, so I was still living at home, my mum thought that she would offer some to her brother who had younger children, so to my cousins. And those cousins lived in South London and I remember being there and my mum said to my uncle “Would you like any of these? Would your kids like any of these because, you know, she doesn’t play with them anymore and we’re trying to pass them on”. And he said “No way. We’re not going to have gollies in South London”, and obviously thought of us as being these country bumpkins and, you know, maybe they meant something different in a decade earlier, in Devon than they did a decade later in multicultural London. And because I remember that so clearly, I think that must have been a moment of crystallisation and I thought “They’re different now”.

15:27 – And as I’ve got older, I’ve thought about them over the years and I hear about people collecting them and I see them in museums and, you know, they’re still sort of on my radar because they were such a part of my childhood. But now I’m fully aware of how they’re deeply offensive and the more knowledgeable I’ve got about their origins, the more I look differently on them because now I can see by looking at them that they’re absolutely part of a tradition of minstrelry and you know, mockery of black culture, which I couldn’t see at the time because I didn’t have that visual knowledge, to see images of gollies next to images, you know, that mock … You know, thick lips and a shock of hair. And I already could see in children’s books the golly was often the villain, in a very simplistic way, because a golly’s black face is often cast as the impish or naughty one. You can see it from Noddy and all the famous Enid Blyton books. But I’ve now come to realise that they’ve always had that status and I didn’t realise it, rather than that their status has changed because somebody’s forced upon on them. So it’s a rather complicated feeling about them now.

16:50 – Harriet: You mentioned earlier that you don’t still have all of them. How many do you still have?

Annebella: Well I’ve got a daughter who’s now sixteen and when I … I suppose there was a whole series of getting rid of them, some of which I remember and some of which I don’t … I remember that sort of point at which some of them got given away and I think actually there was a core group of them that I was really enthusiastic about and that would have been the first one that I got; the one that my mum gave me … A couple of really significant ones … on my tenth birthday, I got a three foot high one! That was the piece de resistance of the Robertson’s catalogue and it was the thing that I really wanted. Because I was ten, double figures, I got this massive one. It came in a huge box that was bigger than me. And you know, the really significant ones, I held onto but there was a time when I just got any, because I wanted – as with all collectors – I wanted to kind of bump up the numbers of my collection. I wanted to have 80, 90, 100.

17.56 – So I’d got some that I didn’t actually particularly really like. Or I’d got kind of multiples that were really similar and I don’t remember where or how I got rid of them but somehow some of them went. Then when I left home and my parents separated and the family house was sold, my dad sent me quite a lot of stuff that was still mine that was left over that I hadn’t, kind of, taken with me to my first independent home, to my first flat.

And so I trailed a few of them round with me but I moved house a lot in my twenties and I think I must have pared them back. And then when my daughter was born, I thought maybe she might like to have one or two of them and they’ve just sort of remained in a box for about 15 years. And there’s probably about ten of them and I still don’t know now whether I’m going to get rid of them all because now I’m a historian by trade and, you know, I’m interested in what we do with controversial things from the past and what you should do with a part of your own history but are also quite, kind of, difficult objects. And I think I have a sort of historian’s eye view of them as well as the view of them as a former collector or an adult view of a childhood thing. And I suppose I don’t think that all difficult things in the world should be destroyed. There’s a whole lot of difficult things in the world, from terrible ethnographic photographs objectifying colonial people to, you know, Nazi memorabilia, but, you know, some of those things can be kept and they can become kind of educational or they can offer people a way of thinking through, sort of, difficult issues. So I don’t know what I would do with them.

19:52 – I did see that there’s a museum in the States that – I don’t know how they’ve collected their material – but they include gollies among a huge range of racist memorabilia that’s produced throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century, kind of popular culture representations of black people that are based on mockery. And they actually keep a collection as a means of educating people so I don’t know whether I’d ever donate them to that but I’ve hung on to them in the way that I actually hang on to lots of things.

You probably can’t see my house in this interview, but I’m quite … not a hoarder, because I’m selective, but I have a lot of things. I decided about 20 years ago not to throw things away that I was attached to, cause I’d thrown away things that I’d been formerly attached to and really regretted them … clothes, records, books, not toys. So I suppose now I don’t throw things away unless I need to. They’ve become part of my personal archive of things. Things that define me at various different stages, even if I don’t play with them or talk about them or think about them.

21:01 – Harriet: And what are some of your best memories about the golly collection, playing with them or otherwise?

Annebella: I now look back and think it was quite bizarre that I created quite a lot of sort of cultural [laughing] just, as I say, a whole cultural world around them. I mean it was quite a feat to give them all names beginning with ‘g’ and to write fiction about them and to research them. So I suppose that’s the thing that I remember most about them.

21:34 – I mean I did used to sleep with some of them, I used to take them to bed. And I suppose the legacy of collecting as well. That now, I don’t always define myself as a collector, because, unlike some collectors, I don’t have one thing that is the reason for getting up in the morning and going out at the weekends. I don’t have one thing that I obsessively pursue and accumulate and display and I don’t belong to any kind of collectors’ clubs but I do think that there was something about having that experience of collecting in my childhood, that’s informed some of my later interests.

22.12 – And I’ve got very interested as an academic in collecting as a practice and I have researched people collecting and I’ve got quite a lot of books about collecting and collectors. A lot of my friends are collectors and I’m quite interested in people who have that collecting gene, or whatever it is.

And so I suppose some of the things that I treasure about them are the way that it shaped me as a person. When I look back at the golly book, I see that as a precursor of books and articles and things that I’ve written now – and so they’ve shaped my thinking in a lot of ways. And I’m very interested in my professional life about objects and their meaning to people. I teach material culture which is often about the material objects that people hold most dear and why they treasure them and what those relationships mean between people and things. So I suppose I reflect on them when I’m thinking about that; when I think about attachment to objects, when I think about collecting, when I think about difficult objects.

23.30 – And mostly now, you only really see them in museums or in places where retro objects are for sale. So now, they’re about history as well as being about politics and ethics.

So they’re – looking from an adult perspective – what I’m interested in about them is the way they speak to me now. And as I say, I can’t really remember playing with them as a child but having them and knowing about them and writing about them and thinking about them seems to have been more important to me. I might be looking back with adult glasses but those are the things that matter to me most and that I remember most when I think about them.

Harriet: You mentioned your brother a little bit and his view of the gollies. Were your other siblings … your three other sisters?

Annebella: Yeah, I’ve got three older sisters and a brother. He’s older too.

Harriet: Did they interact with the collection at all?

Annebella: My sister Jane who is two and a half years older than me, she contributed a bit of content to the golly book and she was really interested and enthusiastic about them as well. She was the one who stopped me throwing the golly book away, when I was making a kind of bonfire of all my school text books and exercise books. And she has been interested in collecting in her own way, different kinds of things. I think my three older … my brother and my two older sisters, they’re quite a bit older than me so my eldest sister is 9 years older than me and she left home when I was 8 and my brother is 8 years older than me and he left home around a similar time, when he was a little bit younger.

25.33 – So, I think at the point when they left home, this was still my interest. This was still going on. So I think they were that much older and perhaps not interested. I do remember my sister taking some photographs of me with them so I don’t know. I think they thought it was funny. They do still mention it every now and again now. They sometimes ask me about it in a giggly way; ask if I’ve still got them.

26:01 – Harriet: Is there anything else about the gollies that you wanted to cover or you feel we haven’t touched on that might be interesting?

Annebella: I don’t know … One of the things that has made me think about them again really recently is something quite local that came up in the news. There’s a shop in Kensington Gardens that sells all sorts of retro kitchen supplies and kind of cute, brightly coloured kitchen implements and they’ve been selling objects from the Robert Opie collection. I don’t know if you know Robert Opie, he’s got the Museum of Brands and Packaging in Notting Hill in London. A really, really interesting museum of sort of ordinary objects of everyday life, a great cluttered museum, full of stuff and he is a collector par excellence. He’s a collector who created a museum to house his collection.

26:59 – And he produces bits of merchandise and memorabilia: scrap books and posters and reproduction post cards and I think probably does very well out of it because there’s a market for retro advertising and you know, re-made, historic objects. And in this shop in Kensington Gardens is full of Robert Opie merchandise, including some old adverts for Robertson’s jam that have been made into fridge magnets, I think. Possibly they’ve been made into other things as well, place mats. In fact I think in the Toy Museum there’s also some of Robert Opie’s merchandise for sale. And in the old Robertson’s reproduction adverts, there’s a golly sat in a teddy bear’s picnic-type setting and I read in the Argus, or perhaps saw on the local news, that somebody had written to the council, asking for them to be taken away and saying, “There’s a shop in Brighton that’s selling racially offensive material. You know, under the guise of it being kind of retro and cute, and it ought to be removed”. And somebody from the council, an older member of the council, said, on the record, “Oh I don’t think it’s racially offensive, I just think they’re nostalgic and charming”.

28:32 – And it caused a big debate and the whole discussion about whether gollies, golly-related merchandise and so on should be sold was raised again. And I thought that was really interesting. You know, every time something like that comes up, I review my position. I think back to my childhood collection and I review where I’m at with it now and I think that was very interesting. I watched a little clip on the local news about it and the news company did a very quick poll in the street outside the shop in Kensington Gardens and they asked people what they thought of the gollies and whether they thought they were offensive or not.

And it was very interesting. There was a real generational divide. Younger people said “I can’t believe they’re selling this stuff”. You know, “I thought that stuff was all part of the past and ought to be left in the past”. Older people said “Oh, I remember them, I had them. Haven’t seen them for ages. Oh, how sweet, that reminds me …” and got very nostalgic about it.

And then interestingly, they asked a couple of black people, just in this very non- representative poll, “What do you think about the selling of these items in this shop in Brighton?” And one guy said “I find this really deeply offensive. Why would anyone want to sell this stuff? We’ve been campaigning against these kind of representations for years,”

And they even got somebody from the local Black History Month, Brighton Black History group, to give his opinion on it. And he said: “Golly and golliwog were used throughout my childhood as insults. I was hounded by people with those words and really think these things need to be left behind.”

30:07 – So that happened very recently. I don’t know if it was a year or two ago, something like that. And every time that sort of thing comes up, I sort of think: here I have this material. What does it mean to me now? And I feel uncomfortable about having it but I can’t erase it. It was who I was and it was in the culture of Plymouth, in the ‘70s and 1980s. It was a different place and time but I’m incredibly sympathetic to those points of view and so now I just think very carefully and very reflectively about what it meant to be a white child in a monocultural environment, collecting gollies. And it’s quite an uncomfortable thing to look back on your childhood and revisit it in that way. But I think it’s shaped me and I think having that opportunity to reflect on it has been an interesting opportunity.

31:12 Harriet: It does sound interesting how it’s continued to develop in your adult life, in a way that most childhood memories, are not a closed door, but it’s sort of over isn’t it?

Annebella: I think you repeatedly look back on your childhood according to what stage of your life you’re at. You know, I appraise my childhood differently at various different stages, including when I became a mother myself.

31:40 – The way that I read my childhood now is through my daughter’s eyes. And I look at the way I was brought up and instead of just seeing it about my experience, I look back at my parents as human beings. As, you know, ordinary people trying to raise a child, which I certainly didn’t think of them as being human beings. I thought of them as being strange aliens for quite a long time.

And you know, I reappraised my childhood when my mum died. I reappraised my childhood when my dad died.

32:11 – And sometimes you find out things about your parents later on in life from members of the extended family, for example, and that makes read your childhood in a different way. So memories aren’t stable. It’s a curious thing.

And I’m part of quite a big family. We all remember our childhood very differently. So even though those things are past, they’re not closed and they’re not stable and I’ll probably think again about things in my childhood. I’ll probably think again about things in my golly collection you know, as debates change and as I become, you know, more educated, my opinions change. I might think differently again about them.

32:52 – Harriet: Did you have any other kinds of dolls or was it just the golly collection?

Annebella: I have a few things from childhood that I’ve kept. I did have quite a few other bears, teddy bears, but none have, sort of, captured my imagination in the same way. I’ve got a really, really nice bear who I think is from the 1930s. A very elegant sort of hard-stuffed bear who cries like a baby. He’s got a – I call him a ‘he’, cause he’s called Tedward, my mum named him – but when you turn him over, instead of growl, he’s got a baby doll cry inside him. So he’s quite an odd toy.

But that wasn’t something I had when I was very small, that was something that a slightly confused neighbour, someone on our street, gave to my mum when we were young teenagers. I think I was possibly about 11 and it was something from her childhood. And she gave it to my mum because she was under the mistaken impression that my mum ran a children’s home! [laughing] ‘Cause there was so many of us and so many children coming in and out. She was a slightly strange lady. I also remember that she told my mum that she looked as lovely as a pound note, which is not a phrase I’ve ever heard before or since. But she gave my mum this teddy bear, Tedward. And my mum kept him. We always thought he was rather lovely. He is rather nice. And I’ve got him now. But he wasn’t really a childhood toy.And he’s more associated with my mum and those stories than he is to do with childhood affection.

34:39 – I have also my brother’s only teddy bear. He’s called Tough Ted. When my brother was a teenager, he was a punk, in the late ‘70’s, early 80’s, and so was this bear. He’s dyed and shaved and generally abused and my brother didn’t want him when he left home but because he was quite a distinctive bear – at one point he was sprayed gold and basically he matched whatever hair my brother had for a while – I’ve hung on to him. And I gave him to my daughter when my daughter was born. At one point she was playing with him and a load of pins came out so I think he’d also been used as a voodoo doll. And that was …[laughing] my daughter went “Mum, I’ve found pins inside the teddy bear”. I don’t know what had happened, that he’d ended up with pins inside him, but I still have that bear from my childhood and not very much else.

No other toys had such a sort of significant place in my life as my golly collection.

35:50 – Harriet: So did you keep your brother’s … did you keep Tough Ted because you couldn’t bear to see him thrown away, because he held so much family history or was it that you had played with him or sort of felt an affinity with him when you were younger?

Annebella: I think I was quite proud of this peculiar, rebellious Ted. I was quite proud of my brother. I remember drawing a picture in a school book of my brother as … I remember drawing a picture of all my family members and my brother was really big, with a massive Mohican and bleached jeans and a t-shirt that said “The Damned” and a leather jacket on. I put loads of detail into drawing him so I think, in a way, I probably held this bear in similar esteem. Some of my brother’s, sort of, being a teenage punk was, you know, quite cool when you’re 8 or whatever I was.

36:47 – So I think perhaps it was some of that association. I’ve never liked throwing things away. Now in my work, I write about things that people throw away and I’m interested in processes of recycling and my partner works in house clearances and in bric a brac and antiques dealing so we’re very interested in what gets thrown away and what gets kept and how values change over time. So, it was probably something to do with not wanting to throw away. But also, when my daughter was born, I was the first person in my family to have a child so I became a sort of unofficial custodian of quite a lot of family objects, including the bear of my mum’s and my brother’s bear.

My brother’s now had a daughter of his own and he’s asked for the bear back so the bear’s going to go and have another life in Italy now.

37:41 – I don’t think I’ve got any other toys from my childhood but my sister has loads. My sister Jane and some of my other sisters still have a lot of their old toys. I think perhaps we’re quite a sentimental family.My sister in America has got a huge collection of cuddly monkeys. So I think we are collectors and accumulators and sentimentalists, or some of us are anyway.

38:10 – Harriet: Did you swap much or did you have your collection?

Annebella: Oh no, that was forbidden, no. Nobody’s playing with my things! We did sometimes have matching items. I do remember that a few of us, maybe all of us at one point, had similar bears. My mum was very concerned about us not fighting over things so sometimes we had similar things but in a different colour variation. I very clearly remember having a yellow bear and my sister Jane having one that was the same but blue and one of my other sisters having one exactly the same but in another colour. And maybe that was somebody from outside the family who’d brought us presents and had done that. But my mum was very conscious about us not fighting over things and often used to buy matching stuff for us all anyway to, kind of, avoid the fighting.

39:05 – Harriet: And just coming on to construction toys, did you have any of those?

Annebella: I don’t recall every having any. It might be a gendered thing. I don’t recall ever having any. I do remember playing with Lego and I remember playing with Lego with a girl from school who had a Lego collection. And I remember being quite jealous of the amount of Lego she had. And we went round there and we built … my sister and I, went round there after school a couple of times and built really unimaginative things like walls of houses and tall, straight towers and things like that. It was just solid blocks in primary colours; maybe some windows as well. I don’t remember there being other kind of complicated parts. I don’t remember having a huge enthusiasm for it.

We didn’t have Meccano and I don’t remember us having any other construction toys either. It wasn’t something that figures in a big way in my childhood, no.

40:17 – I have remembered some other toys that I had but they’re not really dolls or 12 construction toys. I had a lot of Fisher Price things that you could make into schools and a garage with cars and a slide and a roundabout and things like that. But they were not dolls or bears or construction toys strictly speaking.

40:39 – Harriet: It’s interesting isn’t though because I think we’re loosely defining construction toys as anything you can assemble. So in a way those …

Annebella: So other kinds of kits do you mean? Harriet: It could be. It could be I s’pose.

Annebella: It may be my imagination that’s limiting me. When you say kits I’m thinking of kind of Airfix kits. I didn’t have those.

Harriet: Well, I suppose just thinking of the Fisher Price things you were mentioning

Annebella: Yeah, they’re relatively limited though, aren’t they? They’re sort of ready- assembled that you can, kind of, put together in different formations. You’re not really construction in the sense that you’ve got raw material you’ve put together to make an end-product.

41:16 – Harriet: And how about action figures? Did you have any of those?

Annebella: No. I do remember my brother having an Action Man. If you can call Action Man an action figure. He’s not an action figure in the way I think of action figures now. I think of action figures as being figurines of superheroes but I guess action figures can be quite broadly defined. I remember the thing at the back of his head, the eagle eye thing that could make his eyes move. No I don’t think I had anything that could be described as action figures and I never had a Barbie either. I just didn’t like them. I found them really ugly. I did have a Barbie washing machine but no Barbie.

We used to sometimes go for a walk in an area not far from our house, which was a sort of wasteland area, of which there were quite a few in Plymouth. There were quite a few in the early ‘80’s. Now there aren’t any of these places. But I sometimes used to go with my sisters and brother. We would just wander round these places and we’d sometimes pick up springs and you know, it was just playing in a bit of wasteland basically. And it … there was a valley between two streets of housing and people used to just chuck stuff in there and we used to root through it and find stuff and I remember finding a Barbie twin tub. I didn’t know what it was because I hadn’t seen a twin tub. It was a bit dated. A Barbie twin tub which made amazing bubbles. I remember putting lots of washing up liquid in it and making lots of bubbles.

42:49 – And some Weebles with the eyes caved in. Do you remember those little egg- shaped characters that used to wobble but never fall down? So we had never been bought those or even wanted them or asked for them but we picked them up when they were discarded on a rubbish dump.

43:10 – Harriet: Did you ever want any bears, dolls or construction toys that you couldn’t have or asked for them but didn’t get?

Annebella: I think I used to feel jealous about some people’s toys. Yeah, I do remember some people had, you know, really fancy stuff. And there were adverts on television, you know, for extremely complicated and extremely expensive things but I don’t remember there ever being a hope in hell of getting them [laughing] so I never, kind of, set my heart on them because I couldn’t have them. And actually I think I liked … I was most fond of quite home-spun things. My mum made a lot of cuddly toys. I really clearly remember that she made toys to sell to raise money for our school. When I was at primary school, she made toys to go on a toy stall. And my sister and I were absolutely heartbroken because we’d fallen in love with them and we couldn’t keep them and she’d let us play with them before they went on the stall. And then we weren’t allowed to keep them because they were to raise money for some school fund or something. And my sister and I got really early at the front of the queue. When there was the queue for the school fete, we were first in. We ran to the toy stall and we bought them back with our own money. My mum saying “Why are you so stupid, to do that?”

But my sister’s still got them and one of them is just two ovals of orange felt and two white circles with sort of blue blobs in the centre, a completely unsophisticated toy. My mum made a lot of … she did a lot of sewing and knitting. She was really, really productive but they weren’t always the most complex constructions. So this was, I suppose, like a Humpty Dumpty-type figure and we absolutely loved it. So I had a lot of toys like that that were really simple.

One of my favourite toys was a golly that used to be a penguin and it was basically just a bit of black and white felt that was completely flat. Almost like an oval shape with a bit of foam inside. And it was white and black on one side and it had, kind of, penguin features and it was black on the back and I think my mum sewed or glued some eyes to it and it might have been something really basic like those paper reinforcements that you put on the holes for paper that’s going in ring binders to kind of reinforce the paper and give it strength. Very simple circular, white stickers. And I think it had that and maybe half a sticker covered in red for the mouth. And I managed to form some really affectionate bond with this thing that was, kind of, just an old, discarded toy and two bits of felt and a bit of foam so I think … I don’t want to make out that I’m really puritanical and I’m saintly and I didn’t have any desires for expensive stuff, because I surely did. But all of my deep affections were for quite humble things. I mean even the first golly in my collection is a bald, homemade, second-hand, possibly a bit pre-loved item. So it was more about the face of the object and how appealing its face was and its tactile qualities if it’s particularly soft or malleable or comforting or something, then I would have had more of an affection with it than if it was something quite complicated – lots of parts and … I didn’t find it as easy to form an affectionate relationship with plastic-y objects.

46:44 – Harriet: Do you have any other memories that you want to talk about of bears, dolls or construction toys?

Annebella: I don’t think so. I think I’ve said everything, yeah. That’s fine.
Harriet: Well thank you, that was really fascinating. Thank you and yes, alright, I’ll stop there. Unless there’s anything either of you would like to add? No.

INTERVIEW ENDS 47:08

Annebella

Annebella was born in 1973 in Plymouth. Now a historian with a particular interest in collecting and material culture, in the short version (13m 33s) of her interview she discusses the collection of golliwogs that she had as a child, and how her views about these have developed and changed. In the full version (46m 56s) she also mentions her brother’s punk teddy bear and Lego.