Volume 56, Number 11, November 2019
The Famous Who? THE RECENT announcement that a coin celebrating the life and work of our childhood favourite, Enid Blyton, was vetoed for fear of a social media backlash seems to have attracted a reasonable amount of media attention, but why? The decision, which was actually taken in 2016 and only revealed after a recent Freedom of Information Act request to see the minutes of the relevant meeting, was, I am sure, just one of a number of similar decisions that the Royal Mint advisory committee make all the time. I am certain there have been dozens of people, characters and themes that have been mooted to appear on coins but haven’t made it past committee stage, so why has this one hit the headlines? Well, apparently the official reason that Blyton, of Famous Five, Secret Seven and Noddy fame, doesn’t grace our coins is that she wasn’t well regarded as a writer and is known to be racist, sexist and homophobic and the Mint were concerned that to choose her would be to lay them open to criticism. This fear of criticism has, inevitably, opened the Mint up to, er, criticism that they are being too politically correct, too “woke”, that they are whitewashing the past and that, if we aren’t careful we will only ever celebrate the lives of those whom Twitter, Facebook and the like first approve. There is something in this, as was seen with the recent decision to put Alan Turing on the £50 note—on the whole the Twittersphere approved, but not necessarily because Turing was a great man but because he was gay and had been treated badly by the establishment and this was a way of “getting back” at the powers that be. Which is odd as the powers that be now are certainly not the powers that were then, so I’m not really sure who was actually being got back at. Even the Turing decision wasn’t acceptable to all, and there were many who bemoaned the fact that it was another man not a woman who was to appear on the new note. As always, you cannot please all of the people all of the time and there will always be those who complain, so why give them ammunition to do so if you know someone is controversial? It makes sense to steer clear of those who might provoke a reaction doesn’t it? Maybe, and if that is the real reason the Royal Mint decided not to put Enid Blyton on a coin then that’s fine. They didn’t want the hassle, I get it, but I actually suspect there’s more to it than that. Think for a moment about the recent Children’s Character 50p coins—they make scant mention of the authors (there was one coin that mentioned Beatrix Potter, otherwise it’s all the characters from the books, not the author herself, that appear and in the case of the Snowman, Paddington and the Gruffalo coins, the author is nowhere to be found). So why not put Noddy and Big Ears on a coin and not mention Enid Blyton at all? ºWouldn’t that steer clear of any controversy? After all, everyone loves Noddy don’t they? Well I suspect that neither Enid Blyton nor her characters were chosen because actually not everybody loves Noddy—mainly because they have no idea who he is! Enid Blyton just isn’t as popular as she used to be, fewer people read her books these days and the mass market appeal just isn’t there as it is with Paddington or Peter. Yes, most of us older collectors will remember her books and might want a coin featuring the Five Find Outers and dog (my personal favourite, I was never a Famous Five Fan) out of a sense of nostalgia, but how many youngsters know those characters today? Very few I suspect, and as a consequence very few children out there would be interested in collecting coins with those characters featuring on them. Whether we like it or not, the phenomenal success of the recent 50p coins has been fuelled by young collectors eagerly seeking out the rabbits, bears and hedgehogs—or at the very least their parents doing it for them. I am sure it is no coincidence that the popularity of these coins coincided with the release of the Paddington and Peter Rabbit films. Children know the characters, they love them, they recognise them and so they want to collect the coins that feature them—there’s been no Famous Five film, the last Noddy TV series finished 20 years ago and the books just aren’t that popular anymore—so whilst the official reasons may be as given, that the Mint was worried about the Social Media mob haranguing them and wanted to be seen to be clear of anything too controversial, I suspect that at its heart the decision not to celebrate the life of Enid Blyton was purely commercial as they knew such coins wouldn’t be as popular as their current crop. And actually, that’s OK, as whilst some may well decry the fact that the Mint is looking at this purely commercially, think of it this way: the more popular the coins, the more people want to collect them, the more people want to collect them the more people get interested in our hobby, and that has to be a good thing doesn’t it?
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