Noddy - older and wiser?

HE may be turning 60 next year, but the little hero of Toyland is still as popular as ever with a new book in the pipeline. Here, Emma Cowing looks back on the ups and downs of Enid Blyton's endearing, if sometimes controversial, character.

The Beginning

NODDY – no last name, like Cher – was born on 22 November 1949, the day that Noddy Goes To Toyland hit British bookstands. The book depicted the tale of a wooden boy, carved by a woodsman, who runs away after being scared by a wooden lion. He wanders in the woods alone, naked and homeless, until he is befriended by Big Ears, who takes him to live in Toyland and, in an unusual move for a new friend, gives him clothes and buys a build-it-yourself house for him. Noddy is then promptly put on trial by the citizens of Toyland who have to judge whether or not he is an ornament or a toy. Finally they decide he is a toy, but then seem unconvinced as to whether or not he is a good toy, and he has to save a doll from a lion before he is allowed the right to stay in Toyland. And you thought Britain had tough immigration policies.

Settling in

Noddy's popularity was rising not just in Toyland but in the outside world as well. Blyton continued to write Noddy stories until 1963, and each one of the 24 titles became a hit, with children lapping up the tales of the hapless little boy with the blue hat. Noddy meanwhile, got himself a snazzy-looking car and enjoyed adventures with characters such as Tessie Bear, Bumpy Dog, The Skittles, Mr Sparks, Dinah Doll, Mr Jumbo, Master Tubby Bear, Martha Monkey, Mr Wobbly Man, Clockwork Mouse and Miss Pink Cat. A children's legend had been born. Big Ears was delighted.

Bans and Race Relations

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Children may have loved Noddy, but librarians loathed him. Described by one as "the most egocentric, joyless, snivelling and pious anti-hero in the history of British fiction", poor young Noddy was on the verge of being blacklisted. There was a movement in the 1960s to ban Blyton's books – and in particular Noddy tomes – from libraries, because of their supposed limited vocabulary, but it did not last long, with many finally recognising that Blyton's ability to get children to read in the first place was far more important. But there were more problems. Golliwogs were popular toys at the time of Blyton's writing, but by the 1980s they were seen as promoting negative black stereotypes. The golliwog characters were airbrushed out in 1989, some erased completely, while others were replaced with goblins.

Not so queer

The fact that Noddy and his top chum Big Ears – without whom, let's face it, he'd probably still be wandering around the woods in the buff – would cuddle up in bed together with a nice steaming mug of hot chocolate has been the cause of much sniggering for many years. And perhaps with some reason. After all, Big Ears is responsible for Noddy's jaunty wardrobe, and bought him a bachelor pad, which he promptly invited himself round to on a regular basis. Meanwhile Blyton's liberal use of the words 'queer' and 'gay' was deemed 'inappropriate' and in 1989 all use of the words was taken out, and Big Ears was banished to his own bed.

On the box

The first Noddy TV series appeared on the BBC in the 1950s and used crude models. A second series popped up in 1992 using puppetry and ran until 1999. In 2003 a new, computer animated version made by current Noddy rights owners Chorion aired, which introduced Toyland's first Scottish character, Mr Sparks, the Toyland garage owner who replaced the original proprietor, Mr Golly. In the autumn of 2004 Noddy went multilingual with Say it With Noddy, two minute TV idents featuring Noddy learning words in a variety of foreign languages. Trs bien, Noddy.

What's next

He may be turning 60 next year, but Noddy's as perky as ever. Sophie Smallwood, Enid Blyton's granddaughter, far left, revealed at the weekend that she is penning a new book, Noddy's Birthday Surprise, illustrated by Robert Tyndall who worked with Blyton in the early 1950s. It will be released next year to coincide with the birthday celebrations. Meanwhile, Noddy and his creator remain as adored by their fans as ever. Earlier this year Enid Blyton was voted the best-loved author in the 2008 Costa Book Awards, ahead of Roald Dahl, JK Rowling and Shakespeare, while Noddy books have, in the 59 years since they were first published, sold more than 100 million copies. Not bad for the little wooden boy who ran away from a lion.