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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Inside the messy politics of Peppa Pig’s world

Naturally, the PM, who favours a pair of beaten up old black trainers, had a bit to say about the show being “stereotypical about Daddy pig” – noted for being unshaven, over-optimistic and generally inept. But it’s a secret to no-one that the whole thing is a cosy nostalgia feast of nuclear-family stereotypes, where everyone knows their place and is mildly sent up for liking it there.

Above all it’s a family show. That’s its whole charm. And not just in Britain but around the world, where people polled in country after country put family at the very top of the list of things that give their lives meaning (with the exception of South Korea, where “material well-being” comes top. But then they produce Squid Game instead).

All in all, rejoiced the PM, it reflects “the power of UK creativity… a pig that looks like a sort of Picasso-like hairdryer… exported to 180 countries. I think that it is pure genius.”

It’s true. Peppa is watched around the world. Her creators, Mark Baker, Neville Astley and Phil Davies, who met at Middlesex Polytechnic in the mid-Eighties, have become multi-millionaires many times over on the back of her success.

The problem is that it’s not British – at least not anymore. Their company, ABD, became a subsidiary of the Canadian firm Entertainment One in 2015, which explicitly aimed to double sales of Peppa (to $2bn per year) and four years later was itself bought by US toymaking giant Hasbro. This year, when seven more years of Peppa programmes were commissioned, ABD “passed the torch” to another studio.

For some, in fact, Peppa is not a fairy tale of British business so much as a cautionary tale – this country coming up with ideas then selling them and letting others make the big bucks. It is the answer often given to why Britain, despite an abundance of talent, doesn’t have a tech giant to rival Silicon Valley. Creative genius? Maybe. Small-town business mentality? All too often.

That, perhaps, might have been one boosterish message the PM could have given to the CBI without causing jaws to drop: that under his leadership, Britain would become a place not just to generate ideas, but also to capitalise on them around the world.

But he didn’t. Still, he can take comfort in the fact he’s not the first politician to trip up having co-opted Peppa to his cause. More than a decade ago, Peppa was the poster pig of Sure Start, New Labour’s children’s centres. The party, sensing electoral opportunity, announced she would make a campaign appearance alongside then Work and Pensions Secretary, Yvette Cooper. Embarrassingly, the production company pulled out. Gordon Brown, while admitting that he and his family were “big fans”, claimed to “understand that she has a very busy schedule and so couldn’t make it”.

Ten days later he was out of Downing Street. Just saying.

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