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Sunday 18 October 2009

Nursery Rhyme Heritage

A bizarre row is going on because the BBC changed the last line of the nursery rhyme 'Humpty Dumpty' for a children's programme. The original ends with 'all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again.' The changed version gave it a happy ending with the king's horses and men making Humpty happy again.

The row is about changing age-old rhymes to make them less frightening for children and making everything jolly. Apparently, another nursery rhyme about Miss Muffet being frightened by a spider has been changed to make the frightened woman make friends with the spider. Nanny state gone mad!!!! Children are scared of many things - fairy tales are filled with scary characters to help them deal with that. Wrapping them in cotton wool and pretending everything is lovely, while news programmes and political propaganda is creating an atmosphere of fear is utter nonsense - creating people who are unable to cope with something as shocking as a spider or Humpty Dumpty falling from a wall! In the age of double-glazing and super-clean environments which don't allow children's immune systems to develop, this hardly seems surprising. A nation of ninnies will be all that is left, and they will be at the mercy of any tyrant or control-freak who chooses to take power.

However! In this case, the BBC said they were only being 'creative' with their alternative ending. That is all very well but someone somewhere in the corporation must realize that there is a lot more to nursery rhymes than simply nonsensical verses. In the ages before newspapers, TV and radio, the best means of communicating the news was by stories that were easy for the messenger to remember. Rhyming verses are easier to remember than prose and so it was by verses that news travelled the country. Obviously unbeknown to the people who decided to change the end of the verse, Humpty Dumpty tells the story of a cannon that was smashed to pieces during the Civil War. Changing the end of it is rewriting history. It's not a matter of being creative, it's a matter of preserving the ancient traditions of the country. Folk songs carry the same historical traditions, as do Morris Dancers, Maypoles and Mummers. It seems to me really important that these things are preserved as surely as we preserve old buildings and other parts of our heritage. Please don't start messing with nursery rhymes!!!

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