Melanie McDonagh Melanie McDonagh

Why does the Beano want to cancel itself?

Let’s hear it for the Beano, 85 years old this week. Lucky readers can get a commemorative issue featuring Charles and Camilla, Dua Lipa and Lewis Hamilton. It’s also a chance for those who haven’t read it for decades to register how much it has changed. Lately, the Bash Street Kids welcomed five classmates: Harsha, Mandi, Khadija, Mahira and Stevie Starr. There’s a hijab alongside the stripy shirts and school caps, plus a scientist in a wheelchair. Fatty, the boy who ate all the pies, and Spotty, who had pustules and a long tie, have been renamed Freddy and Scotty to ensure young people who have freckles, weight problems or acne are not taunted by their peers.

Censorship works best when it’s internalised. You pre-empt criticism

The comic’s creative director, Mike Stirling, cheerfully admits that the comic has become ‘woke’. ‘We have never seen that as a pejorative term,’ he says. ‘It’s awareness and being awake to things. What would be easy to do would be to sleepwalk and keep the Beano the way it had always been done for ever.’ As in, funny?

The Beano’s changes testify to the influence of Inclusive Minds, a consultancy ‘for people who are passionate about inclusion, diversity, equality and accessibility in children’s literature’. The organisation encourages those it works with to sign its ‘Everybody In’ charter, which declares that ‘everyone working with children and books must play a part in ensuring that all children can find authentic representations of themselves in books, as well as seeing those who are different from them’. Its ‘inclusion ambassadors’ – children and parents – advised on the Beano’s makeover.

The organisation, founded a decade ago by Alexandra Strick and ‘inclusion and equality consultant’ Beth Cox, surfaced earlier this year as the body involved in censoring Roald Dahl’s work for children. You know, the one that ended with Puffin and the Roald Dahl Story Company removing the words ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’.

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