Tufty given new look for old message

AMONG THE welter of recent surveys on the state of Britain, one has gone unnoticed. It is the work of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and is devoted to relaunching the career of an erstwhile rather old-fashioned character who wears a cardigan, sports a tail, and is renowned for the way he teaches children about road safety.

Thirty-two years after the birth of Tufty, the red squirrel who used to stand rather goofishly on the pavement with his hand in his mother's, RoSPA has redesigned the character after sending a team to a town in the West Midlands to find out what children are really like today.

The team came up with a politically correct dossier that would have been unrecognisable in the 1960s' climate of Bill and Ben, The Woodentops, and even the more avant-garde Magic Roundabout where Dylan the rabbit often behaved as if on drugs. Tufty, it seems, is as likely these days to have an unemployed father who spends much of his time doing the washing up, and friends who come from single parent families, like Willy Weasel, and have special learning difficulties, like Matty Mole.

In appearance, Tufty himself has also changed. More anthropomorphic, with a rather stylish haircut, he has replaced his cardigan and schoolboyish trousers with a bright yellow T-shirt and blue jeans. Instead of living in a semi-detached house, he now lives in an end-of-terrace house on a busy road close to a park. However, Tufty aficionados will be pleased to know that his character remains the same: despite being touched by life's nastiness through his family and friends, he is still a happy and smiling squirrel who is dedicated to preventing children getting killed on the roads.

Launching the new Tufty at a hotel in London yesterday, Kenneth Carlisle, the Minister for Roads and Traffic, said the squirrel had been an important messenger of the need for road safety since 1961. 'Children have been safer and lives have been saved just because Tufty existed and has been present in so many children's minds. In 1985, we wanted to reduce accidents on the road by a third by the year 2000. We will not achieve or exceed it without the help of everyone.'

John Howard, RoSPA's director of safety, said Tufty had proved 'a well-loved and effective character for helping children learn vital safety lessons over the years. We are certain that with Tufty's help, parents, pre-school playgroup leaders and teachers of children in infant schools will be able to help make their children safer road users.'

(Photographs omitted)