A brief history of Peppa Pig, from culture wars controversies to Boris Johnson’s blustering

PM praises Peppa Pig World in rambling speech to baffled CBI leaders but wholesome children’s TV favourite is no stranger to the political limelight

Joe Sommerlad
Tuesday 23 November 2021 18:27
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Peppa Pig saves UK PM Johnson when lost for words

Boris Johnson unexpectedly dragged Peppa Pig onto the national stage on Monday by recounting his recent visit to a theme park devoted to the children’s TV favourite during a spectacularly confused address to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Annual Conference.

The prime minister had attended Peppa Pig World in the New Forest on Sunday as a family day out with his one-year-old son Wilfred and wife Carrie Symonds and unexpectedly launched into a shower of praise for the resort before a roomful of baffled executives in South Shields.

“Yesterday I went, as we all must, to Peppa Pig World,” he told the gathering of wizened corporate leaders, who had arrived hoping to hear a positive spin on the future of an economy faced with post-Brexit trading uncertainty, a stubborn pandemic and relentless supply chain chaos.

“I loved it. Peppa Pig World is very much my kind of place: it has very safe streets, discipline in schools, heavy emphasis on new mass transit systems…” the PM joked, having already imitated a revving car engine and paused, lost his place and had to thumb frantically through his notes while desperately trying to recover his equilibrium.

Senior Tories from William Hague to Jeremy Hunt have since expressed their horror at this latest bungled display from a man they have continued to back throughout myriad similar crises and blunders in the firm belief that the British voting public will never tire of precisely this brand of buffoonery - the perpetually ruffled hair, the sub-Wodehouse turns of phrase, the zipline pratfalls - no matter how dire the state of the nation.

Remaining rather more dignified throughout this latest episode was, of course, Peppa Pig herself, a beloved figure to toddlers across the UK and around the world, her eponymous programme broadcast everywhere from Portugal to Taiwan.

She is also, importantly, a heroine to frazzled parents everywhere, who are only too happy to fire up Netflix and surrender their phones into grasping, greasy fingers to avert a raging tantrum in Pizza Express.

Peppa was created by animators Neville Astley and Mark Baker and first aired on Channel 5 on 31 May 2004 (she was never offered to the BBC, as the PM falsely claimed in his CBI speech), going on to become nothing short of a cultural phenomenon, akin to such classics of British animation as The Magic Roundabout, Paddington or Wallace and Gromit.

Her show is now into its Sopranos-rivalling seventh season, with no fewer than 329 five-minute episodes in the can and a range of books, albums, video games and live events on the go, each building on the wholesome adventures of Peppa, her brother George, Daddy Pig and their extended animal family as they traverse a bright 2D world of blue skies and lush green grass.

That show’s genial nature has not stopped it falling victim to culture wars narratives among absurd adults, however.

Peppa Pig has been criticised for its characters’ setting a poor example to children by failing to wear seatbelts and bicycle helmets, accused of pushing “a weird feminist line” by one attention-seeking Australian newspaper columnist and even attacked by former Liberal Democrat health minister Norman Lamb for failing to incorporate an openly gay character.

Bizarrely, Peppa herself has also become an ironic cult figure on Chinese social media, used to satirise corruption among the wealthier classes.

But worst of all for Mr Johnson, Peppa Pig, whom he insulted as resembling a “Picasso-like hairdyer”, is a Labour supporter, having nailed her colours to the mast early when she backed Gordon Brown’s Sure Start initiative ahead of the 2010 general election.

“Crumbs!” to quote the prime minister.

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