Leave Bill and Ben to rot in peace

26th January 2001 at 00:00
The whole nation is awash with comebacks - Janet and John, Bill and Ben - all reincarnated in a new politically correct form. So what have they been doing for the past few years? Were they living on social security, sulking, or just biding their time till the nation called?

I can now reveal exclusively that Bill and Ben, the flowerpot men, spent the late 1980s designing the national curriculum and writing assessment documents, before moving on to national vocational qualifications in the 1990s.

"The flobbalobba range statements and the lobbalibby little weeeeeed performance indicatorsI " It is obvious in retrospect, but we never spotted it at the time.

Janet and John became teachers. "Look Janet, look. I'm having a nervous breakdown. I'm climbing a tree instead of taking Year 9."

"Can I have a nervous breakdown, John, just like you?" "No Janet, no. I like helping daddy in the garden instead of filling in forms."

"I'm a primary headteacher, John. I like staying at home and helping mummy iron the clothes, because Ofsted is in school this week."

It is all very well bringing back characters from the past, but for me they are rooted firmly in their time and should be left there.

Would Robin Hood look right wearing combat gear with a Kalashnikov in his hand? Suppose Julius Caesar made a return visit to Britain, and announced:

"I came, I saw, I set up a quango"?

What if Dick Whittington arrived in London, only to hear the bells saying:

"Turn again, Whittington, thrice redundant from dotcom firms," and ended up selling the Big Issue? Or if Little Red Riding Hood visited her granny and found her cottage had been bulldozed, swallowed up to make way for a multiplex cinema?

These children's figures from the past should have protection orders slapped on them. I do not want to open a revamped reader from my childhood and discover that Old Lob is now running in the 2.30 at Sandown, six-to-four favourite for the Wheatibangs Handicap. Nor should he be sent to theknacker's yard. Just let the poor beggar carry on munching grass like he always did, dignity intact, locked in his time warp.

All kinds of horror could ensue. The elves will refuse to work nights. The shoemaker will in any case be bankrupt, because anyone who sells shoes for the price of the leather deserves to go bust. It's a dog-eat-dog market out there. No rescue for lame ducks, or innumerate shoemakers.

The line must be drawn, or there will be no end to the sacrilege committed under this desperate drive to modernise. Before you know it, Snow White and the seven dwarfs will be demanding a minimum wage, the Wicked Queen will have been sent on a personal relationships awareness course, and Dopey will be a lay inspector.

Who will be the next revered figure to be dragged into the 21st century. Could it be those basket cases Andy Pandy and his friend Teddy?

Andy Pandy and Teddy always had a race. Irrespective of who won, they would stage a second race in which the other would triumph. The score was perpetually one-all. Will Teddy now be whitewashed five nil, like some hapless England international team, just to prepare children for the cruel reality of adult life?

I see nothing but botched disasters ahead. In a refurbished French reader, the Laval family will go on a package holiday to Benidorm instead of crossing the Alps.

A new version of my childhood maths book will ask: "If one fast-food operative can make 50 triple super whopperburgers plus fries in 13 minutes, how long will it take 10 customers to throw up?" This updating fad will never work, so it must stop. Otherwise the results simply become more and more far-fetched.

"Look Janet, look. I see a chief inspector."

"Yes John, yes. I see him too."

"What is he doing, Janet?" "He is writing for a Conservative newspaper, John."

"He is a Conservative peer, Janet."

"I think I will do my ironing, John."

"I think I will climb my tree again, Janet."

Damn silly. Is nothing sacred?

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