April 29, 2022

Oxford University Press pull Biff & Chip book over “scary” country pages


Roderick Hunt’s Biff & Chip appear in over 800 titles, and celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2016 (Lewis Martin via Flickr under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A book in the popular Biff & Chip children’s series has been withdrawn from sale by Oxford University Press, following complaints that its pages depicting a “scary” country were “no longer appropriate”.

As reported by the BBC and others, The Blue Eye follows Biff and Chip as they are magically transported to another country “with narrow streets” and a busy marketplace. The original 2001 version—which was amended in 2012—features “an illustration … of people wearing turbans and a niqab—a type of Islamic veil—Biff says: ‘Let’s stay together … The people don’t seem very friendly.'”

An image of the original page has blown up on social media in recent weeks, attracting widespread criticism. According to OUP, the book was taken out of print in March, with a spokesperson saying:

We take steps to remove any products that are no longer appropriate from our collection … We regularly review and make changes to our list of titles to ensure they are up-to-date, diverse, inclusive and reflective of the world we live in.

The Biff & Chip series celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2016, with 800 stories now in print, and now used by 80% of UK primary schools. Per a BBC report at the time, series author Roderick Hunt was inspired to write the books after making a slow start on reading himself:

Good reading is so important to human development. So our vision was to get children reading, and get them off picture books and on to the world of print.

The Blue Eye is by no means the first children’s book to feature lines which no longer meet contemporary cultural standards; in recent years Tintin, Dr. Seuss, David Walliams and many others have seen similar alterations, or in some cases complete withdrawals, of works containing sensitive material. OUP said they were committed to creating “more inclusive content,” and would “continue to try to improve their existing and new titles.”



Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.