May 16

Why @asda @tesco @sainsburys & @morrisons should do the right thing over safer children’s fancy dress outfits

Fancy DressWatching television presenter Claudia Winkleman talking on BBC’s One’s Watchdog programme last night about the moment her eight-year-daughter Matilda’s Halloween fancy dress costume caught fire resulting in her being badly burned was heart-breaking.

Like most of us, Claudia had assumed that a fancy dress outfit bought from a reputable supermarket would be safe. One could reasonably assume that from a safety point of view such a garment would be treated as children’s’ pyjamas or a nightdress. They are, after all, sold in supermarkets in the same sections: clothing.

But, no, fancy dress costumes are classed as toys and therefore are subject to less stringent regulations when it comes to the risk of them catching fire. This is clearly wrong. As Claudia said on the programme, if a child is holding a toy that catches fire they can drop it. If it’s a costume that they are wearing this obviously isn’t possible.

Very clearly children’s’ fancy dress costumes should be tested to the same levels as nightwear and the regulations about this need to be changed. But we know that our systems for changing things like this often take too long – and action needs to be taken now.

‘Celebrating’ Halloween and trick or treating is a relatively new phenomenon in the UK (and seen by many, including myself, as one of those American imports we could really do without…). It has, of course, become a major money-spinner for supermarkets who have been driving its establishment as a fixture in British life in order to sell more stuff and make bigger profits. (the same could also be said of their new ranges of Thank You presents for teachers and attempts to Christmatise Easter…)

After watching Watchdog last night I tweeted this to the UK’s four major supermarkets:

They have all now responded:

So there you have it, Britain’s supermarkets have spoken – and despite the knowledge that regulations have failed to put child safety and welfare above profits. I would argue that they have a clear moral responsibility to go further than the clearly inadequate rules on fancy dress costumes are it is they should have pushed the whole Halloween party thing into the mainstream of British life. This “festival” takes place in the autumn and is meant to be about ghosts and ghouls so candles will always be around, when perhaps, in the past, non-Halloween fancy dress costumes and naked flames might have rarely come together.

The supermarkets should not hide behind the excuse of “we comply with current regulations” – that is not good enough. They should go further than this and only sell fancy dress costumes that would pass the same tests as for children’s nightwear. Make no mistake – the law on this will be changed, but supermarkets will already be buying stock for Halloween now so they need to change what they are going to sell now.

The first one that does will receive public acclaim, the thanks of parents and increased sales. So come on supermarkets, do the right thing… and do it now before another little child like Matilda gets hurt.

UPDATE: Since I wrote this piece, all four major supermarkets have confirmed to me, for a piece I was commissioned to write for the Daily Mirror, that they will not be withdrawing these fancy dress costumes from sale or testing them more stringently. 

March 26

Downton Abbey to end after series 6

Carnival Films, the producers of Downton Abbey and ITV has announced that Season 6 will be the final season of the worldwide hit TV drama.

Carnival’s Managing Director and Executive Producer of Downton Abbey, Gareth Neame said: “Millions of people around the world have followed the journey of the Crawley family and those who serve them for the last five years. Inevitably there comes a time when all shows should end and Downton is no exception.

“We wanted to close the doors of Downton Abbey when it felt right and natural for the storylines to come together and when the show was still being enjoyed so much by its fans. We can promise a final season full of all the usual drama and intrigue, but with the added excitement of discovering how and where they all end up…”

Julian Fellowes, writer, creator and Executive Producer of Downton Abbey, one of the UK’s biggest ever drama exports said: “The Downton journey has been amazing for everyone aboard. People ask if we knew what was going to happen when we started to make the first series and the answer is that, of course we had no idea.

“Exactly why the series had such an impact and reached so many people around the world, all nationalities, all ages, all types, I cannot begin to explain. But I do know how grateful we are to have been allowed this unique experience. I suspect the show will always be a principal marker in most of our careers as we set out from here, and if so, I consider that a blessing and a compliment.”

Downton Abbey is the highest rating UK drama of the past decade across any channel, with an average of 11 million viewers over the course of the five series, including Christmas specials.

ITV’s Director of Television, Peter Fincham said: “When Julian Fellowes and Gareth Neame brought us the idea for Downton Abbey six years ago we thought it would be a great Sunday night series for ITV, but we had no way of knowing that it would become a global phenomenon playing to hundreds of millions of viewers around the world.

“What a ride it’s been – for everyone involved in the production, for the cast, and most of the all for the audience. We all thought very carefully about the right moment to bring something so special to a close that felt editorially right, and left viewers wanting more. Christmas Day on ITV this year will certainly be one to remember, as the concluding special brings a series to an end that started as a leap of faith for all of us, and ended surpassing all expectations.”

The Golden Globe®, Emmy®, PGA, BAFTA, National Television Awards and Screen Actors Guild award-winning show, debuted on ITV in 2010 and has since become a global phenomenon. Downton Abbey is now in over 250 territories worldwide.