Gender Portrayal with Bassett’s Jelly Babies

Jelly Babies – They’re in a wibbly wobbly archive of their own!

Whilst cataloguing the collection of Bob Godfrey, we came across some tasty treats in the form of Bassett’s Jelly Babies! The material relates to two television commercials for the product, and reveals a fascinating insight into character design and advertising.

Pack design with colour annotations

Pack design with colour annotations

Well-known confectionaries, Jelly Babies have a fascinating history surrounding their production and their name. According to Tim Richardson, author of Sweets: A History of Tempatation (Bantem Press:2003), Jelly Babies were originally invented in 1864 at Fryer’s, a Lancashire Sweets Firm. The tasty treats were an invention of Austrian Immigrant confectioner called Steinboch (known as Springbok locally). The name he coined and the name Jelly babies were initially marketed under was ‘Unclaimed Babies’.

In 1918 a firm named Bassett’s in Sheffield began the production of their “Peace Babies” to mark the end of the First World War. The production of the sweet was suspended during WW2 due to wartime shortages. The name ‘Peace Babies’ would also have been quite ironic given that war had just broken out. Following on from the end of the Second World War, in 1953 the product was re-launched as “Jelly Babies”.

In 1989 Bassett’s were taken over by the company Cadbury-Schweppes. This saw the re-marketing of Jelly Babies. Prior to this, all colours of Jelly Baby were the same shape. The new Jelly Babies were each given their own colour and name. Further re-marketing is demonstrated within the material held at UCA. The material in the animation archive relates to two television commercials produced in the 1990s: Cup Final and Eat to the Beat. Some items provide evidence of a new character design, and include character analysis sheets and drawing designs of each character. The development of the character traits can be seen in the animation cels used to depict the developing versions. One set of cels was accompanied by a fax from the advertising agency, approving final versions and suggesting amendments to other designs.

One note that caught our eye was the amendment suggested for the yellow Jelly Baby ‘Bubbles’. The amendment states ‘Version 2 was the closest colour however it was too bright and too yellow. She needs to be made paler with perhaps a bit of red. She is also a bit fat and needs to be slimmed down a bit’.

Extract from a fax asking Bob Godfrey films to slim down Bubbles (1994)

Extract from a fax asking Bob Godfrey films to slim down Bubbles (1994)

The animators followed this amendment, with the following annotation written on Bubbles version 2: ‘Make paler + more red. Slim down!’ We are then presented with a slimmer, paler Bubbles design in the New Version 2. This amendment of presenting a slimmer character is not used for any of the male characters. The other characteristics of the new female Jelly Baby are also of note. Prior to the redesign in Godfrey’s work, Bubbles was distinguished by larger ears and a bigger nose. In the new design, Bubbles is distinguished from the male Jelly Babies by focussing on her apparently ‘feminine’ aspects. She now features a long-haired ponytail, a red and white polka dot bow and a red beaded necklace. Bubbles also appears to be a little shorter than her male counterparts, as demonstrated in this video of Cup Final. It is relevant at this point to note that the other female character, Baby Bonny, is portrayed as wearing a frilly bonnet and is entirely pink.

Left: version 2 of Bubbles character design. Right: new version 2 of Bubbles character design.

Left: version 2 of Bubbles character design. Right: new version 2 of Bubbles character design.

It is possible to view this redesign in the wider context of gender portrayal in animation. Studies have been conducted in relation to gender representation in animation. Read papers from the same era as the Jelly Babies commercials here and here. The results suggest that extremes are used to depict female and male characteristics in order to distinguish between the two sexes. It is also suggested that animations have a male lead character majority. This is evident with the Jelly Babies, with a ratio of four male characters to two female.

So what about present day gender representation? After recently purchasing a packet of Jelly Babies (for research purposes, of course) it was apparent that the main characteristics of the Jelly Babies have not changed much during the past 20 years. We are presented with Bubbles on the front of the pack, beaded necklace and polka dot bow still intact. This more recent article discussing animations on Cartoon Network suggests that not much has changed in terms of disparities between male and female character animation: Animation and Socialization Process: Gender Role Portrayal on Cartoon Network

Look out for the Jelly Babies series, soon to be included in the UCA Archives and Special Collections online catalogue.

Hannah Ratford, Archive Cataloguer


One thought on “Gender Portrayal with Bassett’s Jelly Babies

  1. Pingback: Day 182 -Jelly Babies – The Sweet Character Dynamics Prompt | marielightmanpromptresponse

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