The Truth behind Johnny Condom

By Andrew Hutchinson

  • Seen by over 1 million young people

  • Used in over 4500 schools

  • Broadcast in over 38 European countries

  • Endorsed by The World Health Organization

But behind all the smiles and the accolades was a different story, one of controversy, betrayal, and self destruction.

Johnny Condom, and I guess you could say Teacher Central, originated from a theatre-in-education play that I wrote back in the nineties called 'Frank's Bible'. The play toured theatres and schools in the North East of England and initially, the opposition to this play was immense as it moved away from the fear tactics that people had been using up until that point.

It feels strange, that in the same way that the AIDS virus provoked me into starting that project, it is our current state of the Covid 19 virus, that has provoked me into developing the Teachers Forum. It feels like there is some uncomfortable and historical irony at play here.

Frank's Bible

We were living in very different times then, a time where educators believed that if you scared people enough, then they would change their behaviour, but this just simply wasn’t true, and yet still, the advertising campaigns kept presenting their fearful messages.

Frank’s Bible brought HIV to life as a character who acted as a narrator to the theatre piece. By bringing him to life, Frank was able to interact with the audience and bring a different perspective to how he saw the spread of HIV. He introduced himself as a fun-loving character who just wanted to be liked, and party.

 

This approach to education was new, and very uncomfortable to a lot of people as it was in complete conflict with the scare tactics that were being used.

The premise being, that if you get young people laughing, especially about something that everyone feared, then a better conversation could be had. In the beginning, there was a hostile response to the play. It took several performances before people started to get it and understand how it could be used.

Frank’s Bible would seem very tame nowadays, and everyone would wonder what the fuss was about.

 

But things were so different back then, and people were scared, not only of the virus, but with a yet, undeveloped PSHE curriculum, it was difficult to see who would facilitate such a subject.

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Section 28

Never let it be forgotten

We were living in a very different climate, one that was under the shadow of ‘Clause 28’ which in many ways gagged educators and their ability to help young people avoid the oncoming threat from HIV, which at that time was mainly affecting the gay community. With such restrictions within schools, the play very much became packaged within the context of the clause.

  • Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 prohibited local authorities from "promoting" homosexuality or gay "pretended family relationships", and prevented councils spending money on educational materials and projects perceived to promote a gay lifestyle.17 Nov 2003

Over time, and with lots of support from local agencies, the more people that sang its praises, the more people came on board with this new style of education.

“I fully support this play”

Head of School Governors

 

“I would thoroughly recommend this”

Tees Health Authority

 

“Original and humorous”

York Health Authority

“Considerable potential as an educational tool”

Cleveland Health Authority

 

“A realistic and potent learning experience”

 Hall Garth School Deputy Head

 

“A thought provoking and disturbing piece of theatre” Cleveland Social Services

The success of the play led to attempting to make it into video, but as the video went into production it became clear that the humour and tension that worked in the theatre, did not translate onto video.

After seeing a programme on the television called ‘The Spooks of Bottle Bay’ it presented an opportunity to maybe change the viruses into puppets, to try and recreate the same type of humour. It was this move that led to Spitting Image becoming involved and giving identities to the characters in the song.

The Johnny Condom video to today’s generation may seem silly, tame and flippant, but back then it was shocking. Again, we were still living in a different climate, so Johnny Condom created outrage. This was partly due to its content, and partly due to the explosive and often ill-judged publicity campaigns promoting him.

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A charity, ‘The Frank Foundation’ was set up to protect the ethos behind the project. We had great hopes in producing more resources that would help young people learn about the dangers of HIV.  Celebrities came on-board and it would seem that nothing could stop this new style of education.

He was adopted as the mascot for the 1995 British Safety Councils National Condom Week, and his single was prepared for release.

But the charity became embroiled in a scandal after taking on a professional fundraiser that was not following the law.

'We know from our 38 years’ experience that attempts to educate young people about health and safety by frightening them simply does not work. What you need to do is appeal to their sense of humour and this is exactly what this does."                                                          

British Safety Council

Celebrity Endorsements

As the attention grew and the project started receiving more acclaim, celebrities began to lend their names and bravely put their heads above the parapet to support a new proactive style of education.

But as the attention grew, others had also begun to notice, and in the shadows and behind closed doors, they began to draw up their plans and stories that would have a much greater long term impact, both practically and emotionally.

Ruby Wax

Dr. Hilary Jones

Kim Wilde

Danny John Jules

No Publicity is Bad Publicity Ha!

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They say that ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ but I’ve found this not to be the case. Whilst being in the limelight can appear to be a position of influence, for a fragile mind it can also prove to be forever damaging. The sheer controversy surrounding this project only exacerbated an already paranoid education system, and the Johnny Condom project unfortunately became very much part of that, in its first week of release it sold only eight copies.

The Johnny Condom dance mixes ‘Do Not Be Afraid’ were meant to extend the message throughout the club scene, Tony de Vit, Diddy, Motiv8, but the name of Johnny Condom had now become toxic and worthless as an educational resource.

Despite our best attempts the irony was, we had created the very climate of fear that we had been attempting to change.

So rather than being the success we all thought it was going to be, Johnny Condom hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, and people very quickly distanced themselves from the project that had become too hot to handle.

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Abandoned

After creating such an uproar, and for personal reason which will become apparent later, the project was abandoned with our efforts generating only 18 sales of the Johnny Condom Education Video, and it was several years involving a tragic set of circumstances before schools started being approached again. But in this quieter climate, the video began to gain traction, and a whole new chapter was written for the resource.

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Away from the limelight, he slowly started to be used in schools and achieve what he’d set out to do in the first place. To bring humour to an otherwise serious subject matter, to help begin the conversation of safer sex.

Whilst it has been a very long and painful journey, 'The Johnny Condom Education Video' eventually:

  • Received endorsement from the World Health Organization

  • Used in over 4500 UK schools,

  • Seen by over a million young people

  • Broadcast in over 38 European countries

This was only made possible because of the brave contributions of all those who were involved during its troubled days, giving their time and talent selflessly, and as I write these words I can feel all the emotions from that troublesome time flooding back in both their negative and positive forms. It was PSHE teachers who recognised the needs of young people, and bravely took on a new style of resource, no different to you as you read this today.

It is these people who made Johnny Condom successful, but because this new promotion of the Johnny Condom resource had to be done quietly, it is very likely that they don’t know what they all achieved.

I hope this goes some way to letting them know that their time wasn’t wasted.

‘This an excellent way of getting the message across to young people, not only in a serious way, but also with humour, and we are happy to support this project’

World Health Organization- Zurich

 

“Johnny Condom comes with a Dr. Hilary health warning, if you don’t listen, you might just regret it"

Dr. Hilary Jones

‘A short video that will blast through everyone’s hang ups, and really get the class going, they certainly won’t sleep through this!’                     

The Guardian

“Overall, it is an excellent resource... the information was accurate whilst simultaneously diverse and wide ranging. The material was used up to date and dispelled myths....”

 States of Guernsey- States Education Council

‘This is an in-your-face experience pressing home a clear message about using condoms’

Times Educational Supplement

 

“You won’t be able to forget the Bother Brothers and the unique way they put across their message.”

Young People Now Magazine

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