PR gurus makeover Big Ben <br>

Rather than being thrown, Big Ben is being carefully placed at the centre of a publicity drive to reshape it as a symbol of modern Britain, at home and abroad.

Funds from the House of Commons, which launched the campaign, have been used to set up a website offering virtual tours, ringtones and screensavers of the landmark.

A series of nationwide events to celebrate its 150th anniversary will start in May, staged to recall the moment when the hands on the four clocks began to keep time.

Public relations experts at Colman Getty, whose cultural clients include the Arts Council and the Halcyon Gallery, have been assigned to mastermind the programme.

Their challenge, already under way according to the firm’s latest client list, will be to bring an architectural and design icon dating back to 1859 into modern-day relevance.

But disquiet has started to chime. Stephen Bayley, architecture critic for the Observer, said politicians looking to boost London’s image “don’t need to fix what ain’t broke.”

Clearing up the “dire reality” in London of its “third-world roadworks, squalor, chaos, congestions and mess” would be time and money better spent.

“Maybe we should put a luminous digital display in the clock tower to advertise London’s breathless modernismo?,” he added. “Or maybe not.”

The historian Dan Cruickshank reportedly agreed that because of its unique qualities, Big Ben would be better left beyond the reach of makeover gurus.

“We don’t need a rethink on Big Ben,” he said. “It has an extraordinary mixed pedigree and that is what makes it such a gripping piece of architecture.”

The TV presenter also said that the tower of the Great Clock was an example of “Britain’s peculiar brand of modernism before European modernism” took off.

“We should be celebrating its historical associations,” he protested, “not trying to update them.”

 

17th March 2009

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