Britain’s identity must celebrate the future

Video recorders were reeling across the country last weekend, as designers sought to recapture the sexy titles by Robert Brownjohn for the James Bond movie From Russia with Love (1963) and the earlier screen graphics of Saul Bass for Otto Preminger’s film The Man with the Golden Arm (1956). A treat, as two of America’s finest designers combined ideas with craft, animating the result to grab a movie audience. The films may be dated, but the titles remain among the most creative – almost mini identities.

What a sorry contrast are the “ideas” behind the new British Tourist Authority identity. However rough the concepts we’ve published are (see News, page 5), they don’t encourage optimism for the end result, dwelling so much on old values.

BTA’s Living Britain brochure reads like a brief for the identity design. And its main thrust is to bring out the contrasts in Britain – trail-blazing street and catwalk fashion as well as beefeaters and kilts – rather than to portray it solely as a heritage or service culture. Words like “vibrant”, “open” and “unconventional” appear as often as “pageantry” and “tradition”. Though sections on England, Scotland and Wales focus on natural beauty and country customs, London is dubbed “the place to be” and “the hottest new city”, by US magazine Newsweek, we’re told. You could say the same of regional centres such as Glasgow and Liverpool. There’s bags of personality there, sadly missed in the logo renderings.

It’s no good just to knock Real Time’s efforts – if that’s what the concepts are. The problem is much deeper. We – and presumably the BTA – got used to pushing our castles, cottages and coves while industry was on the wane. We forget how cosmopolitan we’ve become, not just in

London but in a rich nationwide mix of cultures, and just how great we are at innovation. But much of that innovation stems from design, an industry we’re slow to recognise, and which goes largely unsung outside the creative community.

We desperately need to rebrand Britain, life here has changed so much. Let’s cut the talk of heritage – visitors know it’s there, and it’s heavily protected – and approach it with the freshness of Javier Mariscal’s quirky identity for Barcelona or Milton Glaser’s I love New York symbol. OK, they’re for cities but both took a strong new stance.

Tony Blair is committed to promoting the best of British design through the Creative Britain initiative. I urge him to use his influence on the BTA before it’s too late. If identity is about consistency then how can we square an overemphasis on heritage with genuine new thinking?

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