Have you seen the little trailers that punctuate every programme on BBC One? They last about twenty seconds and show a group of people, from various places in the UK, doing something together. For a moment, they stop whatever it is they are doing, stand in a fixed position and face the camera as if they have come together as one, pause for as long as it takes for the audience to recognize who they are and what they are doing, and then they break again and get on with whatever it was they were doing in the first place.
You must have seen them. Night kayakers from Killyleagh in Co. Down, Northern Ireland; the mountain rescue team from the Brecon Becons in west Wales; under-7s footballers from Barnet, north London, England; Bhangra dancers from Edinburgh, Scotland; bird-watching twitchers from the Rainham Marshes in Essex, England; allotment gardeners from Smethwick in Birmingham, England; wheelchair rugby players from Llantrisant in Glamorgan, south Wales; sausage dog walkers from Newcastle-upon-Tyne in north-east England; wild campers from Glencoe in the Highlands of Scotland; a mixed-gender boxing club in Digbeth, Birmingham, England; swing dancers from County Durham in north-east England; cavers from Wemyss on the Firth of Clyde in the Scottish Lowlands; steel pan players from Plymouth, south-west England and my favourite one of all, among others, is the quintessential expression of British eccentricity - the bog snorkelers from Llanwrtyd Wells in mid Wales.
Every group of people is comprised of men and women, young, old, able, disabled, white, black, Asian and Chinese. They are doing what they do – whatever it is - together, they stop, they stand together as one, they acknowledge themselves and you as their audience, they give recognition and then get on with whatever they are doing. It is a simple but acute formula.
They are BBC One’s so-called ‘idents’ – the tv industry’s name for showing the identity of a television station - but of course it’s much more than that. It’s the ‘brand’ of the channel too - ‘Oneness’– the idea that the channel brings together the whole nation as one.
They seem very off the cuff, very casual references to the way we interact and do things with each other every day without making a fuss about it. But they’re not - they had to be sourced, prepared, rehearsed and executed by the celebrated English photographer Martin Parr with the kind of attention to detail that teachers have to exhibit every day they go into schools. To me these idents of oneness are very profound expressions of what British identity means in the 21stCentury.
Watch and enjoy.
Martin Parr has a wonderful retrospective exhibition of his photography 'Only Human' at the National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square, London running until May 27th 2019 and if you're a teacher in or near London, you should take your class to see it.