This week I’ve been making like a tourist. My first stop yesterday was the wonderful London Transport Museum in tourist hot-spot Covent Garden to visit the A View Of London exhibition. Fortunately, I’m a Friend of the Museum which entitles me to free entry, otherwise it would have cost me £10 to see the exhibition. The LT museum gallery hosts a changing selection of exhibitions and they’re always worth visiting. However, no Story Of London flyers or logo anywhere in the museum and the only reference is on the display board at the exhibition entrance: “…This exhibition, created in partnership with the Association of Illustrators, is part of the Mayor’s Story of London summer festival”.
OK, enjoyed that, next stop the Tourist Information office in Covent Garden market. I scan the extensive display of leaflets in their dispenser and nothing says Story Of London so I start pulling out leaflets individually – ah, an A5 brochure with a very small Story of London logo (which is virtually identical to the Film4 logo) in the bottom left, underneath which, in small text: “Two THOUSAND years of history…several HUNDRED events…ONE month in June…London tells its story visit www.london.gov.uk/storyoflondon to find out more”. The main design consists of six vertical strips, two of which are recognisable (by me, at least) as part of Shakespeare’s face and a sliver of the Big Ben clock-face.
Hang on, June *is* a month. Anyway, as anyone who’s ever designed publicity/fliers can tell you, unless you catch the eye by putting a slogan or the name of the event in large type across the top, your flier’s not going to get picked up as only the top third-to-half will be visible when it’s in a dispenser together with all the other tourist information leaflets, jostling for attention.
On my journey to Covent Garden on the Piccadilly Line I’d been scanning all the posters at every station on the way from Hounslow Central for Story Of London posters and only spotted two – one on the platform at Knightsbridge and one next to the emergency stairs at Covent Garden. You only have a second or two to catch the attention of Tube travellers with a poster, and, being the same design as the flier, instantly forgettable, with nothing to draw the eye and with text that’s neither sufficiently large nor in an easy place to read as you’re walking through a busy Tube station.
I ponder where to go next – the brochure’s not much help as it only lists a small selection of events with names of museums, etc, but no location details or how to get there. It exhorts me to check the Story Of London website but I have no internets on me. I turn to the back page: “City Hall will host a number of special exhibitions…” What’s City Hall, and where is it? I’m none the wiser from the brochure, but hey, I’m only playing at being a tourist today, so I set off on the Tube to “the home of London’s democracy”.
A selection of B&W photos of London from the Hulton Archive leads down to the City Hall café – nice, but many of them are familiar as the Hulton Archive’s a widely-used stock photo library. Footage from the BFI archive is playing on TV screens in the map area – also nice, but I’ve seen it before in the splendid, free BFI Mediatheque. The Port Of London Authority exhibition in Chamber lobby is mildly diverting, but I’m the only person viewing it. A pleasant collection of material, but not worth visiting City Hall especially to see it.
Today, then, I’m being a tourist in my own borough of Hounslow. Now, Hounslow has the nearest Tourist Information centre to Heathrow Airport and a number of large, chain hotels which regularly host foreign coach parties. Our Tourist Information centre, which is regularly under threat of closure by our Tory-led council, has an extensive selection of local, London-wide and UK- wide brochures and leaflets and helpful and knowledgeable staff. I’m a regular visitor there to pick up information about events in London but today I can’t find any material about the Story Of London so I ask at the information desk.
The assistant hasn’t received any information about the “festival” so he checks the June 2009 London Planner, a monthly brochure produced by visitlondon, the tourism body which is part of the GLA group. In the brochure foreword, Boris promises “a kaleidoscopic mix of events right across the capital”. Page 14 of the brochure lists 7 events in the “brand-new, super-duper, month-long celebration of all that is brilliant about this city” and directs the reader to the Story Of London website.
I inform the helpful assistant that I’ve been to the website, found it difficult to navigate and couldn’t find any events in Hounslow. He’s unsurprised by this, so searches on the internet and finds an event hosted by Hounslow Heritage Guides, part of the forthcoming walking weekend. It’s Walking West London’s Waterways but in spite of being hosted by Hounslow guides, it’s in Hanwell, in the borough of Eaing. The next reference to Hounslow and the Story Of London that the assistant finds is from this very blog and he informs me, in my very own words, that Hounslow and the neighbouring borough of Hillingdon are rather out of luck as far as this “pan-London” event goes.
I leave the Tourist Information staff discussing boriswatch.co.uk and arrive home to find this week’s Time Out magazine on my doormat. Nothing on the cover about the Story Of London so I flick through to the Around Town section – nothing there, no Story Of London logo to be seen, no half or quarter-page ads as I’d come to expect for Mayor Of London events under the previous City Hall administration. I shake out the magazine, expecting a Story Of London brochure to fall out – nothing. Back to the magazine index – Features, p81, Story Of London.
Page 81, hardly prime position. Page 81, the middle of the Cinema section, I find “Story Of London Festival, Pull-out-and-fold guide. First of four guides, 1. Walking Weekend. Exclusive guide to the Myaor’s month-long celebration of the history of London. With map!” OK, four pages, with Time Out’s Top Ten Events, two pages of central London map with no street names and one page with a selection of about 40 events in various categories.
Being Time Out, they’ve actually bothered to put website links and transport information. Let’s pull out the guide! Oh. I can’t. It’s not actually in the middle of the magazine and doing so will leave me with two loose pages in the rest of the magazine. The text on the first page is at right-angles to the magazine text as it’s designed to be pulled out (or not) and folded so I’d guess that a casual reader wouldn’t even bother to read it.
Was Boris’s launch of the festival at the Tower of London on Wednesday (two days after it started) featured on TV or radio yesterday, or anywhere else that members of the public might have seen it? Anyone?
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