Poppymania and the Press
Thursday 6 November, 2014
Poppies are my favourite flowers. I have them in the garden, on the walls, on mugs, on coasters - all over the place. When November comes, they take on a more sombre form symbolising the dead of countless wars. It's a healthy thing to pause and remember the fallen. But this year we've gone poppy mad.
The Sun and Star today both offer free poppy posters, but they are really free redtop adverts. They are not the sort of posters you'd put in a frame or hang on the classroom or bedroom wall. Rather, with their prominent logos, they are designed to be sellotaped to the front window over remembrance weekend, so that the neighbours know how patriotic you are - and which paper you prefer.
The Sun's, at twice the size of the Star's, has a potted history of the conflicts in which British forces have been involved over the past century. It also has a big puff for the mobile phone app it has produced for the Royal British Legion. For a £2 donation - of which £1.98 is said to go to the Legion - users can buy a flower to go in a virtual poppy field.
This is inspired, of course, by the Tower of London installation. There's a way to go before it matches the 888,246 in the moat, but nearly 16,000 people have contributed.
Pictures of the Tower poppies pop up all over the Press today, thanks to
Boris Johnson and his suggestion that the installation be left in place for another week because so many people want to see it.
He is Mayor of London; it is his job to attract people to his city, people who will spend money in shops and restaurants on their day in the capital. The glimpse of the poppies may be free, but an outing to London is not a cheap enterprise.
British Journalism Awards duty (see the shortlist here) dragged SubScribe from the sticks to the Smoke last week and the combination of poppymania and half term made it an uncomfortable experience.
The thought occurred that the removal of the poppies might be delayed to accommodate the crowds, but only briefly. Volunteers have been lined up to collect them, clean them, pack them, post them. People who were ahead of the scrum (the poppies have been sold out for weeks) have paid their £25, and they are expecting delivery of their ceramic flowers before Christmas.
As an advocate of British business, Johnson would surely not encourage a trader to default on a promised delivery date or go back on a sale - especially when Forces charities stand to receive millions.
Oh heavens! Looking for yesterday's London Evening Standard front page - "Save Our Poppies" - turns up the latest edition: "Poppies campaign: Cameron steps in" and the subdeck "All four party leaders respond to public demand".
All four (?) leaders (what is Natalie Bennett's view on this?) jump on the bandwagon more like.
Nigel Farage, of course, managed to turn this memorial for the fallen into a photo-opportunity when he visited on Tuesday. As John Walsh writes in the Independent today:
Nobody took a photograph of the onion that may have been secreted in Nigel Farage’s pocket, so we have to assume that the tears he cried at the Great War memorial of 880,000 ceramic poppies in the Tower of London moat were genuine.
Walsh goes on to say that the commodification of the poppy is getting out of hand and he cites giant versions on trees and even Tube trains. It is, he writes, like Red Nose Day where people have to join in or be derided as tightwads and spoilsports.
Time was that you would put your pound or two into the collecting tin and walk away with a paper poppy and a pin. Then they sprouted leaves. Metal badges and bigger versions for cars appeared.
The Legion's website now offers 251 products from notepads, pencil cases and mugs to keyrings, wristbands and umbrellas. There are 20 odd different booches and pins, half a dozen earring designs as well as bracelets, necklaces and cufflinks. There are memorial cards, Christmas cards, calendars and get-well cards. You can buy a dog name tag with a poppy on it for a fiver or a zip pull for three quid. And, naturally, there are t-shirts, ties and bags. The commercialisation of the poppy has well and truly arrived.
As Jon Snow pointed out, no one is allowed on the public stage without their poppy. The earliest sighting in Fleet Street this year was on the front page of the Sun, which pinned its poppy to the masthead on October 18.
The three main party leaders were next, having clearly reached an agreement as to when they should start decorating their lapels. On October 22 they were all plain, on the 23rd they were all embellished with a flower. Cameron, Clegg and Miliband don't seem to have included Farage in their discussions: the Ukip leader didn't start sporting his poppy until this week - but when he did, just in time for his visit to the Tower, it was bigger and more flamboyant than anyone else's.
The Express and Star followed the leaders on the 24th and the Mirror joined in on the 27th, the day Britain's war in Afghanistan officially ended. It then put it away for a few days. The Times and i were next with theirs on the 31st, and the Mail, Telegraph and Scotsman came in on the 1st.
Only the Guardian and Independent remain naked - as they were last year. The Indie did sport a poppy on the Saturday and every paper wore one for Remembrance Sunday. The i, which has been sporadic in decorating the titlepiece this year, resisted last year apart from on November 11. That was the day after the typhoon hit Indonesia, and the Independent and Guardian were too busy being newspapers to trouble themselves with token patriotism.
That is as it should be.
A week in the poppyfield
The 888,246 ceramic poppies planted in the grassy moat of the Tower of London have caught the nation’s imagination in a way exceeding all expectation. After Armistice Day, the Tower poppies were to have been removed. If the political party leaders are as one in seeking an extension, no doubt they have an inkling of the wave of popular feeling that has welcomed the wave of red petals colouring the Tower sward. It may be a logistical headache, but a stay of harvest would reflect a justified national sentiment.
- The Daily Telegraph
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