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Martin Parr Is Going to Be On TV Forever

The celebrated photographer has designed BBC One's new idents.
January 4, 2017, 1:37pm
BBC

When it comes to YouTube video titles, "BBC One – Dreadful new Idents 03/01/17" is up there with "Norwich Parkour edit 14 years old (2010-2011)" and "Biggest Pimple Ever (Caution Weak Stomach`s dont watch)" in the Wow How Long Have I Actually Been Watching YouTube Videos stakes. But actually, "BBC One – Dreadful new Idents 03/01/17" is more than that; it's an object lesson in that most peculiar of subjects: Britishness.

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Our teacher is photographer Martin Parr, the much-cherished chronicler of all that's mundane and weather-worn in the UK. Parr, a kind of visual analogue of Alan Bennett at his least faux-naif, has been put in charge of directing the new series of idents for BBC One, and they're exactly what you'd expect a series of Martin Parr-directed idents for BBC One – a channel largely dedicated to Middle England mediocrity – to be.

That is to say that a Reeta Chakrabarti report on a fatal police shooting in Huddersfield is now prefixed with some chilly-looking swimmers stood in the gunmetal grey sea down in Somerset. And you'll now see a bunch of Zumba mums stomp around a community centre in Avonmouth before Jump, a Northern Irish drama about a thwarted New Year's Eve suicide attempt.

Parr's vignettes demonstrate an essential queasiness that lies at the heart of both British television and Britishness itself. Parr's whole schtick, one could argue quite easily, is sentimentalism – a nostalgia-merchant wringing every drop of pathos imaginable out of a photo of a foamy pint held mock-heroically by a face-painted football fan.

But a more charitable assessment of his work positions him as a documentarian of the class lines that demarcate every part of society, an artist tirelessly dedicated to exploring the peculiarities of free time, of leisure.

It's the latter assessment that must have led the BBC to commission him. For those of a certain age, the television is a primary pleasure device – an endless source of leisure – and BBC One, the home of Poldark, Countryfile and six series of Ardal O'Hanlon's seminal sitcom My Hero, is about as blandly televisual as television gets. In its attempt to be all things to all men – "we've got Match of the Day AND Songs of Praise" – BBC One has become an institution without any real sense of identity, an empty shell that's often filled with the insubstantial fluff of dodgy gameshows or, say, a series in which Angela Rippon and Les Dennis dish out consumer advice for befuddled dishwasher owners. And just like that, you can see the Parrification of those things: a shot, perhaps, of an am-dram actor in her best Bronte outfit gazing sadly at a plate of Jammy Dodgers; maybe an image of Les himself on the verge of kicking a malfunctioning tumble dryer.

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Eighteen more Parr idents will be revealed over the course of 2016, but all are likely to broadcast a similar version of Britishness to the world: a Britain that is drab, slightly-smug where we will make do and mend. They might just be idents, but Parr's productions show us something unsettling about the man and his ourvre: maybe he's not the detached iconographer we all thought he was; maybe he really is as sentimental as an afternoon repeat of As Time Goes By.

@bain3z

Martin Parr for VICE: 

The English Way

Rage Receptacle

Posh Snow