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Last week David Stanley, former CEO of Penspen Group, said in the House of Lords that it was important to “create a link” between popular cultural exports such as the Royal Family and Downton Abbey to help “establish a dialogue and trust” with other countries to rebuild the British economy and John Barry, Chairman of Shell, Abu Dhabi argued that whilst it is important to show the UK as modern and hi-tech it was equally vital not to “throw out the baby with the bathwater” and the country’s traditional image is also marketable.  (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-24804483).

Certainly Downton Abbey creates a picture of a certain type of Britain (much as Upstairs, Downstairs did in the 1970s) which some outside the UK believe still exists.  But there are other programmes which show a less than rose-tinted picture of the country such as Call the Mid-wife, and even older programmes such as Garrow’s Law and The City of Vice, as well as the soon to be concluding Poirot which could also help the economy now and into the future.

The BBC reported comments got me wondering if perhaps they were right about exploiting such images and that, perhaps, other countries could do the same – and even whether there are wider opportunities.

The US has programmes like Mad Men, Canada The Murdoch Mysteries and Australia The Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries all of which are successful and work because they are period set.

So why do audiences, worldwide, like these sort of programmes?

I’m sure psychologists would say something about the need to find comfort in the past during difficult times in the present … but perhaps it is more than that.  Perhaps for many people the world moves too fast today (no sooner do you buy one mobile phone when suddenly you ‘just have to have this version’ instead), is less respectful (why is it weak to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’?), too technology-driven etc etc and perhaps audiences are trying to find their place in not just the world today but within their own families (this is confirmed by the interest in family history and the use of websites such as Ancestry) – rightly or wrongly any growing up in Victoria Britain would have known exactly who and what they were and how they should behave.  Perhaps, too, we should be learning from the past to help build a more sustainable future and world economy.

So what are some of the things that we could take away from the programmes and the times in which they are set?  Here are just a few of the things I’ve come up with:

–          Technology is a tool to live life … it shouldn’t be the tool to live life

–          Quality over quantity (particularly in clothes and items for the home)

–          Recycle in a more efficient manner – for our ancestors this was second nature so why do we make a great fuss about it

–          Do not expect to have everything this second as this puts too much pressure (emotional, psychological, economic etc) on the individual and Society as a whole  … if you can’t have something learn to save for it, adapt something else to do the job, make it yourself or (shock, horror!) do without it – this applies to companies and countries as well as individuals

–          Have a local economy on a global stage – for instance, why expect Africa to grow green beans for Western markets (where so much of the produce will be wasted) when these could be grown, in smaller quantities, closer to home and what is truly African sold to the wider world

–          Not everyone can be a famous singer, footballer or film star – someone has to empty the bins, sweep the streets, work on the railways, work in shops… sadly it is a reality of life that sometimes duty and the need to complete ‘ordinary’ tasks takes precedence over personal dreams and it is better to respect those who do the less glamorous jobs then to build up false hopes and expectations (which has certainly grown apace since the 1980s).

What else should we learn from the past and adopt today?