Friday, November 07, 2008

And cancel Christmas!

You know Christmas is close when the first council is accused of banning Christmas.

Amazingly enough, this is not the usual guff about Birmingham's Winterval - now a decade-old, but still the gift that keeps on giving for the right-wing commentators who lovingly rehash it every year - but the dreaming spires of Oxford, where shoddy journalism on behalf of the local paper has generated coverage in the nationals.

Antonia 'Scrooge' Bance has the facts.

I must admit, I feel like banging my head on my desk. When you combine what is, frankly, a lack of nous on the part of Oxford Inspires (how did they not see this coming?) and the determination of the mass media to get at least one “loony left council bans Christmas” story this year, plus the irresponsible spin of the Sun in making it out to be about not offending Muslims, you were always going to get a perfect Christmas storm. Given that there is clearly a dastardly PC plot to deprive the mass of Brits who tick CofE on the census forms of their right to celebrate Christmas, will anyone believe me when I say that the first this councillor heard of it was when the Oxford Mail got hold of it? Of course not. And my protestations, my declarations of passion for turkey and cranberry sauce, the way my heart rises as the organ crashes and the descant soars in the final verse of Hark the Herald Angels Sing, the love I feel for my family, so rarely all in one place these days, opening presents and telling jokes on Christmas morning - that all counts for nothing, as I am a PC Christmas-cancelling Christian-hating leftist loony Labour Scrooge. Obviously.

I am indebted to a reader for the note that the Daily Mail - the idiots' guidebook issued in bitesize daily installments - beat the Oxford Mail with a story way back in the middle of September, complete with rentaquote Tory MP Robert Goodwill opening his brain for the benefit of the masses.


The Quail said...

The Mail began their 'Christmas is banned' coverage earlier than usual this year actually, way back in September.

I suspect tabloids employ some lowly minion whose sole task it is to trawl the web searching for 'winterval' year-round now. Xmas cancelled!!1! stories never fail to raise the ire of middle England.

Robert said...

But who caused all this stupidity.

Anonymous said...

Birmingham should celebrate “Winterval”
By Michael Chubb

Google Winterval and you get nearly 18,000 results. Investigate further and you have an amazing array of personal comments from pukka boardsheets to off the wall blog sites to Birmingham’s own Mail, “Christmas has been rebranded Winterval”.

Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian at the time, (headline, “The Phony War on Christmas” ) undertook extensive reportage and found that “There’s only one problem with the PC campaign against Christmas - it’s pure nonesense”.

He goes on;

“Perhaps the most notorious of the anti-Christmas rebrandings is Winterval, in Birmingham, According to an official statement from the Council, Winterval - which ran in 1997 and 1998, and never since - was a promotional campaign to drive business into Birmingham’s newly regenerated town centre. It began in early November and finished in January. During the part of that period traditionally celebrated as Christmas, ‘there was a banner saying Merry Christmas across the front of the council house, Christmas lights, Christmas trees in the main civil squares, regular carol-singing sessions by school choirs, and the Lord Mayor sent a Christmas card with a traditional Christmas scene wishing everyone a Merry Christmas’. None of that, though, was enough to prevent a protest movement at the time, whose members included the then Bishop of Birmingham, Mark Santer, as well as two members of UB40”.

Burkeman speaking to Julian Bond of the Christian Muslim Forum when asked about the de-Christianisation of Christmas, Bond admitted that evidence was hard to come by and further he said “You know, we were in Birmingham for a meeting the other day, and there’s a big Merry Christmas banner in the middle of New Street.” So is anybody at all trying to abolish Christmas this year? “I haven’t come across any examples of anyone doing it this year,” he replies. “No”.

I think it is now time to put my head above the parapet and declare why I have been asked to write this article . Pretty simple really, I was the one that coined the term “Winterval”.

I was head of events for Birmingham, responsible for over 400 events a year from St. Georges Day to Fireworks Fantasia, international Street festivals to… yes Christmas.

As an events division (the largest in the UK at that time) we were always seeking to improve the service to the Birmingham community and whilst we aided specific communities to develop their own festivals, Diwali, Chinese New Year, St. Patricks Day to Gay Pride (mainly because we had the professional expertise to help those communities realise their ambitions) our remit extended to all festivals and events. All were to be totally inclusive and the majority free or at an affordable price.

In my first Christmas, Birmingham received national coverage, Blue Peter launched the Christmas Lights Switch on and Eamonn Holmes “How do they do that” show closed their Christmas edition with a burst of flame projectors on the town Hall, “and a happy Christmas from Birmingham!”.

As Head of Events with such a professional team behind me, it was always important to deliver bigger and better events more often than not though with reduced funding.

The imperative for delivering these events was to maximize the quality of the experience, increase our audiences and deliver Birmingham as a forward thinking energetic city. Promoting the events to a local, national and international audience and thereby gaining recognition was vital to the Councils overall aims and objectives. Recognition of a city’s innovative approach reflects on all. To businesses considering relocating, to increasing bed nights to the hotel sector, to marketing the city’s retail offer all these are factored in.

So to Winterval. The events division were charged with putting on 41 days and nights of activity that ranged from BBC Children in Need, to the Christmas Lights Switch On, to a Frankfurt Christmas Market, outdoor ice rink, Aston Hall by Candlelight, Diwali (Festival of lights) shopping at Christmas, World class theatre and arts and of course New Year’s Eve with its massive 100,000 audience. With funding from sponsors and with very many more events to market, the decision was to bring all the events together under a generic banner under which they could all sit. Whilst marketed as Winterval, each event had its own marketing plan but clearly it was Winterval that drove the initiative.

Leaving Birmingham (to another job!) I started to notice the ridiculous banshee that pervaded Winterval. Through Wikipedia I contacted Polly Toynbee of the Guardian re the (now) long running Winterval saga, and she suggested that as the originator of Winterval I should stand up and put my name to it.

So as originator, what are my thoughts?.

Rather like Oliver Burkeman of the Guardian, it’s nonsense and I feel like many stories around the festive season when news is fairly thin on the ground the media seek out what they term “Silly season stories”. Political correctness was never the reasoning behind Winterval, but yes it was intended to be inclusive (which is no bad thing to my mind) and a brand to which other initiatives could be developed as part of The Winterval offer in order to sell the City at a time when all cities are competing against each other for the seasonal trade.

Each part of Winterval had its own marketing plan, the same as, for instance, the marketing of a brand whose sub brands (ie chocolate)have their own niche marketing. I do believe that those who took umbrage did it for their own reasons, to peddle their own message and of course, everybody got on to their own hobby horses in the process. I am amazed that no-one could see the simplicity of The Winterval brand, but read into it what they wanted, to further and give voice to their own aspirations/prejudices.

It is time for Birmingham to be proud of Winterval and stand up for an innovative initiative that befits an outward looking city.

Maybe, perhaps, the opportunists will now put away their righteous indignation and reflect on what the city has lost, a unique festival that celebrates what Birmingham is world famous for, a city that shares and celebrates with a sense of style and adventure.