Friday 22 February 2013

Franklin Mint

There's stiff competition for the title of Worst Public Statue in London.

Paul Day's The Kiss in St Pancras Station is enough to make you want to slap the sculptor repeatedly across his smug chops; Donald Woods' Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square is like a dashboard lucky charm; Chas Fagan's Ronald Reagan in Grosvenor Square looks like a gold-painted busker, and the risible Women of World War II by John Mills, plonked down in Whitehall next to Lutyens' magnificent Cenotaph, resembles nothing nobler than a gymnasium locker room.

Worst of a bad lot is the very silly Animals in War memorial in Park Lane.  Here it is:

Their neigh liveth for evermore

The sculptor (David Backhouse) was reportedly inspired by a book of the same title by Jilly Cooper and the extraordinary inscriptions, perhaps the work of Cooper herself, are worth transcribing in full:

This monument is dedicated to all the animals that served and died alongside British and allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time

That 'alongside' is terrific. Below this a second, smaller inscription (and because it's smaller I suppose it should be read aloud in a quiet, awestruck tone) adds:

They had no choice  (which begs the question: who the blazes did?)

There's more of this stomach-turningly mawkish expository piffle on the reverse of the memorial:

Many and various animals were employed to support British and Allied Forces in wars and campaigns over the centuries, and as a result millions died. From the pigeon to the elephant, they all played a vital role in every region of the world in the cause of human freedom

Their contribution must never be forgotten.

Somebody decided that this was good enough to be carved in stone for all time. I like the unwitting ambiguity of 'millions died' - presumably this refers to the 'many and various animals' and not the merely human collateral. The bathetic phrase 'From the pigeon to the elephant' is best delivered in an E. L. Wisty voice.  

But enough. The cost of this monumental eyesore? Two million quid. Two million for a donkey cenotaph. Plus annual upkeep. The Reagan statue was a relative snip at £800,000. Add to them the recently-unveiled Bomber Command memorial opposite Piccadilly's Hard Rock Cafe, sponsored by (among others) a Bee Gee and the pornographer Richard Desmond (their names liveth for ever more, and prominently, inscribed on the pile), and Frank Meisler's winsome Kindertransport figurines dotted around Liverpool Street station, resembling nothing those collection boxes for the Spastic Society we used to see outside Chemist shops. We're living in a Franklin Mint culture.

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