✎ The annoyance of science 

10 March 2017 tbs.pm/11501

The National Media Museum in Bradford is to change its name and focus again.

This time, the ill-loved venture will be being renamed the National Science and Media Museum and the “media” part all but phased out, leaving the museum as an overflow for its parent Science Museum in Kensington and featuring cast-off exhibits that Londoners have grown bored with.

I wish someone loved the Bradford museum. But nobody does – not their owners, not their staff, not their visitors, and certainly not their curators who have long treated the entire thing as a tiresome and dull job they absentmindedly took on a few years ago.

The museum opened in 1983 as a place of excitement and wonder, with a huge collection of television, film and photography exhibits being rolled out. In 1986, it gained a television gallery from the BBC, showing the history of television in some wonderful objects. For the kids, there was a working TV-am studio, a Yorkshire Television-branded newsroom and the chance to make announcements on an in-house version of Central Television.

And there it stopped.

The exhibits grew tired and, literally, dusty. The building began to show signs of wear and tear and a lack of love and dedication. Exhibits broke and were never repaired. The place became filthy – rubbish, dirt, dust and a layer of children-borne stickiness on everything. Captions began to wear away from hundreds of fingers touching them, leaving the dark, forgotten exhibits unlabelled.

And then the photography part disappeared, taken over by the V&A in London and moved to be largely put in storage so nobody could see it. The film section was always a shadow of what it might have been. The television gallery closed and the exhibits were put in storage or thrown away.

Soon the museum was an empty shell, and talk came of closing it. But instead it has been “rescued” by its owners and is now to become a branch of the Science Museum.

Fine. But that leaves the UK – the country that pioneered television – without a decent television museum. Without a state-sponsored film museum. Without anything outside of London.

It’s a crying shame and a scandal.

You Say

7 responses to this article

David Boothroyd 10 March 2017 at 1:28 pm

Could also mention the ‘Museum of the Moving Image’ (mostly cinema but a decent bit of television). Popular, interactive, but closed down after only 11 years.

David Heathcote 10 March 2017 at 2:53 pm

“It’s a crying shame and a scandal.” I agree completely. It’s a part of our culture which is rapidly changing, and will soon disappear. Loss, for example, of the “Granada TV” sign is a tragedy.

steve brown 10 March 2017 at 5:22 pm

Went to the MOMI in London many times-loved it,pity it isn’t there now

Pete Singleton 10 March 2017 at 5:53 pm

I’m glad I visited the NMM in its heyday… but very sad to read this now.

The ‘British Disease’, eh?

Simon Robinson 20 March 2017 at 5:41 pm

Nicely put and I agree it is a real shame, but the powers that be in London always resented this upstart. I was lucky enough to get a behind the scenes tour once and the stuff there was fantastic but few got to ever see it. The last time I went staff were struggling to control kids screaming round the building which had become little more than a creche with an Imax screen attached. I have to say staff there were always helpful and opened up archives for me on a current photo book project, but many have since been sacked and gone elsewhere.

Ed Burek 11 April 2017 at 9:00 pm

How’s about this for a brainwave? Couldn’t Ally Pally be used as the National Television Museum, seeing as it’s undergoing a long-awaited renovation? Just a thought…

Iain Logie Baird 24 April 2017 at 3:29 pm

This opinion piece is ill-informed and inaccurate. The first television gallery in Bradford (1986) was not put together by the BBC but by NMPFT staff with help from the BBC. It overlooks the fact that in 2006, 3 million pounds was spend on the Experience TV gallery, which occupied the museum’s largest and best space. Several thousand pounds were spent on exhibitions for its updatable space until 2013. In 2007, I emigrated all the way from Canada to become Curator of Television there, and I can tell you that such an overseas move is certainly not one that can made absentmindedly. Finally, the new exhibits that were being planned before my departure last year were all to be bespoke for Bradford.

The most ridiculous argument is that no one loved the Bradford museum. I witnessed the television team and other committed staff doing marvellous things with very little resource over the years, but that said, most of these people have now been made redundant in part due to the deep budget cuts made to museums over the past decade. On a personal note, my grandfather’s 1925 television apparatus is stored there, as are other Baird family artifacts, and I was forced to make a heartbreaking decision last year when I joined departing colleagues in the latest restructure.

In 2015 I finished a long piece of research involving the Marconi-Sykes moving coil microphones in the BBC Heritage Collection, entitled Capturing the Voice of the Nightingale. This was published in the Science Museum Group journal and is available on-line. I suggest to the author that you read this before you absentmindedly paint this entire museum with the same crude brush. Do not get me wrong, the museum is not without its faults, but you obviously have not done enough homework to present an informed opinion here.

I have been working on two articles about why Britain needed a Media Museum (in London, or anywhere in the UK for that matter), which will likely be published in academic journals, but afterwards I will most probably re-work these for popular publication. Hopefully this will help build concensus by putting some concrete facts out there rather than this mythology.

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