If I were a foreigner, I would have two enduring but incompatible images of the UK: the classic British reserve of people who would never stoop to anything so uncivilised as being rude and outspoken; and the classic British defiance of those who would never aspire to anything other than being rude and outspoken. So how would you come up with a single identity for this lot? A bulldog crossed with a dead sheep, perhaps?
This wasn't Wolff Olins's approach, of course. Instead, it chose to emphasise all those positive qualities we've got going for us, but which we tend to underplay because of our low self-esteem. Among the values it pinpointed in developing the new brand were "welcoming" ("We've managed to turn round the football hooligan image since Euro 96," said a spokeswoman), "diversity" (a reference to our rich mix of ethic and cultural influences), "community" (the caring qualities demonstrated by the National Health Service and events such as Live Aid), and "innovative" (pioneering companies like The Body Shop). The overall brand image chosen by Wolff Olins, however, was "original" - a quality routinely demonstrated by our fashion, music and advertising industries.
It seems as good an identity as any, though I would have gone for "caring" because anyone who has fallen ill on the Continent will have been staggered at the conduct of doctors who behave like mechanics: "Right, we're going to treat your ear infection and that'll cost you 60,000 pesetas, but you've got a perforated bladder as well, so do you want us to patch it up or trade it in for a new one? By the way, do you fancy a part ex on a liver?"
But that's enough negative thinking because Wolff Olins wants to accentuate the positive, and this is the approach it has taken in designing a prototype logo for the nation: the single word "Britain" appearing on a red and blue background. You'll notice that the "Great" has gone, along with the Union Jack, because this is a sacrifice the consultancy feels we may have to make to kill off the Imperialist and Far Right connotations that dog our image abroad. The comedian Alexei Sayle looked at the problem in a different way: "Why Great Britain? I mean you don't get Average Italy or F*@!!** Brilliant France."
Wolff Olins's idea is still at the development stage, but it seems convincing enough. I can't help fearing, however, that one day the xenophobes will hijack this bright new image and turn it to our disadvantage. Look out for slogans along the following lines: "We're British: we're the most caring, cultural, diverse and welcoming country in the world. So the rest of you can sod off."
Cats and watchdogs
SO THE supervision of our financial services sector is to be taken away from the Bank of England and other City regulators and handed to a new all-powerful watchdog. Well, while the Government's about it, perhaps it could create a regulator dedicated to saving language from Square Mile savagery.
If you doubt the need for this, just recall the reaction of the Bank's Governor, Eddie George, to the creation of a single City policeman: "You can skin the cat in all sorts of different ways, and they all have pros and cons. The important thing is that you have to make it work."
Call me literal-minded, but there don't seem to be any pros in this procedure and it certainly won't work for the cat; all we'll get is a dead pet and enough screeching to wake up the neighbourhood.
You can see where Mr George is coming from, however, because cat skinning is a tried and tested proverb and like all tried and tested proverbs - "you can't have your cake and eat it", "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush", "the happy mongoose lays a mud pie" (okay, I might have made that one up though I'm pretty sure Eric Cantona used it) - we know what it means but don't ask us to explain it.
Perhaps what we need, therefore, is an updated proverb - and a perfect one suggests itself in the way the Bank gained a bit more control over monetary policy while losing all its clout in financial regulation: "There's more than one way to skin an Eddie George."