Sunday, 16 July 2017

Beam Me Back, Scotty at the Museum of Brands

Yesterday Mr Robot and I went to London as our Twitter chum Emily was running her supperclub. She and her sister Amy cook Burmese food as The Rangoon Sisters, and we wanted to support them, and to enjoy some Burmese food we didn't have to cook ourselves. Because we got into London early with time to kill, I looked round to see if any interesting exhibitions were on, and discovered the Museum of Brands had one called 'Beam Me Back, Scotty'.

You might not have heard of the Museum of Brands. It's not one of the big national collections, it's the work of one man, Robert Opie. If you've an interest in old adverts, watch programmes like Back in Time for Dinner, or watch many other retro programmes, you'll have seen products from the Opie Collection. I suppose you could sum the collection up as 'things people buy'. Food in tins and packets. Toys. Cosmetics. And it's fascinating and lovely, because as nice as grand country houses are, for most of us, our history is on the shelves at the Museum of Brands.
At this point I will apologise for the lack of photos: they're not permitted. My guess is that's because so much of the material is printed, light damages printed things, and there are an awful lot of idiots out there who can't/won't learn how to turn their flash off, so it's easier just to ban images. You basically walk through a tunnel of floor-to-ceiling cases with black backs and glass fronts. You start with the Victorians, with magazines and sheet music, a whole case devoted to paraphernalia from The Great Exhibition, another with Victorian royal souvenirs, and so on. From there you pass through British consumer history, decade by decade, to the present. Mr Robot got very keen trying to spot when 'jig-saw' became 'jigsaw'.

'Beam Me Back, Scotty' wasn't a separate exhibition - instead there were cases of toys on a science fiction and space age theme along with each decade. There weren't many space-related toys early on, but when you got to the 1950s and 1960s it became really fascinating, with toy Sputniks and lunar landers, spy 'walkie-talkies' and pretend rayguns. As particular television shows became popular, toys from those creep in. Surprisingly, there weren't many Star Wars toys, but there were loads of Thunderbirds, and a good helping of Star Trek. A good smattering of early Doctor Who tat too.

When there were significant events – both world wars, royal weddings, jubilees - there were special cases of things showing the range of products available. Silver Jubilee fizzy strawberry drink, anyone? London Olympics cakes?

As we walked round I saw lots of things that made me think of people I know. 1930s dressmaking magazines made me think of Cate, and the dress in one 1970s case was pure Vix. I had fun checking out all the different perfumes; the shift from single-note lavender, rose and so on in the Victorian era to blended fragrances with Asian/Middle Eastern names in the Edwardian was particularly striking, and I only wish there had been more perfumes in the later cases. (Perhaps I should save my old bottles as I use them up and see if the museum wants them.) I loved seeing old copies of the Radio Times, and was amused to see they did special issues for Christmas even in the 1930s. Working in print, the trends in typefaces really struck me. And, of course, there was a huge helping of nostalgia once we got to things we could actually remember.

The museum's not cheap to get into – £9 each for adults – but I really enjoyed our visit.

After that, because I have a natural radar for good pubs, we ended up in the Elgin Arms, a Victorian gin palace with a grade-2 listed interior. It's pretty remarkable that so much has survived as it was a mod venue in the 1960s and punk one in the 1970s (Joe Strummer was a regular), and I'd have expected it to have been trashed. But no, lots of the original interior is still there, and it's beautiful. The beer was pretty good, too...

17 comments :

  1. Right after the moon landing, I was given a toy that was a sort of table-top pinball called, "Moon Shot." You'd pull a lever and it would shoot marbles through a space themed maze. It was incredible how much of that stuff hit the shelves in the late 60's/early 70's. I wouldn't be surprised if you could fill an exhibition with just the toys of that era(I also have a Snoopy the dog wearing a spacesuit from the same time). I'd have loved to see that museum-perhaps next time I get to London.

    Whoa, you're not kidding about good pub radar-if the photo is representative of what we can't see, it must be incredible. Look at that glass! That woodwork!

    I hope we'll get to hear about the supper club too.

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    1. You know, that's something I didn't see much of there - Snoopy. I bet they've got loads stashed away. It's not the cheapest museum to get into, but it's fascinating.

      My raybar is awesome, and appears to work internationally too. Maybe it's to compensate for my prosopagnosia... That's not actually the best gin palace I've been in; there's a smaller one round the back of Fortnum and Mason that's more or less completely intact, and every wall is original engraved mirrors from elbow-height up. It's spectacular. The ornate wooden bar is a classic Victorian pub thing, it's so lovely.

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  2. Well too bad they didn't allow photos at the Brand museum but I can understand why. Sounds like a fab day!
    The Clash was the first band I saw in concert.

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    1. I considered sneaking a few, but decided I didn't want to be that naughty.

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  3. Oh, I hadn't heard of this place, which is a surprise because we worked closely with Robert Opie when I worked at Past Times. I will definitely head there the next time I go to London. And yes, I probably will want to smash the glass to get to the 1930s magazines! xx

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    1. Pete said it reminded him of the Bakelite Museum - obviously it's massively more professionally run, but there's the same clear passion for a single subject, and absolute in-depth knowledge of it.

      When we got to the 1990s magazines, I started wondering if I'd see one I worked on! Happily, I didn't. That would have been weird.

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  4. It's on my to do list and has been for years! They have the papers from The Opie Collection at the Bodleian, so all the magazines, penny dreadfuls and children's books which are fascinating enough in themselves. I never went when I worked at the Bod and it's 6 years later and I still haven't been!

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    1. Ah, is that where the rest are? Do they switch round the ones on display for the ones in the Bodleian, or do they keep a separate stash for display and leave the ones in the Bodleian there full time?

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  5. I remember wanting to visit the Museum of Brands when it was in its original location in Gloucester. It sounds right up my street. I want to see the 1970s case. Its frustrating that stupids who can't master their cameras spoil it for the rest of us.
    That gin palace is gorgeous. I do love a Victorian pub! xx

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    1. I was quite sad when I heard it had been moved from Gloucester. It's in a lovely building, but London has lots of museums already.

      The beer tins were what fascinated me in the 70s case - those big party tins with four or seven pints in. Very Life On Mars.

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  6. I'd love to go to that museum, as I'm quite a fan of Robert Opie's collection. We have a couple of books based on his collection. We always wanted to go to his Gloucester museum, but of course, by the time we made it to Gloucester the collection had moved to London! It's definitely on our list for when we next make it to London. xxx

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    1. It's worth seeing. It's strange how fascinating ordinary things can be, and how extraordinary they seem once they're a few decades old. I'm tempted to get the books now.

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  7. Cor, that pub look lovely. I do like a proper Victorian place. The museum sounds really interesting. I think that I like the relatable, social history side of things a lot better than the grand china and paintings of the country houses. I am far to much of a socialist to equate a fancy cup to how much people's tenants would be living on in comparison. Xx

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    1. We don't really have Victorian pubs like that round here. A couple in my town have listed bars, but nothing as impressive as that one. Finding great pubs is always an important part of any trip to London* for me.

      I like country houses, but I don't feel part of them until I get to the kitchen and see the big sink, where I would doubtless have been doing the washing up. And then am very grateful we don't have that system any more, unlike most of the other visitors who seem to picture themselves 'above stairs'.

      *Okay, anywhere

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  8. I'd love that museum, I'm sure, can't beat a bit of ephemera and the Gin Palace! Be still my beating heart! Oh that is absolutely beautiful!

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  9. I'd like your pub radar please!
    The museum sounds so interesting.
    I hope the Burmese supper was good? X

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  10. I will be putting this on my list of places to visit next time I get to London. It sounds fascinating, I want to see all the things!

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