If only we could blame it on the EU or Muslims – I suspect that was the first thought that entered the heads of Mail and Telegraph journos when it was pointed out that the word ‘Easter’ had been quietly dropped from the branding on boxes containing the springtime produce of the chocolate manufacturers. It would certainly chime with some of the silliest Brussels directives of recent years, ones concerning new specifications over the size of sausages, ones that prompt Sun campaigns to ‘save the British Banger’ and so on. It would also fit the classic Fleet Street Islamic narrative of Loony Left local councils banning Christmas decorations on the grounds that they might offend the non-Christian community. Alas, no. This particular move appears to have come from the chocolate companies themselves.
Nestlé deny there has been a deliberate decision to drop the word Easter from their produce this time of year, but it has disappeared none the less, just as it has from the eggs sold by their rival Cadbury. Is this a sinister conspiracy to erase the key word from a Great British Tradition? I don’t think so; it probably has more to do with the fact that businesses – which is, lest we forget, what Nestlé and Cadbury are – have merely picked up on which way the popular wind is blowing and have gone with the secular flow.
The front cover of the Radio Times – in many respects an unsung barometer of the zeitgeist – this week displays a cartoon bunny. When I was a child, the cover of the Easter issue would always be graced with religious imagery; at one time, I suspect only Father Christmas had appeared on more RT front covers than Jesus. The programming on the BBC reflected the roots of the Easter festival as well; aside from the token church services, I remember seeing the enjoyably kitsch 1973 movie of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ on BBC1 at Easter 1979, and even ITV exhibited a reverence for the Christian tradition by spending a fortune on ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, its epic retelling of the Christ legend with Robert Powell in the title role.
After donning a turban for a visit to a Sikh temple in order to win the ‘ethnic vote’ during the last General Election, David Cameron then went on to nail his colours to the Church of England mast in stressing Britain was still a Christian country. On paper, yes it is; but it’s not the Christian Britain I had shoved down my throat in early schooldays, when assemblies would be dominated by the RE teacher reading a Biblical fable, and the entire class would have to close its eyes and recite the Lord’s Prayer in unison at the end of every day before being allowed to leave at 3.30. It’s not even the Christian Britain that marked Harvest Festival with each pupil bringing a tin of food to school that would then be distributed to the pensioners of the parish. I’m not up to speed on the curriculum these days, but perhaps if such a ritual still exists it now bears a name of something like The Non-Denominational, All-Inclusive Multi-Faith Festival?
While the likelihood of a ‘Jihadi Egg’ being manufactured in the shape of a severed head and featuring a cartoon incarnation of a sword-wielding ISIS assassin on the packaging is probably a step too far even for the paranoid fantasies of a right-wing tabloid editor, the removal of a word that a Nestlé spokesman says is so associated with chocolate eggs that it’s no longer necessary to put it on the box isn’t quite the end of the world as we know it. One could argue the disappearance of references to a religious festival from something so frivolous should enhance the presumed dignity of the occasion rather than detract from it.
THE INDEPENDENT (1986-2016)
Thirty years ago, I bought the first issue of a new national newspaper; today, I bought the last. Yes, the Independent remains an online presence, but it’s not quite the same, is it? I don’t buy a paper often, but when I do, I tend to opt for the Indy; the content always seemed well-balanced between left and right to me, attempting to navigate a middle ground where other papers are incurably partisan, something I found refreshing. But what I really liked about the Independent, a factor it will be impossible to reproduce online, was the design of the front cover.
A cover featuring a single image was pioneered by the Daily Mirror at the turn of the twentieth century, when the Times famously featured classified ads on its cover. Ever since it adopted this eye-catching tactic for major news stories, the Independent has stood out from the other cluttered covers on the newsstands, in which a hysterical headline is hemmed-in by free gift offers, quotes from a columnist whose column features inside, and photos of celebrity fashion faux-pas. By its very nature, an online newspaper’s homepage is cluttered, with the need to include links to every section. The single image that gave the print edition of the Independent’s front cover its aesthetic uniqueness cannot have the same impact when viewed on a monitor or a mobile.
The paper may be moving with the times, but by doing so it has undoubtedly lost something special in the process. The Independent stood out from its competitors in the newsagents, but it won’t online. It can’t.
© The Editor