I doubt whether there are many people in this country, of any age, who are unaware that this year marks the centenary of the First World War. Newspapers, magazines, radio and television are full of articles and programmes marking the fact, and that’s before you take account of the book industry where, I believe, around 1,000 titles will be published in the year running up to the opening day.
Meanwhile, the government’s website is a really good way in to all the online material, with links to the best sources of hard facts and, of course, details about the government programme of events and the various initiatives to help bring the centenary alive.
Rathbone or Cumberbatch?
And I would particularly recommend the Tumblr – Back in Britain – which contains a stream of fascinating items about some of the less familiar aspects of life from that time. Did you know, for example, that things like wrist watches and British Summer Time started life as a result of the war? Or that Basil Rathbone, the definitive Sherlock Holmes before Benedict Cumberbatch made the role his own, and the author A A Milne both played important parts in the conflict? There’s that and much more there – all in manageable and very readable form – and I warmly commend it to you.
But the First World War is not the only anniversary coming our way in the next few years. This year sees another centenary, for example – that of Dylan Thomas’s birth. Next year we have the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the 600th for Agincourt and the bicentenary for the battle of Waterloo. And there are many more after that.
So, as Lottery Minister, I was really pleased to hear last October that one of the National Lottery good causes, the Heritage Lottery Fund, was setting aside £10 million to help people planning events around forthcoming anniversaries. This is an inspired idea and, like all the best ideas, is both simple and in tune with what I suspect the public like to see the Lottery supporting.
This week saw them announce the first of the grants: development funding to help bring to fruition a project marking the 300th anniversary – in 2016 – of the birth of Capability Brown, widely regarded as ‘the father of landscape architecture.’
Without realising it, you’ve probably seen his work many times either in the flesh or, very often, as a setting for lush costume dramas in films or on TV. He was responsible for, or had a hand in, designing the gardens at Blenheim Palace, Highclere Castle (where Downton Abbey was filmed), Althorp and Kew Gardens, to name but a handful of the more than 170 sites associated with him.
I’m off to Sochi in a few days’ time to support Team GB in the Winter Olympic and Paralympic games. I’ll share my thoughts with you on what I see and experience in a blog when I get back.