YP Comment: Museums and rocket science. Attractions need new audiences

Mike O'Connor, from the Heritage Painting Team at the National Railway Museum, York, painting the number on the side of Flying Scotsman cab, watch by daughter Teriann, aged 21. Picture: James Hardisty.
Mike O'Connor, from the Heritage Painting Team at the National Railway Museum, York, painting the number on the side of Flying Scotsman cab, watch by daughter Teriann, aged 21. Picture: James Hardisty.
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THERE are now 46,000 new reasons why it would be remiss of the London-based Science Museum Group to preside over further cuts to exhibits at the National Media Museum in Bradford. This is the additional number of people who visited the attraction in 2015-16 compared to the previous year.

What is less clearcut, however, is the reason behind visitor numbers increasing from 414,000 to 460,000. Officials attribute this to the museum’s new emphasis on the science of image and sound which has appealed to a younger audience; critics say people wanted to see the Royal Photography Society’s acclaimed collection before it was moved to London’s V&A in a regrettable triumph for metropolitanism.

Either way, the priority is ensuring that this facility – previously the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television before an unhelpful name-change in 2006 which did little to help the venue’s marketability – prospers in the future.

This means the Science Museum Group investing in world-class exhibits at each of its locations in the neglected North – it is responsible for museums of national importance – so there is no excuse for people not visiting these attractions. If museums allow time to stand still, and don’t move with the times by embracing new technology, they don’t deserve to survive.

The same also applies to York’s National Railway Museum which also comes under the auspices of the Science Museum Group. It welcomed 750,000 people in 2015-16, a modest rise on the previous year. While the recently restored Flying Scotsman locomotive continues to pull the crowds, various collaborations with York Theatre Royal are attracting younger generations in encouraging numbers. This is key. If children learn to enjoy museum visits during their formative years, they are more likely to support these priceless national assets during their adulthood. It’s not rocket science.

Fuel for thought: How technology can deter thefts

IF it wasn’t for the proliferation of motorists driving on the region’s roads with false number plates, it would be easier for the police to catch fuel thieves – contemptuous criminals who drive off from filling stations without paying for petrol and diesel. Using the DVLA’s database, they would be able to launch proceedings against the registered owner when the vehicle in question’s annual licence, or MoT, came up for renewal.

Even though these offences are the motoring equivalent of shoplifting, and cost £30m a year, it is unrealistic to expect the police to prioritise every case when traffic officers have borne the brunt of spending cuts. Perhaps the more effective deterrent is the proprietor of those garages which display giant posters depicting CCTV images of offenders filling up their vehicles.

However, there is no reason why new technology cannot be developed to deter drive-off thefts in the future. These crimes are such that it is surely in the best interests of trade bodies, like the Petrol Retailers’ Association, to develop new pumps which can only be activated once a payment has been made via a debit card. Like it or not, the days of cash transactions are in the past.

Not only will this help filling station proprietors who are the victims here, but the Exchequer will benefit too at a time when the public finances are already over-dependent on the amount of fuel duty that law-abiding motorists do pay. As drivers will readily testify, these are not inconsiderable sums. If a system of pre-payment could be made to work, police forces might be able to reinstate those traffic patrols axed in recent times.

A new leading role for Dame Judi

HOW apt that Yorkshire’s very own Dame Judi Dench, the embodiment of arts and culture in Britain, has agreed to become honorary president of The Brontë Society at such a landmark in time – next Thursday marks the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth.

Her brilliant portrayal of Rochester’s housekeeper Mrs Fairfax in the 2011 film adaptation of Jane Eyre helps to explain the sustained interest in Brontë and her sisters, hence the tens of thousands of devotees who visit the cobbled village of Haworth each year to pay homage to the family and draw inspiration from their writing.

If Dame Judi can promote the Brontës to a new generation following the society’s less than harmonious relationship with Bonnie Greer, it can only be to the long-term benefit of Yorkshire literature and tourism.