Thursday, January 17, 2013

Silencing His Master's Voice

Since just about every Hong Kong blogger today will probably be pontificating on the Chief Executive's Policy Address yesterday, I thought I'd write about something entirely different: the imminent collapse of HMV, which is now in administration, a prelude to either sale and restructuring or bankruptcy and closure.  In the UK, consumers are furious that their HMV gift vouchers, some of them only sold a few days  ago when the company already knew it was in deep financial doodoo, have been declared invalid.  There is also concern that HMV owes money to a charity in Ireland for sales of a charity recording which the charity may now not receive.  And of course people are unhappy that yet another major retailer joins a long list of familiar names - Woolworth's, Comet, Jessops, and just yesterday Blockbuster - going down the tubes and leaving huge gaps in Britain's high streets and shopping centres, as well as throwing thousands out of work.

Here in Hong Kong, where HMV is, as in the UK, the largest music and DVD store chain in the market, it's too early to know what will happen to the shops, but if they do close down, the best we can hope for is a giant clearance sale which will at least give me the opportunity to fill some gaps in my CD collection at bargain prices.

There is much that could be said about the trends behind this: the impact of Internet sales (in which HMV is also a sizeable player), the switch from CDs to MP3 downloads, and all that, but what I want to do here is celebrate HMV's history as a great British institution.  Though its roots go back even earlier, HMV's retail arm effectively started with the opening of its first store in London's Oxford Street in 1921, presided over by Sir Edward Elgar.  What makes HMV remarkable is that, long before the word logo entered everyday language, HMV's was one of the earliest and most successful examples of what is now called visual branding.

Tha famous picture (left) of the dog Nipper looking into the gramophone from which "His Master's Voice" emanates, which goes back to 1900, has become one of the most familiar and best-loved icons in the world, used by several record companies over the years, and even today a stylised version of it (right) remains in use despite the full name giving way to today's three-letter abbreviation.  So famous did Nipper become that he even has streets named after him in Kingston-upon-Thames, where he is buried, and Baltimore, where RCA had the American rights to his image.

 In its early days HMV produced records as well as selling them, and the image appeared on many old 78s.
But perhaps the best evidence of public affection for the image can be found in the many parodies it has inspired over the years.

This is a Halloween version:
and a modern update:
And with the news of the current crisis, cartoonists could not resist variations on the idea at the top of this post. If the stores go, will the icon retain its popular appeal, or fade gradually into the mists of history, I wonder?

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