London - Your starter for ten: Where is the National Media Museum? London's South Bank? Soho? No, and no, and not even in London.
Not even in Salford's MediaCity, though you’re getting warmer. The National Media Museum is in the heart of Bradford, West Yorkshire, and once again doom-laden chimes are ringing around its airy exhibits and halls.
According to the Yorkshire Post, visitor numbers are down 40 percent compared to 2008. Many museums and galleries are suffering, of course, but the National Media Museum seems especially exposed, given that in 2013 there was a suggestion from owners the Science Museum Group that it could be scrapped altogether. Earlier this year it lost one of its major photographic collections to the V&A in London. So the latest figures don’t give much scope for optimism for the future.
Why should you care? If you live in London, you probably don’t, because you’re barely ever more than a stone's throw from a museum or gallery, but up in the north where our culture is spread more thinly than the beef dripping on our butties, it's more cause for concern. Ah, here we go, another northerner with a chip (cooked in beef dripping or otherwise) on his shoulder. And yes, you’re probably right, because it does often feel like anything of value we have in the north is either ignored or, worse, coveted by London.
So what is it anyway? Well, before it adopted its current name a decade ago it had been called the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television since it opened in 1983. It has seven floors and umpteen galleries and – cultural smash-and-grabs by London notwithstanding – it has a collection of items numbering 3.5 million.
Here you’ll find artefacts ranging from examples of the earliest cameras and broadcast technology to beloved memorabilia from the golden age of television; this is the home of the actual Humpty from Play School, sitting alongside numerous Wombles, Gerry Anderson puppets and Ray Harryhausen monsters.
The very first IMAX screen in the country was housed in the museum when it opened three decades ago, and last year it had a refurbishment, as part of a £780 000 upgrade that saw the arrival of a monstrous new 60-foot wide screen. There's even a Dalek.
More to the point, the museum is free, aside from the cinema and special events, which is a crucial point; Bradford is the 19th most deprived local authority in England and the second in Yorkshire and Humber. A family can spend a day in the museum, and take their own food, and that's not something to be sniffed at in an area like this.
But what's the point of a museum if no-one goes? Wouldn’t the artefacts and collections get much more exposure if they were in London? And I can jump on a train in Bradford and be at Kings Cross a little more than two hours later. That's what anyone will have to do if they want to see the 40 000 items from the Royal Photographic Society collection which have been transferred to the V&A. One Bradford councillor branded that “an appalling act of cultural vandalism”, and it's hard to disagree.
Not that anyone's saying that the National Media Museum be dismantled and its items shipped off to other museums, like the Science Museum Group was suggesting in 2013 when it hinted darkly that one of its three northern facilities – the National Railway Museum in York and the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester are the other two – if a proposed Government funding cut went ahead.
The axe didn’t fall in the end, but its shadow never really goes away, and these latest visitor figures won’t help. Of course, they compare today with pre-recession 2008. According to the museum itself, visitor numbers have gone up 11 per cent year-on-year. And in March a significant £7.5m investment in the museum over the next five years was announced, which doesn’t suggest an imminent closure plan.
But there's always the feeling that someone, somewhere is thinking that it's a case of location, location, location… the museum is fantastic, but wouldn’t it be better in London than up in Bradford? And that's exactly why it must not only stay where it is, but have every resource the Science Museum Group can muster to ensure it is a success, not just for the people of Bradford but as an attraction at the top of anyone's list of must-see places.
So hands off our National Media Museum and its Aladdin's cave of marvels, please. Let's not grow that cultural northsouth divide any wider. But don’t think we don’t want you Londoners up here to visit; we do. After all, it's only two hours by train.