It’s 100 years since the first neon sign was made.
What’s not to like about neon? It’s one of my favourite gases – oxygen being my favourite. But they don’t sell oxygen except in very high places where the air is thin and they reckon people will need a whiff or two to keep them going.
Personally I think oxygen should just be on sale generally in W. H. Smiths and Boots so you can keep a can in your handbag and take a whiff whenever you need one. I’d probably have a few deep breaths to get me going before the morning commute to work and I’d take a cannister for that terrible early afternoon dip where you feel really sleepy and a bit slow and could do with a bit of a kip before taking on the rest of the working day.
It’s not a good idea to inhale neon but it’s excellent for signage. It’s always struck me as a bit of a shame that no-one deems it suitable for house signs. I’ve never seen a neon “Mon Repose” or “Chez Nous” but perhaps that’s for the sensible reason that even a leafy suburban semi adorned with neon might be mistaken for a massage parlour.
Neon signs are all about rampant commercialism. Piccadilly Circus and the world’s biggest brashest, most expensive cities are lit up by neon. As a child, after the pigeons and the massive lions in Trafalgar Square, I remember Piccadilly Circus making the biggest impression on me – all those flashing lights and constantly changing signs.
For me the best possible use of neon was on TV; the shocking pink neon spelling the word “Arena” in a bottle, which floated towards you on a dark sea. It floated towards you gently with a mist hanging over the sea and glints of light reflected on the waves, as though the bottle was being gently washed to shore beneath a seaside resort pier.
That image, accompanied by Brian Eno’s mysterious and entrancing theme tune, was an iconic combination which induced the most pleasurable prospect of a fascinating and well-made piece of TV. The Arena profiles were some of the best programmes ever produced by the BBC.
There’s a short documentary on the making of that Arena intro here
There were only ever two TV themes that had that effect on me; Arena and Barrington Pheloung’s introduction to Morse.
Total TV bliss.