Chris Bennett: Overdrawn at the memory bank
Author: Chris Bennett
Preparations for this year’s Awards led me to the Optician archive this week which proved to be an interesting experience.
Being surrounded by 125 years of weekly journals is quite a humbling experience. It’s not just the physical amount of work that has gone into producing a 40 or 50 page magazine week in week out for over a century but also the sense of history.
Optician was instrumental in bringing the structures for the optical profession into being by acting as a conduit for the profession and the industry, it was consulted on the optical needs of the nation and has charted all manner of change from the formation of the NHS through to deregulation of the market.
The Optician Awards has a 1980s theme this year, hence the purpose of my visit to the archive. That decade, at the height of the Thatcher era, brought many changes to the optical market. At its outset advertising was illegal and house practices were the norm. Optician was an old-style, black and white journal. By the decade’s close Specsavers was in its stride, Boots had hoovered up many regional chains and Vision Express had arrived from the US. Optician was now a technicolour magazine produced on computers.
Things don’t have to stand still but while there has been massive change, many issues facing the profession back then are still current today. Back then we couldn’t have dreamed of the imaging technology we have today. Back then would couldn’t have imagined the soft, breathable contact lens materials we have today. Back then, NHS funding, the importance of eye care, kids screening, drivers’ vision and skills shortages all vexed the professional bodies – just as they do today.
As Winston Churchill said: ‘Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.’