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It’s official; the Guinness Book of Records has confirmed that Henry Allingham has become the world’s oldest man, following the passing of the previous title holder Tomoji Tanabe in Japan.

For those not immediately familiar with the name, Allingham is one of the only two remaining UK veterans from World War I.  He was born in 1896 and has the simply remarkable group of 5 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, 14 great-great grandchildren and 1 great-great-great grandchild.  What are the chances of finding a card in your local Clinton Cards that says “To My Great Great Great Granddad”?

This is a man who has lived through the whole of the 20th century and all of its events.  He has seen the arrival of human flight, votes for women, television, antibiotics, the first car to be produced in Britain and domestic electrification, so therefore just about every appliance in your home or office, including the computer you’re using to read this.

You can only imagine just how many experiences he has accumulated and what an incredible and unique privilege it would be to spend just a few minutes in his company.  In contrast, what will we talk and reminisce about when we’re old?  The culture of celebrity, the choice of on demand high def multi-channel timeshift TV or whether 120Gb is enough storage space for an mp3 player: here’s a hint – unless you have more than 30,000 songs then Yes.

As Edgar says at the end of King Lear;

“The oldest hath borne most, we that are young shall never see so much, nor live so long.”

In this country, we have a proclivity to hide our old people away in homes, abandoning them to the care of someone else as if they are some kind of mild embarrassment and inconvenience.  We rely on Wikipedia to inform us of history, rather than ask those who experienced it first-hand.  “Granddad, what was it like before TV?” “Grandma, how did you keep food before you had a fridge or freezer?” “Uncle, what was apartheid?”.

There is a certain – and rather pleasing – irony between the opportunist soundbites and populist knee-jerk policies of politicians desperate for short-term fame, as they try and write themselves into history as great reformers or champions of the people and the philosophical, humble and dignified existence of a man who is history.  Our Glorious Leader on Youtube or a group of the 3 centenarians  – Allingham, Harry Patch and the now sadly departed Bill Stone – laying wreaths to friends lost 90 years ago?  I know which I would rather remember.

We think that age in general and the treatment of ‘the old’ in our society in particular warrant far greater attention and debate than they are currently afforded.  As a creative agency, we spend our time utilising and deploying many different media to communicate key messages.  Yet there is one resource and communications medium that society seems to have overlooked; a living testament, accumulated experientially by millions, that could be used to inform, to educate and to entertain.  Let’s not wait until elders pass on to eulogise them or highlight their achievements.

How?  Well our thinking caps are on and watch this space but in the meantime, think of an elderly relative who you haven’t spoken to as much as you should: give them a call or pop round to see them and ask them to tell you about something remarkable they remember.  We would love to hear what you find out!

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