April 25, 2014 7:39 pm

Much ado and many a marketing bash

‘The Bard’s PR team could be doing more. Such a great brand needs rolling commemorations to keep him in the public mind’
Illustration of William Shakespeare©Lucas Varela

In case you haven’t noticed, it is Shakespeare’s birthday this week. Well, technically, that should be the anniversary of the baptism that followed shortly after his birth but it represents the only solid date we have.

Anyway, it is 450 years, give or take, so that has got to be worth a party. I know that 500 years has a better ring to it but some of us might not be here for that and we’ve already missed the 400th anniversary. Besides, one should never pass up an opportunity to promote the Bard’s work. We may not always have a recent Dr Who to play the lead.

All sorts of Shakespearean activities are planned. Digby Jones, who famously played Falstaff in the National Theatre’s production of Gordon the Brown, Part 1, is hosting a birthday lunch in Stratford-upon-Avon and there are processions, readings and – that miserable staple of every modern family event – craft workshops. Things are also planned for Shakespeare’s Globe, the legendary theatre famous for not being on the site of Shakespeare’s Globe.

I’ve always taken a fairly sceptical view on anniversaries but Shakespeare remains one of our lasting global brands (surveys regularly say his picture is as widely recognised as the Starbucks mermaid) and he is often cited as an enduring British thought-leader. But rather than one random anniversary, Shakespeare’s PR team could be doing much more. Surely such a great brand needs rolling commemorations to keep him in the public mind. In that spirit, I’ve been working on a few suggestions until the marketing experts get their act together.

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Robert Shrimsley

As we know, 2014 is the 450th anniversary of his birth, so in 2015 that makes it 450 years since his first word. And if anyone’s first word is worth commemorating, it’s Will’s. There are no actual records of his first word, although literary analysts have narrowed down the options to “mama”, “dada” and “no”. We envisage a competition to choose Shakespeare’s spiritual first word. Since 2015 is also the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare on solids, the winners will get a celebratory mashed-carrot breakfast with Digby Jones.

As the 400th anniversary of his death, 2016 is a bit of a problem and we don’t want mixed messages. But in 2019 we are into Shakespeare’s school days and have pencilled in 2020 for the 450th anniversary of his first detention. We are still a bit vague on the plans but we thought perhaps a celebratory lunch with John Cridland.

We have 1577 down for Shakespeare’s first facial hair, so 2027 has been earmarked as the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s first beard. Young men will be challenged to grow similar hair, with the best beard winning a celebratory lunch with Alan Sugar.

We then have a brief lull before roaring back to mark his 450th wedding anniversary in 2032. For that, we are aiming at a new demographic by commemorating Shakespeare’s stag night with an alehouse challenge – a three-day pub crawl from Stratford to London, promoted under the slogan “Get Tight as Andronicus”.

By 2033 we can mark Shakespeare as a father and by 2040 we are into his plays. For the Romeo and Juliet celebration in 2047 we were thinking of a TV show to find Britain’s most star-crossed lovers. And for Hamlet, in 2051, we suggest a special production featuring the 29th Dr Who – that girl from Outnumbered – in the title role.

An as-yet-unspecified date will be selected for the anniversary of the first imposter theories. Thus 2045 marks the 200th anniversary of Delia Bacon’s claim that Shakespeare was Sir Walter Raleigh and the 150th anniversary of the first Christopher Marlowe theory; 2036 is 180 years on from the first Francis Bacon mention, while 2020 is the Earl of Oxford’s centenary.

And they all help tide us over until April 2054, when we can start again with the 500th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth – when, as someone said, the wheel comes full circle. Unless, of course, he actually was Bacon, Raleigh, Marlowe or the Earl of Oxford – in which case we’ve got a few other options pencilled in.

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robert.shrimsley@ft.com; Twitter: @robertshrimsley
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