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The Sound of an Icon

A picture is worth a thousand words is an old over-used favourite of a saying, but not many people would think that a single sound can have the same effect.

It seems incredible, but just hearing the first chimes of Big Ben, the bell in the clock tower at Westminster, and people all over the world would identify it immediately with London.

Sounds can be so important parts of our culture and our lives.

A favourite tune, a song shared with your family, the school bell, the sounds of the street. We tend to ignore them without realising their significance. Until a sound like Big Ben reaches out and becomes a symbol of something greater. Just like red double-decker buses and black taxis, Big Ben describes London as a city. And yet much more than that.

The tones of Big Ben have been used in the days of radio to start the news. So as well as being just a sound of a building, it has been associated with truth, information and authenticity. It has been used as propaganda in times of war. Then it takes on the mantle of being a symbol for freedom and the struggle against tyranny for the people of Europe. As part of the British parliament, Big Ben rings out the call for democracy, freedom of speech and the rule of law. Being an old British symbol, it has been an icon of an imperial past, but now a reforming voice of tolerance and fairness. It speaks of authority and permanence and yet also the opposite tones of renewal, London creativity and openness.

Try getting all that into 1000 words!

Click to Listen to Big Ben Strikes


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