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Book review: A Licence to be Different by Maggie Brown

Different is what different does and Channel 4 has done different in spades since its launch way back in November 1982, writes Mark Middlemas.

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Maggie Brown's 'A Licence to be Different' (BFI Publishing £16) is a fascinating account of the past 25 years, recording the story behind one of the most challenging media brands on the planet. She tells the journey with all the verve, intelligence and good humour that the brand has delivered in its programming and advertising campaigns over the years.

To get a complete understanding of the Channel 4 journey was both fascinating and insightful. From the day Richard Whiteley and his fantastic array of jackets arrived on our screens to the 'Big Brother' phenomenon, the book covers it all in great detail often through first hand accounts.

What I liked most about the book was its honesty and drive for accuracy. A challenging brand like Channel 4 has to behave in a certain way and Maggie Brown does not avoid covering the difficult periods or situations that it has found itself in. Given we all like a bit of controversy in the UK, getting a real understanding of the issues behind the issues (and there have been a few) really helped me.

The ultimate accolade I can pay the book is that the story is told in such a way that it is relevant for everyone -- from students to professors to media professionals to the ordinary consumer. It does complete justice to one of the UK's most valuable media brands and I really enjoyed reading it. As Andy Johnson says in his foreword, "Channel 4 is a brilliant accident of history and Britain's cultural life over the past 25 years has been all the richer for it". I am sure some will disagree with that but the book certainly makes your understanding of Channel 4 richer.

As the first media agency to do a deal with Channel 4 and really believe in their offering, Universal McCann has a long and distinguished history with them and speaking to those still around from those early days (yes they still exist) they agree with me in saying the book hits the spot as an accurate assessment of the past 25 years at Channel 4 and we look forward to the 50th anniversary.

Mark Middlemas is managing partner for integration at Universal McCann

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