July 12, 1960. An immensely exciting occasion for BBC Northern Ireland and the Orange Order as the corporation chooses the Belfast parade for its first live broadcast.
But the times are changing, even in this part of the world. Back then, TVs were black and white, the internet didn’t exist and homosexuality was a crime.
The Beeb’s decision to axe live coverage of the Twelfth comes in the context of sweeping cuts after the government froze the licence fee. Yet there can be no doubting its huge symbolic significance to everyone who lives here.
As Orangemen prepare to celebrate their victory 332 years ago, many feel they’ve lost every battle in recent decades.
The Drumcree defeat still looms large, even though around 2,000 parades go uncontested annually.
The institution lost its political clout a long time ago. Until the introduction of direct rule in 1972, membership was almost a prerequisite for holding office.
Back then, it boasted around 100,000 members; today it sits at around 30,000.
Where crowds 10-deep once lined the Twelfth parade route in Belfast, spectators are now much more thinly spread out.
The Order has suffered a loss of respectability among the professional middle classes. Increasing secularism is as much responsible as sectarianism. In urban areas, the membership is overwhelmingly working class.
While the institution still has significance for a notable number of people, it is impossible to legitimately argue that the BBC’s action is discriminatory. Belfast’s Pride parade is just as big, yet isn’t covered live. Similarly, the Beeb offers no live broadcast for St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Comparing Orange Order with GAA coverage is like comparing apples with pears. The former is a political and religious organisation, the latter a sporting one. Besides, the BBC can hardly be accused of wall-to-wall GAA coverage.
It’s not as if the corporation is cancelling the Twelfth. There will be an hour-long highlights programme which has a bigger audience than the daytime one.
There is no conspiracy here. The general move is away from costly live broadcasts. Director general Tim Davie previously outlined the new digital primacy policy.
TV audiences are in decline, with more people switching to watch coverage on iPlayer rather than live television.
It’s not as if the Twelfth coverage is being singled out. Several high-profile casualties have previous been announced.
CBeebies and BBC Four are to be axed from television. BBC Northern Ireland’s flagship current affairs investigative programme, Spotlight, will suffer major cuts. A fifth of its programmes are to be scrapped along with Spotlight Special, the hour-long studio debate programme where audience members put questions on the big issues of the day to a panel of politicians.
But the BBC’s Twelfth decision touches a nerve because it reflects the changing position of unionism in an increasingly diverse Northern Ireland.
There is no point in pretending the parade is something it’s not — a great day out for all sections of the community.
The tale of halcyon days when droves of Catholics watched Orange demonstrations is pure fiction.
The Twelfth’s appeal is to only one community. An organisation which still treats its neighbours as a species apart will never truly build bridges.
Orange Order members can marry atheists, Muslims or Hindus, but not Catholics.
It is no wonder that most roads lead to the airport or Donegal for that community in the second week in July.
Cultural diversity is a must in a healthy society, and the Twelfth remains part of the fabric of life here.
But it’s no more a politically neutral event than an Easter Rising commemoration.
For me, the Twelfth parade in Belfast has less appealing characteristics than the Order’s much more family-friendly gatherings in rural areas.
Yet it remains some spectacle, with Orangemen in Sunday suits and bowler hats carrying carefully folded umbrellas or unsheathed swords with military-like precision.
Lush, ornate banners show scenes of a bygone era when the British empire ruled supreme, Belfast was a great industrial city and scriptural studiousness was routine.
This society has changed beyond recognition: the continuing challenge for the Orange Order is to try to move with the times.