THIS WEEKEND one of the most iconic brands of the past 20 years will disappear forever.
From 1 March Orange will cease to offer new mobile phone contracts through third-party sellers, following the end of direct sales at the start of February. Existing users will stay on current contracts, but won't be able to upgrade.
It's been a long, slow and largely graceless demise for what early adopters will remember was the hipsters' phone network in the days before we knew what a hipster was.
Orange actually has its roots in the early nineties under the ownership of munitions churners British Aerospace. But by the time it was launched in 1994, the minnow network had transferred control to the Hong Kong based giant Hutchison Whampoa.
Its simple, minimalist branding and bizarre name, far removed from the clinical 'Vodafone' and 'Cellnet' of the time, announced the arrival of something different.
Its slogan, 'The future's bright, the future's Orange', soon became part of the country's psyche, especially for anyone who went on the pull in Sunderland and Newcastle, the home of fake tan.
The firm wasn't without its critics, though. The term 'Orange' did not go well with the Catholic community in Northern Ireland at a time of tension with the Orange Order of Protestants, predating the Good Friday Agreement. Good job, then, that the link to firearms had already been severed.
But for the rest of us, Orange was cool. Orange was a club. Orange was the network for creatives, ad-men, designers, and home to some significant firsts.
It was the first to offer a virtual fax number, which could then print your faxes to a 'real' machine. It was the first to offer a second phone line on a single SIM, far predating the BYOD era, but allowing you to keep a second line for work which you could then divert out of hours.
Yes, the queues for customer service were sometimes horrendous, but when you finally got through you were treated like a king.
Then, in 1999, it all started to go wrong. In the space of a year, German conglomerate Mannesmann bought Orange. Vodafone bought Mannesman. Vodafone sold Orange to comply with rules stating that it couldn't have two UK licences. Orange fell under the control of France Télécom.
France Télécom was the state-owned BT equivalent that was, at the time, still promoting the ground-breaking but ageing Minitel service which foreran the internet. The firm bought Orange from the Vodafone-Mannesmann megabeast.
Orange continued to plough its own furrow. In 2003 it launched the Orange SPV, one of the first smartphones, a rebadged HTC Canary, running Windows Mobile 5. Heavy investment meant that the days of the 45-minute customer service queue were behind us.
But cracks in the veneer were starting to show. The prices for services were becoming increasingly out of step with the competitive market. We were once told during an upgrade conversation: "We don't have to compete on price. We're better." A risky strategy.
As the age of 3G data arrived Orange was significantly stingier than its rivals with data allowances, and caused uproar on several occasions when attempting to raise customer tariffs in mid-contract by just below the maximum allowed under the law.
After a climbdown in 2009, Orange tried again in 2011 but was scuppered as the terms and conditions contained references to the Central Statistical Office, which no longer existed.
A change of this clause was loophole enough to allow customers to jump ship if they wanted to, and many did. EE closed the loophole later, triggering another exodus.
When Orange announced a service whereby customers could pay a monthly fee to guarantee that their contract price wouldn't rise during the term, it seemed to have once and for all jumped the shark.
Then, of course, EE announced that customers could pay 50p to jump its queuing system and it felt as if the brand had jumped it again, this time with rocket boots.
An Ofcom report in 2014 showed Orange, once the bastion of good customer service, languishing at the bottom of the satisfaction stats.
But Orange was already rotting in the fruit bowl. The creation of Everything Everywhere, the 4G network-focused merger of Orange and T-Mobile (which also closes this weekend but is, frankly, nowhere near as interesting to write about) soon led to the disappearance of the Orange name, first from the high street and now altogether.
The name still lives on around the world and, should the sale of EE to BT go ahead, there is nothing, theoretically, to stop France Télécom relaunching Orange as a virtual operator in the UK.
But for now, it's goodbye to the 'groovy' brand that gave us cheap cinema tickets through Orange Wednesdays, made it cool to turn your phone off in the cinema because Hollywood stars told you to, made it possible to keep your phone charged at Glastonbury, and created the weird price plans named after animals, like Capybara 20*.
The Orange leaving us this weekend is barely recognisable from the cool private members' club of the late nineties.
But there is some comfort in the fact that a lot of its values are still apparent in the current minnow network, Three. Which by no coincidence is run by Hutchison Whampoa, bringing the wheel full circle. µ
*OK, we made that one up. But can you name the real animals used in Orange price plans?
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