ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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The Independent Culture
Q: WHAT do Stephen Fry, Barbra Streisand and Richard Curtis have in common? A: They are all very amusing. Q: Well, yes, but what I had in mind is that they've all had hectares of press coverage lately, and they have all been having a go at the press too.

Curtis, he of Four Weddings and a Funeral, was on Start the Week, complaining that journalists were too negative. Streisand was so angry at the irreverence that greeted her London concerts last month, she broke the habit of a lifetime and gave an interview (in the current Time) to say so. Fry is always popping up on radio, television and indeed in print, to say how perfectly extraordinary it is that newspapers devote whole columns to attacking people (does he mean us?).

Streisand's views can be discounted, on the grounds that she has been a star for centuries and has lost touch with reality (if you don't agree, study her contribution to our Overheard column, on page 29). Fry and Curtis are different. They are youngish, sharp-witted, and capable of detachment. Fry has only been famous for six or seven years; Curtis for six or seven weeks. They are both quite capable of manipulating the media. It is not literary skill alone that has put The Hippopotamus among the bestsellers. And I was impressed last month to find Curtis telling reporters from this paper that he didn't give press interviews in the same week that I went to America and read three.

And yet here was Curtis, quoting Fry, approvingly, as saying that if the Beatles had come along today, they wouldn't have made it, because the papers would have criticised them so heavily. This was a breathtaking piece of arrogance. Think about it: Fry and Curtis have been able to thrive in this harsh climate, but the Beatles wouldn't have.

The press is guilty of many crimes, but not the one these two accuse us of. If anything, arts coverage is too soft. Where there used to be just reviews, now there are features and previews as well. These are hardly ever unfavourable. Four Weddings and a Funeral sailed into British cinemas on Friday on an amazingly fair wind: news stories about its American takings, drooling profiles of Hugh Grant, even lifestyle features about weddings. Nothing wrong with that - as long we are allowed to combine all this puffery with the odd little corner where scepticism rules.

TO THE Royal Philharmonic Society Awards dinner, one of those dos where there are plenty of awards but very few winners there to collect them. They were singing in St Petersburg, touring the United States . . . and all credit to Sir Colin Davis (who got the conductor's award) for taking the trouble to fly in from Vienna and save the evening. But no credit to Bernard Haitink (recipient of the opera award) who was relatively speaking down the road, rehearsing at Glyndebourne, and still couldn't find time to turn up. It may be that awards ceremonies are two-a-penny these days, but the RPS does happen to be one of the most venerable music organisations in the world, and central to musical life in Britain since 1813. You'd have thought it would count for something.

ON 10 April my colleague James Rampton wrote a short history of TV series set at work, from accountants to undertakers. He concluded: 'May I propose a TV drama about a calling that has never been done before: poaching. Feel free to steal the idea.' He then had a call from leading producer Verity Lambert (Minder, GBH, Eldorado) saying she had no need to steal the idea; she already had a drama about a poacher in development. Which just goes to show (to poach a very old line) that there are no new ideas under the sun.