ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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LAST MONTH I was bemoaning the plight of London City Ballet. Now I hear the company is saved - almost. Faced with a shameful lack of interest from the Arts Council, director Harold King has managed to raise the pounds 300,000 needed to keep the show on the road for another year. The board of trustees, however, is being cautious. 'The board wants to make sure that the offers of sponsorship are more than promises,' King says. 'It wants the money in the bank before it is prepared to make an announcement.'

The trustees could pull the plug tomorrow if they are not satisfied, but for King it is business as usual. The 34 dancers are rehearsing Coppelia for a national tour in four weeks' time. But because of the uncertainty, no publicity material has been printed, except for local listings. King says the company has built such a following in the regions that the bookings are 'healthy'. In the pipeline is a Save the London City Ballet gala at the Grosvenor House Hotel on 29 November, which, King hopes, will add pounds 60,000 to the coffers. The sting in the tale is that he will probably then be held up by the Arts Council as a model of self-funding, and will be condemned to go on living from hand to mouth. Still, I shall go to the ball.

FURTHER evidence of how the BBC's Producer Choice is working, or not (C&W, passim), comes from a reader at World Service Television, the branch of the Beeb set up to rival CNN as a supplier of satellite news to the global village. Its programmes, I'm told by friends in far-flung places, are right up to the standards we associate with its radio counterpart. Its management practices, however, are right down to the standards we associate with John Birt and Duke Hussey's BBC.

WSTV comes under the aegis of BBC Enterprises, not BBC TV News and Current Affairs, but it has its newsroom at TV Centre in Wood Lane, as N&CA does. Wood Lane, naturally, has a news cuttings service, to help reporters with research. But WSTV people are not allowed to use it, because Producer Choice demands that there is a 'service-level agreement' in place before one department can get anything from another, and there isn't one here. So if they want some cuttings, they have to ring their colleagues on the radio side of the World Service, over at Bush House, who then fax them across - thereby not only wasting precious time, but diverting precious funds into the already swollen coffers of British Telecom.

To pile on the absurdity, the WSTV office is directly below the Wood Lane cuttings library. As Patsy Cline would have said: crazy. My source wins a bottle of champagne. Please keep 'em coming.

THE MAIN question our campaign has always asked is: why do CDs cost so much more here than in the United States? As the American price - about dollars 15 (pounds 10 or so) for a chart disc, dollars 18 (pounds 12.20) for older ones - is a good deal lower than the price here, it didn't occur to us to question whether even the price over there might be too high. And American music-lovers have long bought many more CDs per capita than we do, which suggests that they consider the price reasonable. But do they?

I am indebted to J Docherty, a reader who was recently on holiday in the States, for a cutting from USA Today, the country's only national paper. It reports that there is an 'escalating war' between record companies and some of the big chains of record shops, which have found that they can do a booming business in secondhand CDs. The average secondhand price is dollars 8 - less than a fiver. Garth Brooks, the recently crowned king of country music, is so outraged by this that he has banned the shops concerned from stocking his new album.

The shops retort that they are merely giving people what they want. Asked why his used CDs were selling, one Texas shopkeeper told USA Today: 'It's the price, stupid. You think a CD's worth dollars 18? Not many customers do, either.' My Texan is not fluent, but I think this translates as: don't pay full price if you can help it, even if you're in America.

PREPARING for Edinburgh, where I shall be next week, I come across a worrying statistic. Of the 571 groups on the Fringe, 180 are from Greater London. No great surprise there. But precisely two are from Northern Ireland. This is the same number as India. Odd, when you think of Ulster's historic links with Scotland, and proximity to it. Can anyone explain?