ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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The Independent Culture
BACK IN the days of the Soviet Union, Oleg Vinogradov, the artistic director of the Kirov Ballet, observed that directors of Western ballet companies were like 'squirrels in a cage scrabbling for money'. These days, he's probably joined their ranks. And if he's ever in need of advice, one man who can tell him all about being a squirrel is Harold King, artistic director of London City Ballet, founded in 1978, and forced to close through lack of funds on 3 July. LCB is, says King, a victim of its own success. In the Eighties, the Arts Council regarded the company as an example to others of how to raise funds. Then came the recession. This is the second time in two years that King has had to go around town cap in hand. There may be a reprieve - ADT has offered pounds 150,000 and, out of the blue, the widow of Sander Gorlinsky, the impresario and agent, has also pledged pounds 150,000 - but the company still needs another pounds 50,000 to make the season viable. For King, it is a race against time: the 60 or so dancers return from holiday in a month, and he would like them have jobs to come home to. Not surprisingly, he is bitter. The Arts Council has never been a great friend to LCB, and told King it cannot be seen to be giving him cash while it is closing orchestras in London. But King has bent over backwards to fulfill Arts Council requirements; the company has improved, it has an interesting repertory and tours parts of the country no other classical company reaches. We should wish him luck.

IN THE course of researching the Lives of the Great Songs series (see Richard Williams on 'Fever', page 22), some of my colleagues have chanced upon one of the capital's hidden treasures. The National Sound Archive has rather a formal, academic ring about it, but this unassuming building just along from the Science Museum is an aural cornucopia - and not just for its wildlife and industro-mechanical sound collections. The Listening & Viewing Service offers free access, by appointment (071- 589 6603), to the Archive's collection of almost a million records. It's hard to believe but helpful assistants will track down that old Sham 69 song which has been echoing round your mind for the past decade, and let you listen to it as many times as you want. I bring it to your attention because this is just the sort of resource that is the mark of a civilised country, so a funding review is almost certainly in progress somewhere. Speaking of which . . .

A FORTNIGHT is a long time in showbusiness. Two Sundays ago, I appealed to readers inside the BBC to send in examples of how Producer Choice is, or is not, working. Since then, of course, the argument over the way the corporation is being run has become front-page news. The stakes were raised by the public pronouncements - first reported in this newspaper - of Mark Tully, one of the BBC's most respected employees. Tully's claim that 'many of the staff feel there is some sort of Big Brother watching them' is certainly borne out by the many letters I have received, virtually all of which are prefaced by words to the effect: 'I wish I could be more specific, but if it were traced back to me . . .' Among the specific instances of bureaucratic nonsense we have received, however, there are some gems. Like the BBC radio presenter who wanted to use a particular person's voice in a programme, but was unable to do so because the BBC television library wanted to charge pounds 50 for tapping the person's name into the computer. The reason? There was no 'trading agreement' between the two departments. Or the interviewee who was refused the train fare to London, where studio time had been booked, forcing the programme-maker to use the local BBC studio instead. The train fare? pounds 19.50. The cost of the studio? Three times that. More please.