ARTS / Cries & Whispers

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
THE presenters of The Late Show have long taken flak. Some of it may even have come from this quarter. (Let's face it, Sarah Dunant did not select those glasses in order not to be talked about.) Now I take it back. Dunant's earnestness, Michael Ignatieff's way-beyond-earnestness, Tracey Macleod's reluctance to deviate from prepared questions, Mark Lawson's shaving policy, Kirsty Walk's imitation of Rory Bremner imitating John Smith: all forgiven. Because at least they weren't Melvyn Bragg.

It's not that there's anything particularly wrong with Bragg. It's that there's already quite enough of him to go round. For as long as anyone can remember, he has been editor and presenter of the only regular arts programme on ITV, The South Bank Show. He is also helmsman of Start the Week, a Radio 4 programme which offers dinner-table conversation after breakfast, but which is none the less something of a national institution. And he is frontperson of the National Campaign for the Arts - that's the organisation that got the entire membership of Equity to attend a protest meeting on Tuesday.

One of the reasons for watching The Late Show is that it is not The South Bank Show. So why is it suddenly employing the captain of the opposing team? 'We use a lot of guest presenters,' says Late Show editor Mike Poole. 'And Melvyn already works for the BBC doing Start the Week.' Yes, but that's a different medium. 'Yes, but The South Bank Show isn't a direct competitor to The Late Show.' Oh well, then, that's all right.

THE Arts Council's so-called rationalisation of the London orchestras is meant to be an exercise in saving money; or, at least, spending it more efficiently. So I trust the Council appreciates the costs it is occasioning while everybody's future hangs in the balance. To begin with, the orchestras have had to put together elaborate submissions which have taken weeks of manpower and thousands of pounds in legal fees (the Council, remember, has handed the whole issue over to a High Court judge). Then there has been a fall-off in sponsorship (no business wants to back a potential loser). Now the Philharmonia has just lost a deal that would have given its administrators two years' rent-free accommodation, because it can't make the necessary commitment. Instead the orchestra has had to renew the lease on its current offices. which, according to managing director David Whelton, has cost it pounds 20,000. Needlessly.

THE connection between CDs and rot is well known. Put simply, it is that the people who produce CDs talk a lot of rot about how much they cost. Now, a closer link is suggested. A couple of record collectors have found that some of their CD singles are rotten. They mean literally so: the cardboard packing rots, and the disc goes a funny colour and won't play any more. The problem only occurs in discs made by one plant at a certain time. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have any force as a metaphor. And lest we forget, there is still the prediction of a few years ago that the majority of CDs will decompose after eight to 10 years. This came from the then commercial director of Nimbus, the CD manufacturer. Another reason, if one were needed, for not paying full price if you can help it.

MEAT LOAF is No 1 at the moment, with a typically terse and poetic number, 'I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)'. He's been there six weeks, and has at least seen off Bryan Adams. He is also selling LPs by the ton: whenever he drops off the top of the album chart, he bobs back again a week later. His comeback has aroused little comment. What there has been - for instance, from my learned friend Ben Thompson - has been indulgent. Has no one noticed that the music is trite, bombastic, and shows no progress in the 16 years since Bat out of Hell? The Meat is off; the Loaf is stale. It is a poor reflection on us that we still fall for him.