ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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The Independent Culture
WHEN HISTORIANS look back on Britain in the 1980s and 1990s, one of the things that baffle them will be the fortunes of the BBC. The general picture is sketched by a more eloquent pen than mine on pages 16 and 17. The narrower picture gained another bizarre detail on Tuesday, when Sir Michael Checkland, the lame-duck Director-General, said that his chairman, Duke Hussey, was too old, and that it was 'absurd' to have a 21-month handover from himself to John Birt. He's certainly right on the second score, and it was good to hear him being so frank. But another of his remarks was less welcome. He said retiring governors should be replaced by 'younger people who listen to FM and have satellite dishes'. Younger, sure: the youngest of the present governors is Dr Jane Glover, at 43. FM listeners, maybe. But satellite dishes? Perhaps they should get dishes after becoming governors, to keep an eye on the opposition. But if they have them already, they may not be quite the people to fight the good fight against pap and drivel.

THE THEORY that the Whitbread Prize beats the Booker gained credence this week. I'm told the Booker jury almost put Michael Dibdin's latest thriller on their shortlist, but were swayed by the traditional snobbery towards genre fiction. Not so the Whitbreaders, who have named Robert Harris's Fatherland, a thriller set in a victorious Germany in 1964, as one of the year's best first novels. I picked it up at an airport bookstall the other day, and couldn't put it down. Its depth, invention and characterisation lift it well into the realm of literature.

It also looks a natural for the cinema: the plot is so tight, it'll barely need a screenplay. Harris tells me the book was rejected by some studios as being 'too grim': something that hasn't stopped it being a bestseller. The rights were bought by Mike Nichols, director of The Graduate and Working Girl, with a view to letting Chris Menaul, of Prime Suspect fame, direct it.

The trouble with liking a book this much is you worry about the casting of the film. Happily Nichols thinks the hero, a disaffected SS man, should be played by a European. 'The name he toyed with,' Harris says, 'was Anthony Hopkins. He's got the right soulful expression, the irony.' Though he'd be equally good as the lead villain. Who do you think should get the key roles? The usual bottle of champagne for the best dream cast.

CLASSIC FM, the station that is fast establishing itself as Radio 2 without the beat, has sent its DJs a memo, urging them to take more care when telling us what we have just heard. The station is embarrassed by the number of remarks along the lines of 'And that was Goldberg with his ever-popular Variations'. It shouldn't be. Since the novelty wore off, the only reason Classic FM has been written about is the gaffes. The main chronicler of them has been my eminent colleague on the Guardian, Smallweed, which is appropriate, as much of the Guardian's fame derives from its relaxed approach to proof-reading. Designed to appeal to the less informed punter, Classic FM is becoming a cult among classical- music pedants. And there are plenty of them to go round.

AND NOW, a special offer. Regular readers may recall my applauding The Music Catalogue, a new mail-order discount outlet with a brochure that doesn't just list each album, it shows the cover, in colour, and tells you about the music. The discount is about pounds 3 per CD. The brochure costs pounds 5, but, to pile discount upon discount, you can get it for pounds 3 (incl p&p), and receive three pounds 1 vouchers towards your purchases. Just ring The Music Catalogue on 0963 33636 and mention the IoS's name. One less excuse to pay full price.