ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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JUST WHEN you thought it was safe to open a newspaper, the topic of 'political correctness' has thudded back on to the presses. This is because Robert Hughes has written a book about it (The Culture of Complaint, OUP, 17 June, pounds 12.95). I have nothing against Hughes: he is an eminent art critic and undoubtedly one of the more gifted members of my family. But I wonder just what political correctness is and where one may find it. The answer to the second question is simple: not here, not while there's breath in Gloria Hunniford's body.

In America, with a new president dangerously to the left of Richard Nixon, and the vast legal industry sensing a whole new market, PC is a phenomenon. But if you define it as anti-sexism, anti-racism and so on taken to silly extremes, I see no evidence of it in Britain beyond the odd use of 'chairperson' by people who ought to know better but are scarcely doing serious harm. It is a fantasy, existing largely in the diseased minds of newspaper columnists who are striving to hide their illiberal impulses behind a cloak of individualism. In John Major's Britain the idea of an all-powerful liberal thought police sounds more like a dream than a nightmare.

THE NEWS that Michael Tilson Thomas is to stop being principal conductor of the LSO came as a surprise - he has only been in it for five years, and the LSO has rarely been on better form - but with hindsight, the signs were there. Last year both his parents died and he spent a lot of time crossing the Atlantic. Then he took a six-month sabbatical, partly to do some composition but equally (we now know) to ponder his future. And it was in his absence that the LSO made its biggest splash of recent years, in the Tender is the North festival, under the baton of . . . Sir Colin Davis, now named as his successor.

The LSO is stressing that its relationship with Tilson Thomas will continue: he'll become principal guest conductor. And Davis will no doubt be a popular appointment, ending years of semi-exile since his last big job in Britain, as Music Director of the Royal Opera, ended on a sour note. But one of the criticisms levelled then was that he was too self-effacing, and too yielding to visiting conductors, to maintain quality control. Assuming he won't want to make that mistake again, one wonders how much we'll really see of Tilson Thomas.

EARLIER in the year there was much hue and cry in the media, this corner not excluded, about the Town & Country Club, Kentish Town. The owners pulled the plug on the manager, Ollie Smith, and it looked as if London's best music venue would be no more. Then it emerged that the club was merely changing hands, with Smith giving way to Vince Power, of the Mean Fiddler and many venues besides. It was renamed the Forum, but otherwise continuity seemed the order of the day: it reopened with the same act that had closed the T&C (Van Morrison). Meanwhile the hue and cry faded.

So what's it like, this sort-of-new venue? I went along on Monday to find out (and hear P J Harvey). There's a shiny new floor downstairs which doesn't seem right, and an air of transition throughout. The revamping of the toilets is not yet complete, but the drinks tariff has been fully refurbished - a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale was up nearly 25 per cent. In fairness, the bars have gone upmarket too, and they remain more efficient than most, but why did they have to close the much-loved sweet-shop? Oh dear - I feel a campaign coming on . . .

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