ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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LAST WEEKEND, on Classic Countdown, Paul Gambaccini quietly announced changes in the way Classic FM's chart is compiled. Until now the chart has been open to all (classical) comers, regardless of price. So it's been a catholic mixture, as middlebrow as Classic FM itself. The deeply naff Classic Commercials jostled with the pretty respectable Veni Veni Emmanuel. But now, the criteria of the pop charts will be applied to classical music: CDs with a wholesale price of pounds 3.99 or less will be barred.

In the pop charts, this makes sense - new releases are always full-price (and don't we know it?) unless they're by Max Bygraves. CDs move down to the cheaper divisions only when they've exhausted demand at full price, usually years after release. But in the classical world, there are new releases at all prices, and the budget sector is big and getting bigger. In 1992 (the last full year for which figures are available), 29 per cent of classical sales were on budget labels, up from 20 per cent in 1990. But they only brought in 16 per cent of total revenue. It hardly needs saying that the banning of budget music suits the big record companies: with less competition, full-price albums will now get into the chart on fewer sales.

Classic FM's defence is that the old chart included some dross - recordings so poor that 'the person yelling 'Bravo' was louder than the person singing' - and it intends to play some budget music, alongside (not in) the new chart. But a lot of budget CDs are high-quality, and if they are bestsellers, the chart ought to say so.

IN HIS obituary of Kurt Cobain (last Sunday), my colleague Ben Thompson remarked on 'the plaintive roar of his voice, the brittle swagger of his guitar'. Next day the Daily Telegraph published its obituary, and alerted us to 'the plaintive roar of his voice - raw but impeccably pitched - and the brittle swagger of his guitar'. The writer, wisely, was anonymous.

TWO WEEKS ago, apropos of Philadelphia and The Remains of the Day, I noted that the cinema was portraying the upper classes in a harsh light, and asked for counter-examples. My editor, Ian Jack, has one: the Marquess of Exeter in Chariots of Fire. He is the fellow played by Nigel Havers who gets in trim for the Olympics by setting up some hurdles on his lawn and getting his butler to place a glass of champagne on each one. He is not unsympathetic, but neither is he heroic - he's in the film as light relief, a carefree counterpoint to the central characters of the driven Jew (Ben Cross) and the tortured Scot (Ian Charleson).

Others have mentioned the plucky toffs you find in war films, notably Noel Coward in In Which We Serve. Here we do find heroism. But that was an age ago and the fact that we are casting so far back only underlines the original point. Any other offers, from the past 20 years?

THERE is only one criterion for the next James Bond: toughness. Timothy Dalton was soft and actorish. Roger Moore was a Burton's mannequin. What made Sean Connery so good was his edge of steel. This rules out several alleged front-runners: Jason Connery, Pierce Brosnan, and the entire Merchant-Ivory white-suit crowd, but above all Hugh Grant.

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