Arts notebook

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The evergreen revue Fascinating Aida on Thursday mused on the oddities of language, describing the beverage Horlicks as "a racy name for a rather bland drink". Earlier in the day there were considerably greater liberties taken with the English language by the Arts Council, a bland name for an increasingly racy organisation. Lord Gowrie, its chairman, trying to point out his political neutrality described himself operatically as "quango castrata", an epithet which should accompany him throughout his tenure.

But the more remarkable linguistic games were played at the Council's launch of its lottery "stabilisation" fund which, among other things, will help pay the debts of companies in trouble. Gowrie pretty much gave the game away when, to glares from his colleagues, he confided that he had lost the battle over this fund's nomenclature. He had wanted to call it the "Phoenix Fund". To admit that lottery ticket buyers were helping ailing companies rise from the dead rather than stabilising creative successes undergoing temporary blips might have been political suicide.

But this was not the end of the linguistic puzzles. The English National Opera and other stabilised companies could have their money only on the condition that Arts Council and other experts were brought in to advise them on their future financial plans. That this supposedly radical departure was meant to be the role of the Council already in its regular appraisals and contact with its clients seemed to have been forgotten. But if it takes forgetfulness and language changes and a measure of stealth to use lottery money for revenue funding of the arts rather than just spending the money on new buildings, then I for one won't argue with it.

And what of the word "commercial"? The Donmar Warehouse, a commercial theatre in central London, was given pounds 150,000 of public money on Thursday. That should be applauded. The work of director Sam Mendes there is exciting and must be sustained, even if the Arts Council moves away from its traditional remit to do so. My only quibble with this is that Sam Mendes is a member of the Council's own drama panel. There is no impropriety here. He leaves the room when his theatre is discussed. But the perception of a very large and unusual grant going to one of the Council's own is not a healthy one. And perceptions are important, another word the Council would do well to mull over.

The WH Smith Literary Award announced its shortlist this week. It includes the usual suspects, Margaret Attwood, Seamus Deane, Graham Swift etc. But the prize marks a break with precedent. A guest judge, Nick Hornby, will join the other judges, John Carey, Lucy Hughes-Hallett and Hilary Mantel, for the final judging session. While the last three will have laboured over more than 100 books, the author of Fever Pitch and High Fidelity will have to read only six between Arsenal fixtures and will be present for the controversy of the final session and the slap-up meal and ceremony to follow. This, I suspect, is likely to catch on rapidly. Watch as the plethora of book prizes move to having industry figures reading books over the year and big-name guest judges being wooed for the publicity of the final session, and barely a week's reading to detain them.

A brochure from the Palace Theatre, Southend-on-Sea, advertises a new musical Dancing in the Street, an evening of nostalgia set on the night of 30 July 1966 when England won the World Cup. It features such pop classics as "Jumping Jack Flash", "Hi-Ho Silver Lining" and "I'm a Believer". This play presumably recounts the adventures of a group of football supporting clairvoyants, as none of the aforementioned songs had been released when England won the World Cup. I looked up what was top of the charts just before the World Cup started. It was Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night". On second thoughts, let's allow the Palace Theatre its dramatic licence.

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