Coales' Notes: Prize flaws

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The Independent Culture
MONDAY Today I found this memo from Fiona on my desk:

'To all staff:

Staff may be aware that today is the 350th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's 'discovery' of 'America'. Unlike some other arts bodies, the Wormwood Centre will not be marking this occasion. Staff are therefore requested to go about their work entirely as normal. No reference should be made to Columbus or his voyage in the course of the day. Should any member of the public make an enquiry about Columbus, staff are advised to reply: 'Who? I am sorry, I have not heard of him' - or similar words of their own choice.'

I mentioned this to Bob. Apparently Fiona feels strongly about this issue. Now that I have taken a back-seat on the programming side of things, I'm unwilling to interfere too much. But I said I was uncertain about anything which gave the public the impression that they were more intelligent than our staff.

It struck me later, though, that perhaps this was actually a good move, an antidote to the usual know-it-all approach. I decided to continue the experiment. I have circulated a memo for tomorrow, requesting staff to profess complete ignorance of the Booker Prize.

TUESDAY At lunchtime, I strolled down to William Hill and put pounds 10 on David Lodge, as I do every year. I was later amazed to discover that - quite inexplicably - Lodge had not been included on the shortlist this year. One no longer knows where one is with the Booker. I was too embarrassed to demand a refund from the bookie.

I watched the TV coverage with little interest. As Rowena remarked: 'Everyone looks mad.' This is the problem with arts television. I'm sure it was no accident that it was while I was appearing on local TV last month that I suffered my collapse. My system instinctively took evasive action.

THURSDAY I've sent an advertisement to the Herald, inviting applications for an audient-in-residence. I think we should aim for someone local. No doubt it will attract quite a few applicants with three heads. But if you are seriously breaking down barriers, this is the risk you run.

FRIDAY Now I am in a difficult dilemma. Today I had a phone conversation with a producer from an independent production company (Wall Eye Television) which is interested in making a programme about the Centre.

It would, he explained, be a kind of fly-on-the-wall-think- piece, with 'a good subjective-objective mix' and 'a musical structure' - 'but naturally we want your story at the heart of it.'

I asked if it would be accessible? He said: 'I'm thinking accessible-inaccessible. I mean not heavy heavy, but not light light. For what it's worth, a word I like using is 'symbiotic'.'

The programme would be called 'The Centre' or possibly just 'Centre'. He said: 'I'll be absolutely straight with you, Gordon. The programme, as we originally conceived it, was going to be about a job centre, or maybe a garden centre.' But then he had read about us during the recent controversy, and he had thought: 'Why not - an arts centre?' He said he was interested in the concept of a centre.

I agreed to give him an answer soon. He seems a very confused person. On the other hand, it is imperative to show the world that our door is absolutely open, and it would be an ideal opportunity to explain some of my ideas to a national audience.

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