Some nuptials and a cremation Will Heritage Secretary Stephen Dorrell become 1995's Mr Blobby? The year ahead in the Arts will be tricky, predicts Mark Lawson

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The Independent Culture
In the last couple of years, clear cultural patterns have begun to emerge. In every 12-month period, there is published a Number One bestselling volume of diaries by someone called Alan: Alan Clark in 1993, Alan Bennett in 1994. Also, one obscure figure rises to improbable celebrity purely as a result of the shape of their body: Mr Blobby in 1993, Elizabeth Hurley in 1994.

As a result, publishers are probably already asking the Arsenal striker Alan Smith and the relatives of the late Alan Ladd whether there happen to be any diaries hanging around the house.

And anyone worried that their impact on the Arts in 1995 may be limited by the fact that they aren't planning to do very much can relax. There's still the possibility of you becoming this year's cultural "icon".

As we look to the year ahead, some people believe that - by being obscure and not doing very much - the Heritage Secretary Stephen Dorrell may himself be a candidate for the Blobby / Hurley role this time. One of the most easily predictable bits of artistic business this year is an energetic market in jokes about Dorrell's apparent lack of interest in the Arts. Certainly no other arts minister has been less open to accusations of using the position as a source of free tickets.

This is a complicated matter. No one expects a defence minister to have a tank in their back garden or a health secretary to have their appendix removed every Tuesday, but the artistic community requires its man to be a keen consumer. However, Dorrell i

s pursuing two wider agendas. The first is to distinguish the new Department of Heritage from the old Arts Ministry. It is clear that, for Dorrell, the National Lottery and television are higher priorities than the draughty-church-hall kind of arts.

Equally important is that Dorrell is the first future Tory leadership contender to be given this post - it has generally been considered a retirement home and advancement in the modern Conservative Party has depended in recent years on upsetting and frustrating your ministerial clients. Kenneth Clarke's rise past the howls of teachers and nurses is the great example. Accordingly, impoverished theatre companies should not expect the Secretary of State to be hurt by jokes about putting on productions of Waiting for Dorrell . . . The more they hate him, the more the party will love him.

In theatre, the sub-text of the year's events is likely to be coronations. Any production by a younger director - and, in particular, Sam Mendes, Nicholas Hytner and Stephen Daldry - will be interpreted by critics and theatre professionals largely in terms of its impact on their starting price to take over from Richard Eyre when he retires as artistic director of the National Theatre in three years' time.

The hierarchy of living English playwrights will also come under intense discussion. There are new works by the two main contenders for the title of star national dramatist: Tom Stoppard, whose Indian Ink opens in February, and David Hare, whose Skylightcan be seen from May. There will also be retrospective examination of Alan Bennett - last year's star diarist - in his original incarnation of playwright. His 1971 work Getting On is being revived at Leeds and his 1980 West End flopEnjoy gets a second chance in Nottingham.

The most intriguing theatrical indicator will be how far the West End run of Kevin Elyot's My Night with Reg, which opened in November, extends into 1995. This will be the proof of whether the gay play - last year's triumphant theatrical genre - can achieve mainstream commercial success.

In television, this will almost certainly be regarded as a poor year for comedy; an inevitability because 1994, seeing the apotheosis of Steve Coogan and Armando Iannucci, has been entered in the ledgers as a great one. The announcement by Iannucci - theproducer behind The Day Today and Knowing Me, Knowing You - that he is taking a year off shows a sophisticated understanding of the rules of comedy success. The three stages of comedic greatness can be summarised as: not as funny as the last lot; the funniest thing ever; not as funny as they used to be. Iannucci and the boys are trying to avoid, or delay, the hat-trick.

At the BBC, sightings of John Birt, the director general, have been as infrequent as those of Stephen Dorrell in the coffee bar of the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs. Since his success last summer when the Government renewed the BBC's charter largely unchanged, Birt has kept a low profile. A colleague recently remarked that the DG "sees himself as like Batman now, leaving things to others, but ready to go into action in a crisis". (Presumably a special "Birtphone" on his desk summons him to deal with suchtroubles.) There are still persistent rumours that Birt is beginning to think of a future beyond the BBC, and the succession jostling may begin in 1995.

The deputy director general, Bob Phyllis, would expect to take over. However, an external dark horse may be Richard Eyre, who has run another great liberal institution, the National Theatre, and also has BBC experience, having been an executive in the drama department.

In the literary world, the year ahead is likely to be a tricky one for Martin Amis. Unusually, his career actually began with a backlash - as young Martin was the sexy son of a famous writer - before achieving canonisation. Now the second backlash is brewing and will attend the publication of his new novel, The Information. The reviews and prize-nominations should be fine - everyone who has read even part of the work regards it as superb - but the feature coverage will be vast and vicious. The fa

v ourite subjects of modern interviewers - sex and money - are opened up by Amis's marriage break-up and his demand for a £500,000 advance for the new book.

In fact, the whole year is Christmas for literary journalists because Amis's new consort, Isabella Fonseca, also has a book out: Bury Me Standing, a study of gypsies. It's a safe prediction that Ms Fonseca will receive more interview requests than any other first-time author, but she should not delude herself that this is entirely the result of gypsymania.

Apart from Amis's eighth novel, this is the year of the second novel: Peter Hoeg, Adam Thorpe, Jeff Torrington, Gordon Burn and Hanif Kureishi - who all produced prize-winners or best-sellers first time out - will discover if the critics will eat up their seconds with as much relish.

In cinema, a notable number of the year's early American imports are concerned with showbusiness itself. These include Altman's Pret-a-Porter, about the fashion industry, which has just been retitled Ready to Wear for American tongues; Tim Burton's Ed Wood, a biopic about an eccentric Hollywood director; and Robert Redford's Quiz Show, about the famous American game-show-rigging scandal of the Fifties. The latter will prove an irresistible peg for discussion of modern media ethics.

If American film is looking inward, British movies will look imitative. Every single new film will be sold - either to potential investors or prospective audiences - as "the new Four Weddings and a Funeral". Many will also steal the plot. Prepare to watch films with titles or scenarios like Some Nuptials and a Cremation or Joined for Life and Separated for Eternity.

In the field of visual arts, the expectation is that the new year will see the closest involvement between culture and the constabulary since E M Forster went out with a policeman. The increasing problem of art theft by organised crime syndicates will force big public galleries to spend more money on Chubbs for the doors than Stubbs for the walls.

While Interpol concentrates on that, local forces seem likely to be dealing with more art terrorism along the lines of last year's desecration of Damien Hirst's sheep in formaldehyde. It's no wonder that so many modern artists - such as Rachel Whiteread and Anthony Gormley - work in vandal-proof concrete.

More print terrorism against restoration and verification has also been promised, so galleries may not be the place for a quiet afternoon.

OLD LAWSON'S ALMANAC January In a dramatic development in the battle between innovators and conservatives in art, Rachel Whiteread makes a concrete impression of the critic Brian Sewell and forgets to take him out before the cement sets.

March BBC1 unveils Crocker, in which Hugh Laurie plays a very thin Welsh criminal psychologist.

May In a movie seen as a summation of his career's concerns, Sir Richard Attenborough directs and stars in Miracle on Wardour St, a parable about a white-bearded hero who revives the British film industry.

July In her second volume of memoirs, Lady Thatcher strongly supports John Major. "It is not for me to agree with those millions who regard him as an incompetent who has ruined my achievements," she writes.

September Continuing the trend for movies based on TV shows - Batman, Maverick, Mission Impossible - Tarantino directs Last of the Summer Wine. UK censors cut the decapitation of Compo and gang-rape of Nora Batty.

October David Mellor hosts shows simultaneously on all national TV channels. "This gives the lie to those who say constituents get no chance to see me," the MP for Putney remarks.

December Tony Blair changes his party's name to the Conservatives. "This is a matter of nuance," he tells Breakfast with Frost. "Our core values remain intact."