Arts: A week in the arts

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Indy Lifestyle Online
For all the sound and fury coming out of the House of Commons Culture select committee looking at the Royal Opera House this week, the most fascinating piece of evidence was a written submission, sandwiched between a pile of papers. It was the confidential Civil Service minute of the meeting in the summer between the Culture Secretary Chris Smith, Lord Chadlington, ROH chairman, and his fellow board member and Labour Party benefactor Bob Gavron.

Such papers are never normally made available for public perusal, and give a rare Yes Minister insight into how government really works. According to the Secretary of State's Private Secretary, (actually an Emma, but Yes Minister fans can codename her Bernard) Lord Chadlington explained how he wanted to replace Genista McIntosh, who was suffering from ill health, with Mary Allen, secretary general of the Arts Council, "and she had indicated her enthusiasm for the post". They wanted the Secretary of State's approval "circumventing the necessity to advertise and interview".

Then we begin to get repeated mentions of a phrase which is pure Sir Humphrey. Lord Chadlington "acknowledged the potential presentational problems appointing Ms Allen could throw up". The Secretary of State, writes Emma/Bernard, "expressed reservations about the presentation of the situation".

Such phrases are Emma/Bernard words for "it don't look good." They were right. It doesn't. But one hankers for the days, if they ever existed, when our leaders were concerned only with whether an appointment was proper and good, not with whether it looked so.

The Q awards on Tuesday brought together two former adversaries, Sir Paul McCartney and record producer Phil Spector, whose name is not to be mentioned in the McCartney presence. Beatle students may recall that Spector was brought in by John Lennon to produce the Let It Be album in 1970, and McCartney was less than happy with the results. The two have not spoken since and Sir Paul can still terrify employees by musing aloud that some mistake they made reminds him of Phil Spector. Well, the rift does not appear to have healed. On Tuesday, just as Mr Spector was receiving a special achievement award, Sir Paul very publicly left the room. "He had to go, he is making a video," said his spokesman. But during Mr Spector's moment of glory? "It was," said the spokesman curtly, "an opportune time to leave." Let It Be. Like hell.

Cathy Graham, the enterprising managing director of the London Sinfonietta, had a novel suggestion to make to Nicholas Snowman, director of the South Bank Centre, at a lunch I attended. She said that if the South Bank gets lottery money for its redevelopment scheme - and with its unfashionably small deficit and Richard Rogers's eyecatching glass roof plan, some sort of compromise award remains a probability - she would like the Sinfonietta to play the farewell concert even as the builders begin work. It would be called, she said, "The Demolition Concerto".

It was a serious proposal, in line with what happened at the Royal Court Theatre, where the last performance before rebuilding had a man knocking down the wall in the script. It should be a proviso for all lottery redevelopment schemes that the last work performed should somehow be themed. I don't know exactly what Ms Graham has in mind. But why not a classical concert in the style of Pete Townshend of the Who, with the cellists smashing their instruments on to the concrete walkways, (and, with luck, breaking the latter) and the conductor throwing his baton into the Thames?

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