Dear Stephen Dorrell

To the Heritage Secretary, who can't remember when he last saw a British film: some helpful crib notes from an arts pundit
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Last week, you revealed that you couldn't remember the last time you saw a British film. This presumably makes you the only person in Britain not to have seen Four Weddings and Funeral, which is an interesting distinction to hold, particularly in view ofyour job. There'll be a plaque on the door if you've forgotten. Have a look. You're the Heritage Secretary, responsible for the arts.

The remark last week was, though, merely the latest in a series of these cheerfully philistine pronouncements. Shortly after your appointment, you revealed that you had no "particular cultural interests". Although I think I understand what you're doing -applying to the arts lobby the hard-faced "objectivity" Kenneth Clarke practised with the teachers and the nurses - it's a risky strategy. Although nobody expects the Transport Minister to have a train-set, conventional wisdom does require the arts supremo to be a man of culture.

You've obviously set your mind against actually consuming any of the stuff, but I think I can help you with a damage-limitation excerise.

Here is a bluffer's guide to popular culture: a few phrases to be dropped in to conversation with artists, lobbyists and journalists. I have numbered them, but you may employ them in any order or combination. For your convenience, I have included in brackets the cultural interest referred to. When necessary, phonetic pronunciation is also given.

1) "Tarantino [Tar-an-teen-o] is clearly a great visual stylist, but his films have no moral centre..." (Cinema)

2) "I thought Kenneth Baker pioneered the `wet look' hair-do years ago..." (Royal fashion)

3) "This wretched chesty 'flu is everywhere. Poor Sofie Von Otter [as in small furry animal] had to drop out of Der Rosenkavalier at the Garden on Saturday night..." (Opera)

4) "It was quite well done, although there wouldn't have been flesh on that hand after two years. Now there'll be a long trial for Mandy. Apparently, Beth wants to leave the series in the summer, anyway..." (Television - Brookside)

5) "Incredible number of applicants. In fact, there seem to be more people who want to edit the Observer than want to read it..." (Newspapers)

6) "The central issue raised by Blasted and by `victim art' is the function of shock tactics in culture. Is the public being shaken out of its complacency and igorance or are middle-class arts consumers merely congratulating themselves on their own lack of complacency and ignorance?..." (Theatre/Art)

7) "I think Byatt's new book raises fascinating questions about the genre of fairytale in the modern day..." (Literature)

8) "The cancellation of Anderson Country and Danny Baker's falling audiences at Radio One suggest that overall station-idenity is far more important in radio these days than the cult of the individual presenter. Now if they'd only get rid of David Mellor's show..." (Radio/"Wireless")

Take your pick. Correctly used, these eight phrases will, I think, bring you the illusion of expertise without the burden of experience.

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