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Culture: Opera House chief defiant as entire board agrees to resign

The chairman and board of the Royal Opera House resigned yesterday following a damning Commons report. But the chief executive told David Lister, Arts News Editor, that she will be staying put.

Mary Allen refused last night to bow to the Commons committee's call that she should quit, as she saw her chairman, Lord Chadlington, and the entire board hand in their resignations.

Lord Chadlington, brother of the former Tory Cabinet minister John Gummer, said he was resigning as a matter of honour. The other directors tendered their resignations, but have been asked by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Chris Smith, to stay on while he reconstitutes the board.

Mr Smith is likely to ask key board members such as fund-raiser Vivien Duffield and Labour benefactor and publisher Bob Gavron to stay on. Mr Gavron may yet end up as the new chairman of the ROH.

Mrs Allen disclosed last night that she did offer to resign. But, she said, her offer was "emphatically and unanimously rejected by the board." She added that Mr Smith had told her at an afternoon meeting that it would be "disastrously destabilising" if she went, and that Covent Garden music director Bernard Haitink had also implored her to stay.

"It has been an appallingly upsetting few days," she said last night, "but I am staying. I offered my resignation because I thought it the proper thing to do, but it was rejected. The board is the only body empowered to require my resignation. I reject the criticisms of the select committee utterly and there is evidence that exonerates me totally."

Earlier this week, the Culture Select Committee, chaired by Gerald Kaufman MP, accused the ROH of incompetent management and called on the chairman, chief executive and board to resign. Yesterday Mr Kaufman hinted he was still not satisfied with two out of the three demands accomplished. He said: "Lord Chadlington has done the right thing. I take no pleasure in the fact that he has felt it appropriate to resign but I am sure that he has acted appropriately in doing so.

"The committee recommended that the remainder of the board and the chief executive should also resign, and we therefore await developments with interest."

Lord Chadlington told the board that he was resigning at an emergency meeting held at 8.30am yesterday. He had told friends just before the meeting that he was going "to do a Carrington".

This referred to Lord Carrington's decision to resign as Foreign Secretary from Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government over the Falklands War in 1982.

Lord Chadlington said yesterday: "When a public document criticises the management of a public body, I believe that it is right that the chairman resigns as a matter of honour. We must, in public life, show a lead, and that is what I am doing."

It is also believed that the board recognised that some sort of sacrifice must be made, and it is understood that no concerted attempt was made to stop Lord Chadlington going. the deputy chairman, Sir James Spooner, will be the acting chairman. The board gave Mary Allen "unanimous support" at its meeting yesterday.

Responding to yesterday's announcement, Mr Smith said: "The Royal Opera House board have come to this decision themselves; as an independent body. The absolute imperative ... is to maintain confidence in the Royal Opera House companies and in the redevelopment scheme. It is therefore welcome that the board has agreed to continue, to ensure stability, until a newly constituted board is in place.

"I join the Board of the Royal Opera House in paying tribute to the work of Lord Chadlington. He has sought to bring changes to the structure of the ROH. The new board will be able to build on this foundation."

The Culture Select Committee's report was withering in its condemnation of almost every person involved in the Royal Opera House crisis.

It demanded the Royal Opera House board dissolve itself and that Mary Allen resign, handing over control of the Opera House during its current pounds 216m renovation to an administrator appointed by Mr Smith.

"We would prefer to see the House run by a philistine with the requisite financial acumen than by the succession of opera and ballet lovers who have brought a great and valuable institution to its knees," it said.