Dome organisers send their First XI out to bat

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The Independent Online
Organisers of the Millennium Dome yesterday unveiled the line- up of celebrities and experts who will advise them on what should go inside the controversial exhibition. Members of the committee, dubbed the "Litmus Group", range from the children's entertainer Floella Benjamin and film producer Lord Puttnam to experts from the arts, sciences and broadcasting.

The team, known as the Creative Review Group, will be responsible for advising organisers on the "coherence, quality, entertainment and educational potential" of plans for the structure. New Millennium Experience Company chief executive Jennie Page said: "We are delighted that ... we can call on the best in the business in terms of making sure our creative ideas have genuine popular appeal at the same time as intellectual bite." The group, whose members are unpaid, has so far met three times, and is expected to meet on a monthly basis until the Dome opens in 2000.

The team includes:

r Floella Benjamin - children's TV presenter and actress.

r Sir Neil Cossons - director of the Science Museum.

r Professor Christopher Frayling - rector, Royal College of Art.

r Simon Jenkins - millennium commissioner and newspaper columnist.

r Michael Jolly - chairman and chief executive of The Tussauds Group.

r Lord Puttnam - chairman of Enigma Productions.

r John Sorrell - chairman, the Design Council.

r Lord Rogers - Dome architect.

r Mike Davies - Millennium project director at the Richard Rogers Partnership.

r Michael Grade - former head of Channel Four, chairman of First Leisure Corporation.

r Ruth Mackenzie - general director of Scottish Opera.

Mr Grade and Ms Mackenzie are also members of the NMEC board. Ms Page said the group was an informal arrangement and more members were likely to be added.

She said the team would be reviewing plans for all areas of the exhibition. Other experts are also being called in as "witnesses" to advise on specific attractions or services. Among these will be the panel of children to give a young person's view. The BBC's Director of Television, Alan Yentob, is also being brought in to advise on the broadcasting potential of the opening night of the Dome and the year-long exhibition.

Plans so far are for the BBC to broadcast the opening on 31 December 1999. The BBC is also working with the NMEC to create the Millennium Memory Bank of oral histories which will form one feature of the exhibition.

Fears that BT was about to withdraw pounds 12m sponsorship were dismissed yesterday by Peter Mandelson, Minister without Portfolio, who told the Commons prospects for private sector investment in the pounds 750m project remained strong. He said he had spoken to Sir Peter Bonfield, chief executive of BT, who had said: "No, we are certainly not going to pull out." The reason why the company was not going to pull out, Mr Mandelson said, was because BT was not "a company of the old school, of the old Britain, unconfident and unambitious" - but rather a "company of the future - confident and vibrant - like the new Britain".

The question session produced so much criticism that Barry Sheerman, a Labour supporter of the scheme, later protested to the Speaker about the lack of balance in the questions asked. Among critics, Dennis Skinner asked whether "Heseltine's Folly" had passed the point of no return at which the money could be spent instead on a millennium hospital.

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