Feast of free tickets on offer at the capital's cultural epicentre

A chef has the recipe for bums on seats, reports David Lister
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The Independent Online
Along a corridor, behind the bins is London's cultural heartland.

From these kitchens at University College Hospital, a stone's throw from the West End, tickets have been distributed by a chef, Frank Raulston, for symphonic concerts, opera performances, Shakespeare productions and blockbuster musicals.

When The Independent telephoned the kitchens at the hospital and asked for Mr Raulston, the person who answered the telephone said: "He's not here. Are you after tickets?"

But speaking from his home yesterday Mr Raulston, who was reluctant to be interviewed and refused to be photographed, said: "I don't make any money out of this. What I do get is the pleasure of going to concerts. Sponsors of concerts do not want to sit in their boxes and look down on empty seats so the organisations use me and others like me to fill up the halls.

"They have used me for 12 years because I guarantee bums on seats. Never say that it's impossible for one person to fill up a theatre.

"I deal with about five hospitals and give tickets to social clubs to distribute. It means that nurses and other employees are very lucky The orchestras have to give them to someone and nurses are put down as a deserving cause. Doing this has turned me into a music fan. But I have to sit through a lot of crap as well.

"The concert people don't like it known that a show would, in fact, have a small audience if tickets were just sold normally. But for some of this modern stuff that the Arts Council insists on, they can't get people interested. When the CBSO came to London with Simon Rattle I had to paper the house."

A former official with one symphony orchestra said yesterday: "It's a fact of life that this chap in some hospital basement is getting hundreds and hundreds of tickets.

"We would give him tickets for every concert with a relatively unknown programme or relatively unknown conductor. Sometimes 30 per cent of the house was filled in this way. We had doubts about it, but the competition did it so we had little choice."

The influx of tickets has become the talk of the hospital. One doctor said yesterday: "A lot of tickets seem to come in. We are continually being offered seats for concerts and for opera."

A spokesman for University College Hospital said yesterday: "It seems that we just get batches of complimentary tickets. As they become available they are sent through to our hospital volunteers' organisation and to our social club. They are free. We are not aware of any money changing hands."