Bragg: 'Foolish senior citizens of culture' are out of touch

Critics who claim the arts in Britain are being dumbed down are "foolish senior citizens of culture", the broadcaster Melvin Bragg said yesterday. He maintained they were taking a narrow and blinkered "Mary Whitehouse view" of art.

Critics who claim the arts in Britain are being dumbed down are "foolish senior citizens of culture", the broadcaster Melvin Bragg said yesterday. He maintained they were taking a narrow and blinkered "Mary Whitehouse view" of art.

Before picking off a few of his targets one by one, Lord Bragg said at the launch of the 25th South Bank Show series: "I don't think they know what they're talking about in the most straightforward sense."

A steady stream of ageing great and the good has led the chorus of disapproval over supposedly falling standards in British art. They include the author Sir Vidia Naipaul, the managing director of the Barbican centre, John Tusa, the former Radio 3 controller Sir John Drummond, the former MP and journalist George Walden and the former Royal Shakespeare Company producer and director Michael Kustow.

Mr Tusa criticised the BBC for suggesting arts programming could be transferred toniche channels and Mr Walden bemoaned a culture that saw "Stephen Fry as another Oscar Wilde ... and Damien Hirst as another Duchamp".

Sir Vidia (previously VS) claimed the Government was letting down the arts. Lord Bragg said of Sir Vidia: "He is on record as saying he doesn't read contemporary novels. My guess is he doesn't go to the theatre very often and he probably doesn't watch TV.

"As a commentator on contemporary culture I just don't trust him. I don't think he knows what's going on."

He said Sir John undoubtedly knew about opera and classical music, but added the arts is "a big field now".

"You don't know what's going to turn up and these guys are not looking widely enough to find it."

Lord Bragg said they were like the morals campaigner Mary Whitehouse - "someone who could hail a headline like you could hail a taxi" - in criticising things they had not seen. "I believe they're like that - they know not about what they speak and, in my book, that's a crime."

Lord Bragg said his programmes "deliberately put classical and popular cheek by jowl. In 100 years' time the voice of the young Presley might well be treasured above the voice of the young Pavarotti." In keeping with his philosophy, the new series of The South Bank Show will include high-brow culture as well as profiles of contemporary music stars such as the guitarist Carlos Santana and the singer Tom Jones, both of whom are now enjoying a new flush of success.

The Happy Days television actor turned film director, Ron Howard, and the new Ben Elton-Andrew Lloyd Webber musical The Beautiful Game also feature in the new series.

Lord Bragg's attack follows much sniping against him by the "old guard", which has referred to him, sneeringly, as "Mel B" or "Lord Spice".

Mr Tusa has been particularly critical. Sir John Drummond - who reserves most of his venom for the Birt regime at the BBC - sees Lord Bragg as a part of it.

Lord Bragg's affable relationship with New Labour also brings him into the gunsight of the critics.

Mr Tusa vehemently denounces the Blair government for an allegedly shallow, opportunistic attitude to culture.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test