New sacking drama at Opera House

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The Independent Online
THE DRAMAS at the Royal Opera House resumed yesterday as two of its key management figures were sacked.

Keith Cooper, the director of sales and broadcasting, who became something of a cult figure in the BBC fly on the wall documentary The House, was told to leave, as was director of finance Richard Hall.

Ironically, Mr Cooper emerged in the BBC series as an aesthetic hatchet man, sacking staff or hinting darkly that they were not "intelligent enough" for the job. With his studied good looks, designer suits and mercurial changes of mood, he began to receive fan mail. Arts Management Weekly magazine reported that, for women of the chattering classes, Mr Cooper had replaced the surly Mr Darcy of Pride and Prejudice as the man they most wanted to reform.

Now he himself has been sacked. He was in charge of marketing the Royal Ballet season in Hammersmith for which tickets sold very badly. Mr Hall carries less responsibility, as he has been there less than a year.

The sackings have been authorised by the new ROH chairman Sir Colin Southgate who was brought in by Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, from EMI, and by chief executive Mary Allen.

The ROH's pre-Southgate management was roundly criticised by the House of Commons Culture Select Committee. But the harshest criticism was reserved for Mary Allen. Speculation was mounting last night over whether she would keep her job. How quickly she manages to build up a relationship with Sir Colin will be crucial.

The removal of Messrs Cooper and Hall and the resignation of the former chairman, Lord Chadlington, and the entire board mean that the select committee's strictures and persistent criticism in the press have led to a near-complete turnover of senior management. Rarely, if ever, in cultural life has public criticism been so swiftly followed by so many managerial changes.

In its report, published last December, the select committee expressed disbelief that the opera house, which handled pounds 98m over the past five years, did not even produce monthly balance sheets. And it attacked management for not finding alternative accommodation during the house's present closure for a pounds 214m redevelopment programme.

Pelham Allen, who is on secondment to the opera house from chartered accountants Coopers and Lybrand, will now take over as finance director. The sales operation will be headed by director of external relations, Judy Grahame.