Things ain't what they used to be: GLYNDEBOURNE

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The Independent Online

How it was

When the curtain first rose at Glyndebourne in 1934, few of the 300 opera lovers present could have imagined that John Christie's country house, surrounded by beautiful Sussex gardens, would become one of the premiere venues for opera in the world. Its manicured lawns quickly became a place for high society to wear pearls, scoff expensive picnics and be seen.

How it is

In 1994, a modern, 1,200-seat theatre was opened, attracting a new generation of big spenders and corporates. Some say Glyndebourne hasn't been the same since.

"Tickets are now so hard to get hold of if you're not corporate," says Michael Kallenbach, a trainee psychotherapist who's been going for 20 years. "These are often people who have never been to opera before and aren't terribly interested. They go for the picnic and champagne and to get tarted up. It's a sad waste."

But David Picard, the general director at Glyndebourne, disagrees. "I genuinely believe that's rubbish. I suspect the Royal Opera House gives away far more corporate tickets. The majority of our funding comes from individual opera-lovers."

Vital statistics

Ticketing is fiendish. First choice goes to members, then "associate members". Next, it's the 9,000 people who pay £10 a year to join the mailing list and have until early May to buy. Fifteen per cent are available to the public. Another 15 per cent go to corporate visitors, who pay top whack of £28,000 for 40 tickets (food and booze included).


How it was

The grassy banks of the Thames lined with people in boaters and blazers, sipping Pimm's while oarsmen row past. What could be more civilised than the Royal Regatta, held every summer for more than 150 years?

How it is

Those heading to the riverside will be confronted by cavernous marquees bulging with cheap suits. "Henley is ghastly!" says one disillusioned veteran. "Even the smart areas are now full of lager-swilling lunatics from minor public schools getting absolutely hammered. It's entirely lacking in class."

Others aren't so sure. "That's an astonishingly, unbelievably stupid remark," responds Mike Sweeney, chairman of the organising committee. "Loutish behaviour is minimal. The problems come further along the river [from the finish], where there are unofficial bars and beer tents over which we have no control."

Vital Statistics

On a busy day, 100,000 people turn up, with most finding a spot to watch for free. For those willing to pay, the Regatta Enclosure and the Stewards' Enclosure have a joint capacity of 20,000, and there are private areas run by Gentleman's clubs, and rowing clubs.

Regatta Enclosure tickets are available to all. Entry to the posher Stewards' Enclosure is restricted to members and guests. There are 6,500 members and a waiting list of over 1,000. Lately corporate punters (whose packages cost as much as £600), can also get in, for an extra £45.


How it was

Run by the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club since 1877, Wimbledon attempts to "preserve the idea of a tennis being played in an English country garden," says Paul Newman, The Independent's tennis correspondent and a regular for more than 30 years.

How it is

"Be under no illusion, there's a hard commercial edge to Wimbledon," says Newman. There's a store in Harrods, outlets at airports, and 30 Wimbledon shops in China. It also recently signed a multi-million pound deal with Evian. Is this selling out by the back door? "Absolutely not," says Wimbledon spokesman Johnny Perkins. "We are commercial but we do it in our own way. We keep the courts free of company names, except for those of companies who provide services for the running of the court, such as Slazenger."

Vital Statistics

Six thousand ground admission tickets (from £8) go on sale at turnstiles every day, while approximately 500 tickets go on sale daily for each of the Centre and No 1 courts (from £38). Since 1924, the majority of Centre, No 1 and No 2 court tickets have been sold via a ballot, which closes at the end of December. Around 8 per cent of Centre and No 1 Court seats are given to corporate guests. Admission to the Centre Court's royal boxes is by invitation only.