David Lister: A class divide still distorts the Proms

Click to follow

The BBC has its faults, many of them, but those who advocate replacing it should have to answer one question: "Will the replacement service finance and broadcast the Proms?"

This year's season, which ends on Saturday, has been a triumph for Proms director Roger Wright and for the corporation, ploughing money and broadcasting time into it on our behalf. From Barenboim to Bollywood, the aim was to have something for everyone.

And on Saturday for the first time the Last Night of the Proms is being screened via satellite to cinema chains in Asia, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the US. As in recent years it will also be screened in selected outdoor venues across the UK. Add that to the 12 million people who are reckoned to have watched the Proms on TV this year, and it is not surprising that Roger Wright can boast, "The aim of the Proms has always been to bring classical music to the widest possible audience. Thanks to modern technology we are able to present the concerts in new and expanding ways to an ever-increasing global audience."

But, of course, he knows that is only part of the truth. In the Royal Albert Hall, below, the Proms most certainly are not reaching the widest possible audience. The audience there remains resolutely middle-class and white.

There are those who advocate addressing this by staging more variations of the Bollywood-style Prom, which did admittedly bring in an ethnically diverse audienc. I disagree. It strikes me as patronising to suggest that British Asians, say, don't or can't like Beethoven. Those who advocate changing the repertoire are clearly saying that, even if they wouldn't dream of saying it loud.

I'm no more sure what the answer is than Roger Wright, who would also dearly like to add to the diversity of the audience. Perhaps the unfashionable word "class" has something to do with the problem. Classical music does not, I maintain, have any race barriers. But it does seem to have some class barriers. I'd like to see next year a number of seats set aside at each performance for visits from inner-city schools during the Proms that fall in term time, and for other youth groups in the school holidays. It's something I would be happy to see the BBC subsidise from our licence fees. The money could come off Bruce Forsyth's flowers, or the champagne for celebrities, or executive expenses, or Jonathan Ross's salary.

Talking of audiences, I had a shock on a recent visit to the Proms. In the pause between movements during one symphony, a section of the audience turned on some poor woman who had been coughing. "You're ruining it for everyone," someone barked at her. "Yes, and you're overweight," said another charmer. "You shouldn't be here if you're so overweight," said a third. And then the music began again, and the faces of the rude oafs were once again pictures of rapture.

I had to pinch myself to remember that I wasn't at one of the more ill-tempered Premier League football matches, where the banter can be quite similar. But maybe it was an educational experience. It is salutary to be reminded that a love of classical music does not necessary make you civilised in every aspect. Next year will be better. Those inner-city schoolchildren will give some of the Proms regulars a lesson in good behaviour.

It cost them a lot. It costs us a lot too

Even I, as a paid-up fan, think the much publicised remastered Beatles collection is too expensive. It's a joy listening to the remastered albums, though whether that is the joy of the remastering or simply the joy of hearing some old favourites again I'm not sure. But I am sure that two separate sets in stereo and mono, setting the committed fan back well over £300 seems a bit steep. Surely the mono ones could have been thrown in as a free bonus.

But then just when I thought that with these remastered albums and all the surrounding articles we must now have heard and read all there is to be heard and read about the band, I find an enthralling new book on the group, You Never Give Me Your Money by Peter Doggett. This story of the group's finances and court cases (lasting to the present day) was impossible to put down. No wonder Paul and Linda McCartney mused that they had put an awful lot of lawyers' children through school.

It was food for thought that the lengthy legal battles between the two Apple organisations kept the Beatles off iTunes and effectively out of reach for a generation of music buyers.

Among the many fascinating legal nuggets, I delighted in the fact, well beyond parody, that at one point in the 1980s the surviving Beatles sued themselves. And Oasis thought they had problems.

Fans have the right to choose their kit

I see that my club Arsenal has given out 57,000 scarves to supporters so that the team will be cheered on in a stadium that is a sea of red and white. It hasn't quite worked: when I attended the last home game there were a lot of supporters not wearing the free gift.

I'm with them. We're not all scarf-wearers and wavers; and I rather think you should have the urge to wear the team colours, not have them thrust upon you.

The next step, I strongly suspect, will be a clapping cartoon character on the stadium screens indicating to fans when they should cheer, like those guys who lead the "spontaneous clapping" in television studios.

Indeed Arsenal have hinted that there is something afoot in a letter to fans, endorsed by the manager Arsene Wenger, saying that there will be more signs very soon of the "Arsenalisation" of the stadium.

Would it be too treacherous of me to report my club to the Plain English Campaign? Arsenalisation? It has to be the most inelegant word coined this year.

Comments