David Lister: A Robert Peston for the arts? Not quite

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The BBC has been toying for a long time with the idea of having a Robert Peston of the arts. It's some months since the director-general himself said he wanted to transform the BBC's arts coverage by appointing a journalistic arts supremo to beef up its arts news and be the corporation's face of the arts.

I rather fancied the favourites for this new post of BBC arts editor might be Razia Iqbal, the BBC arts correspondent, and the rather fine Front Row presenter John Wilson, whom I admire not solely because he is the son of the former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson. Fortunately I didn't bet on this as the job went this week to a 33-1 outsider, Will Gompertz, the director of Tate Media.

Gompertz, below, has a wide interest in the arts, both as consumer and performer. He did a one-man show on the Edinburgh Fringe this summer. But his day job has been running the Tate's marketing and press offices and, as his title suggests, the in-house publications, films, digital services, etc.

There is one little difference, though, between Gompertz and Peston (and Peston's predecessor Jeff Randall). Peston and Randall were both experienced journalists; Gompertz is a PR man. Yes, he runs the Tate's in-house magazines. But, with no disrespect to elegantly written art-gallery magazines, they are not cutting-edge journalism. They exist largely to sell forthcoming exhibitions and say, in a commendably erudite fashion, how wonderful they are going to be.

Gompertz, of course, is about to put his past life behind him and become a top BBC journalist. But I do wonder how he would approach, say, a scandal at the Tate. There was one a few years back involving the work of artist-trustees being bought to hang in the gallery. Would Will approach such a story with journalistic relish?

Let's look in more detail at Gompertz's CV. He is board member of the National Campaign for the Arts and chair of the National Museum Directors' Conference Marketing Group. I trust he will be resigning from both those positions. I certainly want the new BBC arts supremo to have a passion for his brief, but I am not sure he should be on the board of a campaigning arts pressure group or chairing a marketing group for museums, whose failings as well as successes he will presumably be telling us about in the same way that Robert Peston details the failings as well as the successes of the business world.

I, of course, wish Gompertz well in his new role. Indeed, he could rapidly become a hero of mine if his first memo to Mark Thompson, the director-general, is one deploring the lack of plays on BBC television, and asking why the likes of Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov, Stoppard and Pinter, rarely, if ever, are on screen. If he changes that, he will transform BBC arts coverage.

As for his arts news coverage, I live in hope that he will rebel against the trend for PR-led arts journalism and deliver shattering arts exposés on the news. One story that interests me at the moment is why the excellent Stephen Deuchar is moving from his post as head of Tate Britain to run a charity, the Art Fund. No one could be better placed to reveal all on the BBC than Will Gompertz.

A diva takes a stage dive

Glyndebourne's summer opera season ended with a bang, literally, when soprano Ana Maria Martinez, above, playing the title role in Rusalka, fell off the stage and into the orchestra pit. She fell head first on to where the cellist was sitting, scoring a direct hit on his instrument. Ms Martinez went to hospital, but happily had no serious injuries. The cellist was unhurt, and Glyndebourne's excellent understudy system assured that the performance continued.

The biggest casualty was the cello, which had to be put down, as they say in horse-racing. Cellos are not cheap, so this could have been a disaster for the musician involved. But I gather from the Glyndebourne management that the cellist had insurance against this eventuality.

I'd love to see the wording on the insurance policy. Does it really cover you against falling sopranos? Ms Martinez, it should be said, is very svelte. But does the premium increase if you are booked to play for one of the heavier of the breed? And how did the phone call to make the claim go? "You're not going to believe this, but some diva just dived on my cello..."

Gervais hits back over rape joke rebuke

I queried last week whether it was a good idea for Ricky Gervais to tell a rape joke. Among those who agreed or disagreed with me on this was Ricky Gervais. He says his joke was misreported in the press: "I do the following joke when talking about the perils of drink-driving... I've done it once and I'm really ashamed of it. It was Christmas – I'd had a couple of drinks and I took the car out. But I learned my lesson. I nearly killed an old lady. In the end I didn't kill her. In the end, I just raped her."

He goes on to explain: "The joke clearly revolves around the misdirection in the term 'nearly killed' suggesting 'narrowly avoided'. But, as it turns out, 'nearly killed' means something much, much worse. A big taboo I'll admit, but justified comedically I feel."

It's good of Ricky Gervais to give the exact version of the joke and to explain its comedic technique. But however expert the misdirection, it is still a joke about raping an old lady. And it still makes me uncomfortable.

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