David Lister: Churchill, F Scott and the Marx Brothers? That'd be a good party

The Week in Arts

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One of the better TV chat show responses came when an old and ailing Groucho Marx was interviewed. "Do you still chase girls?" he was asked. "Only when they're running downhill," was the lightning response.

I wonder how that sort of humour went down with Winston Churchill. This week there was news of plans to demolish Lands End, the Long Island mansion that was the inspiration for Daisy Buchanan's home in The Great Gatsby. The news provoked articles about F Scott Fitzgerald's time in the house and his partying with guests Winston Churchill and the Marx brothers.

That's some party. Oh to have been a fly on the wall, or the champagne waiter.

There's always great potential in a play or, indeed, film script that imagines a meeting between celebrated historical figures who were at the same place at the same time. Tom Stoppard famously achieved it with his play Travesties which threw together Lenin, James Joyce and the Dadaist founder Tristan Tzara, who were all in Zurich at 1917, though there is no evidence that they actually met. Alan Bennett has done it a few times, most recently a meeting between W H Auden and Benjamin Britten.

Yet, curiously, there aren't that many scripts written about imagined meetings of celebrated figures coming together. I've often thought that Sir Tom or another playwright or screenwriter should turn their pen to the Liverpool Institute grammar school in the 1950s where future left-wing firebrand Derek Hatton, future media star Peter Sissons and future Beatle Paul McCartney were all pupils together. It would have been fun to imagine them discussing their dreams, politics and pop.

But the unlikely combination to beat all unlikely combinations has to be F Scott Fitzgerald, the Marx Brothers and Churchill. The reports this week said that Fitzgerald would spend time musing on the verandah of the Long Island mansion. Were his musings interrupted by Harpo Marx taking a load of stolen party crockery from his trousers? Did Churchill come out, cigar in hand, to warn the author of the impending disaster in Europe? Was he then followed out by a cigar-wielding Groucho doing his own impersonation behind the back of the British politician? And was Fitzgerald oblivious to it all as he gazed over Long Island Sound, a smile of serene rapture on his face, thinking how fabulously interesting rich people were?

Perhaps Churchill quickly left the verandah to seek out more influential Americans and sound them out on co-operation in the coming war. Groucho may have left, declaring that he wouldn't stay at a party that would have him as a guest. Harpo probably ran inside to frighten the women. Only Fitzgerald remained, delighting in the opulence and planning his masterpiece.

Or perhaps he and Groucho and Winston did have a long and important and dazzling conversation. Perhaps these three radically different personalities, as different as any three people could be, fell out spectacularly and traded insults laced with venom and wit.

Where's Tom Stoppard when you need him?

More BBC arts, less repeated news

BBC bosses are reportedly planning to save money by scrapping the normal daytime programmes on BBC2, and replacing them with a news feed from BBC News 24.

How unimaginative. Wouldn't it be much more interesting to make daytime on BBC2 an arts zone? One way of doing this would be to show the previous night's output from BBC4, the specialist arts channel, which operates only in the evening. To those who say that a lot of people already get BBC4, I would answer that a lot of people already get News 24. If the BBC is prepared to replicate a news channel for some viewers, it should be prepared to replicate an arts channel.

Besides, many viewers do not have access to BBC4. And the best of BBC4 need only be one part of a daytime arts channel. The BBC could also show some of its vintage arts programmes from across the decades. A mixture of new programming from BBC4 and vintage arts repeats would be very cheap, and even more enriching than a second news channel.

The case of the missing dancer

The Laurence Olivier Awards tomorrow night will feature an award for outstanding achievement in dance. The three nominees are: the artist Antony Gormley for his designs in one production, set and costume designer John MacFarlane, and drummer Yoshie Sunahata. These are three highly talented people – but isn't there something missing here?

Could the Laurence Olivier Award judges really not find an actual dancer worthy of the outstanding achievement in dance tag? Has Britain at the moment no dancers who can rival a drummer? As it happens, the Royal Ballet has some superb dancers at the moment, the likes of Sarah Lamb, Steven McRae and Tamara Rojo. It seems to me not unreasonable that an award for outstanding achievement in dance could be a bit radical and include a dancer.

The Laurence Olivier Award judges should get out more.

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