David Lister: If a knighthood is good enough for Brucie, then why not other entertainers?

The Week in Arts


It may or may not have been a case of "Nice to see you, to see you nice" when the Queen knighted Bruce Forsyth this week. But it was certainly a case of "Significant to see you, to see you significant". Here was a comedian being knighted, and comedians don't get knighted. There was no Sir Eric Morecambe, no Sir Benny Hill, no Sir Kenneth Williams, no Sir Max Wall.

It's strange how actors, opera singers and architects can all expect talent, fame and longevity to lead to a knighthood, but comedians have never been in with a shout. Do the civil servants and politicians who decide these things think that the pursuit of laughter detracts from the dignity of the honour? It's an odd logic. But perhaps Brucie's honour will change the way these things are viewed, and we can look forward to Dame Jennifer Saunders in about 10 years' time, and Sir Rowan Atkinson rather sooner.

It was quite a week for honouring comedians. In Blackpool a gigantic comedy carpet was unveiled with the names of famous comics and their catchphrases: "Just like that" next to Tommy Cooper, and so on. It makes me a little sorry for those comedians who didn't own a catchphrase – the late Marty Feldman, for example, came close to comic genius, but didn't think to patent a catchphrase for posterity. Still, it's commendable that a novel way has been found to commemorate talent.

We need imaginative ways to commemorate great cultural figures. Too many West End theatres have uninspiring names like Fortune, Duchess or Royal, when it would be more appropriate to see the name of a legendary performer or director up in lights. One can't argue with the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon, but does the playhouse next door need to be the Swan when it could be named after the founder of the RSC, Sir Peter Hall, or one of its greatest actresses, Dame Peggy Ashcroft?

In rock music, the boring vogue for venues being named after their sponsors will give us a nation of Carling and O2 arenas, when we boast a world-beating heritage of rock stars.

The striking Floral Hall at the Royal Opera House would be just as striking and have an added frisson if it were named the Rudolf Nureyev hall, after one of the greatest stars ever to appear in the building. The two performance studios there are both named after funders, Linbury and Clore, though Margot Fonteyn and latterly perhaps Darcey Bussell mean much more to dance audiences, just as Pavarotti and Joan Sutherland will stir memories for opera audiences. Yes, it will necessitate a degree of humility for funders to take their names off the door, but it is artists and the memory of artists that rouse audiences. We need to be a little more imaginative, as comedy was this week, in finding ways to remember them.

Pulp fiction might not be the best direction

"Rock star joins Faber & Faber". The headline was from this week when the publishing house announced that the former Pulp front man Jarvis Cocker was joining the company as editor-at-large, with a brief to acquire books for a small list. The same headline also did the rounds in the Seventies when The Who's Pete Townshend also joined Faber. Pete soon got bored and made his excuses and left. I expect Jarvis will do exactly the same within, let's be generous, a couple of years.

And that's no criticism of Jarvis Cocker, who I have found utterly engaging when I have met him, and who is one of the great singer-songwriters of the past 20 years. But he is a rock star. Rock stars have glamorous lives, short concentration spans, mercurial brilliance, and a focus on themselves. Publishers have less glamorous lives, have to worry about their authors, and need to spend a lot of time in small rooms, reading. It's not for you, Jarvis.

ROH running rings round its audience

The Royal Opera House will stage Wagner's Ring Cycle next year. As opera fans will know, that is famously four operas. The ROH is stipulating that ticket-buyers will have to purchase tickets for all four operas in the cycle. No picking and choosing. The ROH neglected to advise where one should take out a mortgage for this.

I object. Surely, it is up to the ticket buyer how many operas he or she goes to see. Yes, Wagner wrote it as a cycle, but he also wrote four great, individual operas, each satisfying in its own right. The Royal Shakespeare Company does not insist that we buy tickets for all of Shakespeare's history plays when it mounts them. We can select which ones we want to see. And we should be allowed to select at the Royal Opera House, also a taxpayer-funded institution.

It's not only a hell of a cheek to insist on this; it excludes people who can't afford the money (or the time) to see all four. So much for the proclaimed desire to attract new audiences.



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