David Lister: The Week in Arts

The magic of a beautifully delivered snub
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The Independent Online

Well, the Top of the Pops audience won't get to see any of that now. My first reaction was that the band's manager should be shot for allowing them to walk out. What new band can afford to throw away a chance of being on Top of the Pops? Plus, they are now forever in cuttings files as the band that walked out over being called fat, and their name and picture will be dragged up in every article about weight. And, to cap it all, the remark by presenter Richard Bacon was made in a rehearsal. They could easily have told him not to repeat it during the transmission.

It would have taken only a short, sharp rebuke to shut Mr Bacon up: "Oh by the way, Richard, we're thinking of playing the B-side. It's a song about a Blue Peter presenter who gets sacked for using cocaine."

It struck me as an over-the-top, career-damaging reaction, ruining the chances of their new single, which is such an infectious rocker that it might have made number one. That's the trouble with bands today, I mused. Too sensitive. Did Mick Jagger walk off Top of the Pops because he was called Ol' Rubber Lips? Would Liam Gallagher have stormed out if someone looked at him the wrong way? Well, OK, he might have done. But generally, being on the weekly chart show has been such a guaranteed boost to record sales that you don't walk.

It was only at the end of a day of mass coverage of the incident, when I watched The Magic Numbers' new song being played on Newsnight of all programmes, that I began to change my mind. Could it be that this was not bruised ego and sensitivity at all? Could it be that this was all a Machiavellian ploy for which their manager should be knighted rather than shot? For now, there can't be anyone in the country who isn't familiar with The Magic Numbers.

The band may well now get to number one without the help of Top of the Pops. And that may be another reason why Richard Bacon and the TOTP producers are so upset by the row. The real message of this incident is that a new band believes it can afford to miss Top of the Pops. That might say something about The Magic Numbers, but it says even more about the show.

Top of the Pops is in crisis. The BBC's unwise decision to move it to BBC2 and to Sundays has led to a dramatic drop in ratings from 2.4 million to 1.1 million (it got 15 million in its 1970s heyday, but don't go there) and has accelerated its decline as an agenda-setting or remotely necessary programme.

I wonder if The Magic Numbers would have walked out of a prime-time, weekday chart show on BBC1, which record buyers made an appointment to watch. Fat chance, I would say - if I didn't love this band.

Beware - critic at work

After grumpy old men and grumpy old women it's time for grumpy old art critics. The host for any such a programme must surely be Robert Hughes. The lauded author of The Shock of the New seems as jaundiced now as he was brilliant in his prime.

In Edinburgh for the festival, he was interviewed by Scotland on Sunday. He told the paper he had turned down the chance to go on the Today programme to discuss Britain's favourite painting. The BBC poll was, he said, "a minor circulation-building exercise of no relevance". He added, for good measure, that of course there were wonderful works of art in England due to, among other things, "the systematic plunder of other countries". Ouch.

He went on to describe Britart as a journalistic invention, adding that none of the English artists he admired were names one would include under Britart. Damien Hirst, he said, had "taken a terrible nosedive of late" while Tracey Emin's "stuff" was "amateurish rubbish".

He says that he is now writing his autobiography. That's good. He's found someone at last that he can be nice about.

* The only organ of which I have ever been editor in chief, and founding editor at that, was Noises Off, the daily paper of the National Student Drama Festival. Alas, this piece of trivia fails to find its way into a new book about the festival. But, despite this appalling omission, the book is notable for memories of student acting by some now distinguished movers and shakers. The likes of Alex Jennings, Tim Pigott-Smith, Sandi Toksvig and Simon Russell Beale began their careers with the festival.

Some of the festival's stars, though, decided not to take up acting but seek their fortune elsewhere. I particularly enjoyed seeing a picture of a young, skinny, beardless Alan Yentob, now the famed TV supremo, arts broadcaster and party giver. Yentob says he recalls most vividly a wounding review from The Sunday Times theatre critic Harold Hobson, "which momentarily dented my self-esteem". Anyone who knows Alan will relish that word "momentarily".