David Lister: The Week in Arts

Join me on a journey of artistic rediscovery
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The Independent Online

As the festival season approaches, an idea for a radically new festival occurred to me this week. It was prompted by a survey published by the bookshop chain Waterstone's.

They asked writers and booksellers to select neglected books and authors ripe for rediscovery. The results were fascinating for most of us, though I suspect mildly irritating for Fay Weldon, who must have been unpleasantly surprised to find one of her own novels included.

Books and authors that were hugely popular with one generation are often unknown to the next. In the survey, the publisher Carmen Callil cited the late Sylvia Townsend Warner, whose novels spanned the years from 1925 to 1977. Callil called her "an English genius, an English treasure, and these days a forgotten one".

We all have our own examples. I would select an author not mentioned in the survey - Howard Spring, whose tales of left-wing radicalism and subsequent disillusion might well strike a chord now, but who is largely forgotten. Literature throws up many such cases. But it is not alone. Most art forms have people who were once popular but are no longer in vogue.

So, why not have a festival to celebrate those who have disappeared from our cultural radar? Welcome to the Festival of the Unfashionable. It would have no shortage of visitors, as there is nothing to whet the cultural appetite as much as hearing that someone is a genius, a treasure and woefully neglected. I for one shall be buying a book by Sylvia Townsend Warner this weekend.

No doubt the Festival of the Unfashionable would have a musty room devoted to authors and titles such as those thrown up in the Waterstone's survey. But after browsing there for a while, one could move on to see a live performance - a play by NF Simpson or Christopher Fry or one of the other British playwrights that Britain's National Theatre steadfastly ignores.

There is no shortage of people to choose from. The likes of Arnold Wesker and Peter Nichols could wax lyrical about being victims of the vagaries of theatrical fashion, and indeed have done so.

From the theatre pavilion, one could proceed via the marquee containing 20th-century landscape paintings to the TV screening room, where forgotten TV shows would be on continuous loop. Fans, like myself, of the late Marty Feldman, who wonder why he never appears in best TV comedy lists and why his groundbreakingly zany and irreverent shows are never, but never, repeated, could have the treat of seeing him on a screen again.

Every inclusive festival must have a space for the children, of course; and they too should have a screening room for those children's TV programmes that did not achieve cult status and do not even get into the pub quizzes - the ones that got lost in the years between Bill and Ben and Bagpuss - the likes of Twizzle and My Favourite Martian.

Walking smartly past the room devoted to that most politically incorrect genre, the TV western, where the themes to Bonanza, Rawhide, Bronco Layne, Gunslinger and a dozen others reverberate, one approaches the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Infamy.

There you can see the groups that once sold millions but would now never get on a radio playlist. It's hard to know what to watch first - glam rock with Slade or intricate guitar work from Dire Straits.

In keeping with its title, the Festival of the Unfashionable would ban journalists from Newsnight Review and Front Row and any other media outlets striving to confer credibility on it. Nor could it be held in London or Manchester or Edinburgh. It most certainly could not grace Glastonbury or the Eden Project. Join me on this journey of artistic rediscovery at the civic hall in Grimsby.

Hey you, pull the other one

I enjoyed The Squid and the Whale, the new film about the effects on a family of a divorce in 1986 New York. But I'm puzzled as to how the critics and the award givers - for it has won a few in America - have ignored a most bizarre flaw.

In a key scene, the 16-year-old son in the family cons his way to a $100 prize at a school concert by passing off the song "Hey You" by Pink Floyd as his own. But this wasn't a small village in Latvia. It was New York in the Eighties.

Is it really credible that a room full of students, parents and teachers in Brooklyn would not recognise one of the best known tracks from Pink Floyd's best-selling 1979 album, The Wall?

The film's credits thank Roger Waters, the Pink Floyd bass guitarist who wrote and sang "Hey You". Waters presumably gave permission for the song's words and tune to be used. But, he must have been a bit miffed to learn that the plot assumed no one had actually heard it.

* There were many striking pictures at the annual show of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, which opened in the Mall Galleries in London this week. I spotted Lord Archer among other well known faces at the packed private view. Whether he was buying one of the works, or seeking a painter for his own portrait, I don't know.

I was particularly taken with a portrait of another lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, the former Cabinet Secretary. The striking painting, by the esteemed portrait painter Daphne Todd, contained four faces of Lord Armstrong.

Ms Todd told me that during the sittings he relaxed a lot and showed different sides of his personality. The four faces did indeed show them, though it was a little disconcerting to turn round from the picture and see a fifth. Alongside me, also gazing with admiration at the portrait of Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, was Lord Armstrong of Ilminster.

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