David Lister: Time to ditch these meaningless awards

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The Independent Online

It's an exciting time for prizes in the arts. The Mobos took place this week. Later this autumn we will hear who are the judges are for next year's Orange Prize for Fiction. The cultural world has thrown up two of the more radical and innovative awards. And I can't wait to see them both abolished.

I have mentioned before that I am flummoxed by the Mobos – awards for music of black origin, and the musicians who play music of black origin. They must need a very big hall indeed for such a prize. Who exactly is exempt from playing music of black origin? Every single jazz musician in the world must be eligible, likewise every current rock band whose music owes something to Chuck Berry. Though even that can't explain why this year's nominees included Lady Gaga and Mariah Carey.

But why I mention the Mobos again this year is because hip-hop and rap music can never have been as popular as they are now. South London rapper Speech Debelle has recently walked off with the Mercury Prize, one of music's most prestigious awards. Why on earth would the Mobos want to ghettoise and patronise brilliant musicians who have long since basked in adulation? This year's nominees included such neglected, overlooked, blushing violets as Dizzee Rascal, Kanye West and Jay-Z.

But when it comes to being patronising and utterly unnecessary, even the Mobos are eclipsed by the Orange Prize for Fiction. Conceived to raise the profile of women novelists, it continues to honour only women and has a judging panel that is exclusively female. Whether or not such a prize was necessary in the past, one struggles to see how it is necessary today.

Next Tuesday is the night of the Booker Prize, the world's most important literary award, and the favourite is a woman, Hilary Mantel. Precisely half of the shortlist is female. Let's take a look at the current best-sellers list. In hardback fiction, five of the top 10 authors are women; in paperbacks women make up seven of the top 10. And actually that's a bad week. Earlier in the month, nine of the top 10 in new fiction were female.

Yet, the Orange Prize administrators continue to twist logic to justify their prize. I particularly like their website and the answer to the question: "Why aren't there similar prizes for men?" This is apparently because "no one has, as yet, put in the time, creativity, effort and enthusiasm necessary to start one up and keep it going". Ah, right. It couldn't possibly be because anyone who proposed such an idea would be totally ridiculed.

It would be a blow struck for fairness, common sense and, most importantly of all, inclusiveness if this week's Mobos were to be the last, and if the Orange Prize administrators were to cancel any announcement of next year's judging panel, and announce instead that the prize had more than served its purpose and was being wound up.

If not, then the arts will continue to have two prizes that are utterly meaningless. A separate and separatist award for musicians making music of black origin, when those musicians are among the most generally lauded anyway; and a separate and separatist book prize for women, when women match or beat men in the best-sellers list. Future cultural historians, please discuss.

Let's all join the culture club

After the success (eventually) of Liverpool last year as European Capital of Culture, the Government is planning to have a UK City of Culture in 2013, and there's no shortage of applicants. Some 29 cities have applied to the Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw. The strange thing is that some of them don't happen to be cities. Cornwall wasn't a city the last time I looked. I'm not 100 per cent sure exactly what Ipswich and Haven Gateway is, ditto Pennine Lancashire, ditto Urban South Hampshire. But no doubt they are all buzzing with culture.

As the Government is clearly taking the definition of city rather loosely, may I put forward my own suburban London locale of Pinner? We're not quite a city, but there are all sorts of intense aesthetic discussions going on in the Pinner Tea Rooms, and the Pinner Players are the most cutting-edge dramatic society this side of Tunbridge Wells. And we'd be happy to call ourselves Urban Middlesex in line with current culture-speak.

Curtain down at the BBC

I have gone on for quite some time about the dismal lack of plays on the BBC. You will look pretty much in vain for a sighting of Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov, or modern dramatists such as Stoppard and Caryl Churchill. So I'm delighted to see that the former head of the National Theatre, Sir Richard Eyre, is now adding his voice to those of us desperate for the BBC to smarten up its act.

Sir Richard has accused the corporation of "a dereliction of duty" for ignoring classic drama. He added: "I did not live near a theatre and it was watching a television production of As You Like It, starring Vanessa Redgrave, that gave me my interest in the stage. But young people these days can't do this as the BBC is not doing these sorts of plays."

Sir Richard is one of the most important voices in the arts, and was a BBC governor from 1995 to 2003, so maybe this time the BBC will take some notice. Maybe.

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