David Lister: When David didn't meet David – and why he should have done

The Week in Arts

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I'm looking forward to David Hare's drama Page 8 which is being screened on BBC2 tomorrow night.

The interview that he gave to Radio Times this week about it made it sound an interesting departure for the eminent playwright. But reading that interview, I was pulled up sharply by a surprising and rather depressing statement from Sir David.

He mentioned that he was recently invited by David Cameron to discuss the arts, but declined. He told the interviewer: "What's the point? You can see what the Tories are going to do. We've seen so many prime ministers come in and say they're going to do something for the arts, and all [Cameron's Culture Secretary] Jeremy Hunt has done for the arts is cut them. You know when prime ministers get into office they're not interested in the arts."

Well, I suppose I have the advantage on David Hare in that case. I have discussed the arts with Jeremy Hunt. I have been into Downing Street to discuss the arts. Actually, in the case of Jeremy Hunt, I found that he was genuinely interested in his brief and wanted to hear a range of opinion. The meeting was at his instigation, not mine.

To refuse such an invitation, particularly from a prime minister as Sir David has done, seems to be not just throwing away an interesting opportunity; it seems, if Sir David will forgive me for saying so, a little high-handed and a little unfair on the rest of the arts community.

Sir David might just have changed the other David's mind; he might have convinced him of the central place of the arts in British society; he might have informed him about the present state of theatre, the need for funding to be maintained, the need for government advocacy to the electorate in cultural matters. He presumably wasn't just being invited as David Hare, nice bloke; he was being invited as David Hare, major figure in the arts with views worth listening to.

In saying why he refuses to meet Cameron to discuss the arts, Hare does go on to say that any difference he makes will be in his writing. And there is much truth in that. A playwright's greatest and lasting chance to affect, and possibly change, society lies in his work, not in any private meetings with the powerful. But the effect of a play or film script is long term. It has to be written, staged, produced, and its message takes time to get across to a relatively small part of the population. A meeting with a prime minister can have short-term, even immediate, effects, especially when the advocate is influential and eloquent. Culture needs its champions.

A fitting tribute to Camden's queen

A giant portrait of Amy Winehouse by the acclaimed young artist Johan Andersson was unveiled at the late singer's local Tube station, Camden Town, this week. The picture has considerable impact and it is good that it can be seen by passers-by in the buzz of Winehouse's own urban locality rather than in a gallery.

Andersson, a previous winner of the Jerwood Contemporary Painters Prize, says his portraits display "an ambiguous and awkward underlying tension".

I'm not wild about artists analysing their own work. I belong to the school of thought that artists should create the work and leave it to the critics and spectators to reach their own conclusions. But in this case his analysis is correct, and the portrait is a fitting tribute in a fitting location.

The Hour's last anachronism

Tuesday nights won't be the same without The Hour, the best drama on TV for a long time, with a superlative cast. The anachronisms in the script, to which I have drawn attention in recent weeks, can't detract from the gripping nature of the show and the wonderful acting. Allow me one last anachronism, though, sent in by Independent reader Edward Odim.

Mr Odim is a whisky broker, who also happens to be a former BBC producer. He tells me that he became very animated when the character played by Anna Chancellor came into a room carrying a bottle of single malt whisky – a single cask bottling of Glengoyne. Mr Odim is adamant that people did not drink single malt whisky in the 1950s. Single malt whisky bottlings are a relatively modern phenomenon.

To make matters worse, he says, the programme had Dominic West walk into a bar and ask for Glengoyne. "It's just all wrong," declares an exasperated Mr Odim. "Back then it would have been a blended whisky on offer. Scriptwriter Abi Morgan may as well have had Mr West ask for a Bacardi Breezer."

It's enough to drive a viewer to drink, though I'll be drinking to another series.



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