Strictly Come Dancing is in bad odour. The BBC's celebrity dance show has drawn the ire of a famed figure in the arts. No not a critic, not even an up-market novelist getting a bit of extra publicity by engaging with popular culture. Much more interestingly, Strictly Come Dancing has upset a dancer.
Michael Nunn, one half of the contemporary dance outfit Ballet Boyz with William Trevitt, themselves no strangers to TV, has hit out at Strictly, or, more precisely, the national tour that takes place on the back of the TV programme. Nunn, who is a former Royal Ballet dancer, says the tour will take money away from other dance shows including his own, and from contemporary choreographers such as Richard Alston.
As he said to The Stage newspaper this week: "Most people, if they see dance, will probably see it once a year. And what are they going to go and see – Richard Alston or Lilia Kopylova?"
I'd probably go and see Richard Alston, but then I'm a bit weird like that. I've never got the mania for Strictly Come Dancing or its stars. Michael Nunn may have got it, but if he did, he has kicked the habit.
He says: "I am over the 'Can we get a celebrity to ballroom dance for half an hour'. I don't understand why it's a bad thing to actually see professionals doing it."
He adds: "I think the BBC try and kid us that it's great for the dance world that we have Strictly Come Dancing on – but people who watch Strictly Come Dancing are not going to come and see my show, necessarily.
I don't think it is doing me any favours, or the rest of the dance community, because all they do is start touring Strictly Come Dancing as a live show, and it takes a lot of dates and a lot of tickets away from a lot of dance companies."
I quote him at length because heresy should always be quoted at length. And what Nunn is saying is heresy, a denial of the current cultural orthodoxy that an art form on television or celebrity involvement (the nirvana being a combination of both, as with Strictly) drive people to more conventional arts events.
How many times have we been told that this is a golden age for dance, and that Strictly is one of the reasons for that? Well, about as many times as we have been told that celebrity casting in the West End attracts first- time theatre-goers and encourages them to try other theatre once they have been lured in.
But there's no proof of any of this. If research has been done on how many of those theatre-goers move from seeing a BBC TV reality-show winner in The Sound of Music to a night at the Royal Court, then it has been kept very quiet. So has any research on how many viewers of Strictly Come Dancing are inspired to pick up the phone and book a seat at Sadler's Wells.
Strictly speaking, this isn't a golden age for dance any more than it's a golden age for theatre. It's a golden age for theatre, provided there is a liberal sprinkling of celebrity casting, and it's a golden age for dance provided it's Strictly Come Dancing.
Let's see some real figures that prove there is audience movement from these star-studded events to a wider interest in the art form. I suspect that genuine, talented, non-celebrity arts companies feel the pinch in these golden ages.
Actually, Larkin loved his 'Mop and Pop'
Philip Larkin's most famous line, "They fuck you up, your mum and dad", was not a reflection of the poet's own feelings towards his parents, according to a recent news story.
Unpublished letters from the 18-year-old Oxford undergraduate Larkin to his parents show a devoted and caring son, who wrote to his "Mop and Pop" two or three times a week. In one, he signs off: "Love, love, love, Philip". They also reveal how he hitchhiked home to Coventry after the city was bombed to check on their wellbeing.
It all adds to my own feeling that there may have been some truth in an inspired reader's letter to this paper a few years ago. The reader suggested that the celebrated poem contained a misprint, and that Larkin actually wrote: "They tuck you up, your mum and dad." It was an affectionate verse about his parents tucking him up in bed for the night.
What's really true about Yentob and Bragg's relationship?
Alan Yentob, for decades the face of BBC arts, was asked recently if it was true that he and Melvyn Bragg, for decades the face of ITV arts, "couldn't stand" each other. Yentob replied: "I know people think we're rivals and can't stand each other but it's not really true."
I began to wonder about that phrase, "it's not really true". If I were asked if it were the case that I couldn't stand an acquaintance – and I knew the suggestion was garbage – I suspect I would reply that it was garbage or burst out laughing.
"It's not really true" sounds a bit of a half-hearted denial. To what degree is it not really true? Well, perhaps we shall find out as Lord Bragg is signing up with the BBC to do make some arts programmes. Melvyn and Alan may bump into each other in the corridors of Television Centre, in which case Melvyn may want to point out to Alan that "it's not really true" sounds an awful lot like "it is really true".Reuse content