Let's really get to grips with these credits

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Actors are aghast. Each week in The Stage, the letters column resounds to their fury. The controller of BBC1, Lorraine Heggessey, has said that she fears that credits at the end of a programme are of interest only to actors and their families, bore the viewers, and encourage them to switch channels. The performers, fearful that this means that actor credits will soon disappear, retort that credits are the only way that the public and (perhaps more importantly) casting directors can make a note of their identity after admiring their performance.

Actors are aghast. Each week in The Stage, the letters column resounds to their fury. The controller of BBC1, Lorraine Heggessey, has said that she fears that credits at the end of a programme are of interest only to actors and their families, bore the viewers, and encourage them to switch channels. The performers, fearful that this means that actor credits will soon disappear, retort that credits are the only way that the public and (perhaps more importantly) casting directors can make a note of their identity after admiring their performance.

But one thing about the estimable Lorraine Heggessey's argument puzzles me. The boring credits rule doesn't seem to apply to everyone. I watched EastEnders this week, and sure enough as the credits rolled (very quickly) the screen was split and a continuity announcer talked about another programme, which was previewed on one half of the split screen. But then something odd happened. Both the split screen and the continuity announcer vanished. And we were treated to an old-fashioned, full screen climactic credit, which told us that the programme's executive producer was Mal Young.

Strange, that. If we don't need reminding who played Dirty Den or Sharon or Janine, why do we need reminding which TV executive produced the show? The executive producer, incidentally, would also have final responsibility for when to split and when not to split the screen. Let's be consistent here. If viewers find the names of actors boring, they must find the names of executive producers just as tedious.

Credits have long been a rather quaint idea. I noticed on EastEnders that the properties buyer was among the credits. Is that strictly necessary? Do properties buyers also need the publicity for their future careers? In films, of course, the credits are even more ludicrous. I don't just mean the gaffer, best boy and dolly grip. Until this week I had not heard of "fake shemp". But that, too, is a job and a credit, though not one to die for. It's someone whose face is not seen on screen, has no lines, and, according to Hollywood folklore, is taken from an occasion in which a stand-in was used to finish the Three Stooges films after the death of the actor Shemp Howard.

To lose such lunatic credits is to lose a piece of showbusiness history. I suggest to broadcasters that we keep the credits for actors and directors. The public might just be interested. We must also keep a couple of those bizarre jobs. The public might just be amused. But we can lose the names of all TV executives. The public couldn't care less.

Another award, another triumphant farce

It will soon be time for the Laurence Olivier awards. The categories I enjoy most in the Oliviers - or, more accurately, laugh at the most - are the awards for opera.

We have best production and best new production. And this year, as every year, the nominations are shared between the Royal Opera House and the English National Opera. Orlando at the ROH will be up against The Trojans at the ENO, for example.

Would it be churlish of me to spoil the party and point out that only West End venues are eligible for the Olivier awards, that there are only two dedicated opera houses in the West End and that one or the other will always win an award?

The occasional opera production at a theatre, or perhaps at the dance house Sadler's Wells, will creep in from time to time, but on the whole the English National Opera and the Royal Opera House take buggins turn. And then they can boast that they are Olivier winners.

What a triumph. What a farce.

The Royal Shakespeare Company's new plan to put on some cheap ticket performances with understudies in the main roles is an interesting one. From April, there will be an understudy in key roles in Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and King Lear.

It will certainly please the understudies who will get some exposure, and any idea which means cheaper tickets is to be welcomed. With tickets priced at just £5, schoolchildren and students should find it particularly attractive.

But I do wonder how it will play at the box office. I try to imagine myself asking: "Could I have a ticket for whatsisname as Macbeth? You know, the guy who you reckon is not quite ready yet for the starring role." I just might talk myself out of buying the ticket.

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