Janet Street-Porter: You've got the wrong target, Margaret

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Margaret Hodge, the Minister of State at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, attacks the Proms, claiming they do not make people from different backgrounds "feel at ease", and whingeing that the world's biggest classical music festival does not strike the right note in multi-cultural Britain. This is presumably because the audience is overwhelmingly white and the televised antics of those dinner-jacketed twerps on the Last Night send around the globe completely the wrong messages about our cultural values.

True, the last concert is an embarrassment. There is a great party atmosphere but it is the kind of rave most of us wouldn't want to be seen dead at, populated by the plain, geeky spec-wearing single men I avoided like the plague in the 1960s and would still cross the road not to talk to now. There is a strong case for completely changing the way that the Last Night is ticketed, bussing in schoolchildren, giving away tickets by a lottery and revamping the repertoire to excise most of the hallowed "favourites", which are merely excuses for a drunken bout of classical karaoke.

I'm not surprised that the Prime Minister distanced himself from Ms Hodge's remarks, because overall the Proms are a huge success. If you look at the extraordinary range of events over the eight weeks of the season, they reflect every single kind of musical taste, featuring young musicians from South Africa and Australia and artists of the first rank from around the world. It is one of the only opportunities to hear specially commissioned work by new British composers, as well as lighter fare like reggae, jazz and musical theatre.

Margaret Hodge is an embarrassment as an arts minister and her politically-correct outburst is all about colour and nothing to do with cultural values and accessibility. What she means is that Proms audiences are too white. She praises Coronation Street as an excellent example of a cultural institution reflecting contemporary society. Utter tosh – Corrie is about as realistic a view of Britain as The Archers. Both are highly crafted, utterly compulsive soaps, written to entertain rather than inform but I am sure that Ms Hodge will have little time for The Archers because it takes place in rural England, where the ethnic community is a bit thin on the ground, rather than in small terraced houses in an inner city.

Going to the Proms as an inner-city schoolgirl changed my life. It introduced me to music that I would never otherwise have experienced and that is what the concerts still do today, mixing the popular and accessible with the challenging and difficult in the same programme, and offering tickets cheaper than those at most football matches.

The free Proms in the Park concerts have attracted a new family audience to classical music. When I go to the Notting Hill Carnival, I don't feel marginalised because the majority of the performers are black yet, by Ms Hodge's reasoning, every major cultural event in Britain has to tick all the right boxes and attract exactly the right proportion of black and brown faces.

One of the most exhilarating aspects of life in Britain is multiplicity of cultural choice. If you don't fancy the Proms, you can sample dance at Sadler's Wells, open-air sculpture in Yorkshire or avant garde music performed on farm machinery in Sussex. I thought the debate about Britishness had progressed beyond skin colour, but then Ms Hodge is a dinosaur from another era.

Still erotic after 450 years

Lucas Cranach is a magical painter and the exhibition of his work opening this Saturday at the Royal Academy is unmissable. It is amazing that, more than 450 years after they were painted, his nude goddesses are still so erotic that London Underground initially refused to allow one of the posters advertising the exhibition. It lifted the ban after widespread ridicule, and a banner with the "offending" nude proudly hangs on the front of the Academy, thrilling passers-by.

Cranach's women are small-breasted and wide-hipped, with rounded stomachs and enigmatic smiles. They wear heavy gold jewellery and filigree snoods. Even the menagerie surrounding Adam and Eve is doe-eyed and sensual rather than ferocious.

* The new television series about the American advertising industry in the early 1960s, Mad Men (as in New York's Madison Avenue) could – on the basis of this week's first episode – deliver just the fix we've been missing since the end of The Sopranos. It's an orgy of smoking, packed with sexist comments spewing from the mouths of male execs, and subservient secretaries hoping to bonk their way up the career ladder.

The suits look sharp, and the leading man is a dish – cheating on his wife out in suburbia with a sexy illustrator up in town. This is sophisticated drama that isn't politically correct, and I'm sure that if Margaret Hodge had anything to do with it, the BBC would never have been allowed to buy anything so joyously amoral.

The first episode – about launching a campaign for cigarettes and avoiding the fact that they kill you – was absolutely spot-on. Funnily enough, the Mad Men office seemed awfully like quite a few in media land I've worked in over the years...