Newsnight on BBC2 last Monday had an unexpected endpiece. There, after reports on Syria, BBC bigwigs floundering at the Public Accounts Committee and Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury talking about the economy, was a blast from the Arctic Monkeys’ new album and a brief interview with the band’s singer Alex Turner.
As Turner was once voted “the coolest man on the planet” and new music from the band is an event, this was more than worth its place on Newsnight. It doesn’t do planetary matters very often. Besides, didn’t former PM Gordon Brown once declare in a speech at Labour conference that the Arctic Monkeys were his favourite group? So there’s a political angle in there somewhere too for this most political of programmes.
As it turned out, the coolest man on the planet didn’t say a great deal in the very brief segment, but he did say that he still takes his washing home to his mum because “mums go the extra mile” and presumably will remove those stains that record company lackeys can’t reach. That doesn’t detract from his coolness as far as I’m concerned. Newsnight, on the other hand, was less cool than it clearly prided itself on being.
It has, thank goodness, a culture correspondent, and a fine one, but one still senses, and not just from Jeremy Paxman’s studiously puzzled expression in introducing Monday’s item, that culture itself is an add-on to the main business of the programme -- politics. It is, of course, commendable that politics is given serious treatment each night on the BBC. But a programme called Newsnight should acknowledge more fully that culture is part of the news of the day, ranking for many of us not far behind politics, even, shocking as it might seem to BBC news producers, up there alongside it.
There may be, there are, specialist arts programmes. But it sends out a very different and very important message to say that on a general news analysis and background programme of national repute, culture is a part of this general exploration of what has affected the nation that day.
Yet culture rarely receives the treatment that politics receives. By that I mean, in-depth serious interviews on the programme, exploring (in the case of the Arctic Monkeys) the music first and foremost, the way they used the internet to break boundaries, their relationship to fame...with the same attention that the programme would give to matter of public policy.
The Arctic Monkeys were on Newsnight just as its editor Ian Katz was tweeting to the world unfairly, inappropriately and downright rudely (if also inadvertently) that the impressive Rachel Reeves had been “boring snoring.” He also tweeted: “playout was fun tho, wasn’t it?” Yes it was. But it would have been even more fun if the Arctic Monkeys had been deemed worthy of not just a playout but a spot on the show that explored their music and their views, rather than an endpiece centring on a quirky soundbite; and more fun still if culture were, as a matter of course, ranked alonsgside politics as “news.” There would be nothing boring or snoring about that.
There's nothing like this Dame
One of the highlights of the National Theatre’s 50th anniversary gala in November will be Dame Maggie Smith reciting a speech from her performance as Mrs Sullen in The Beaux Stratagem. Dame Maggie actually gave that performance in Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre back in 1970. She hasn’t appeared at the National for decades. When Nicholas Hytner became artistic director over 10 years ago he was asked if he could lure her back. He replied cryptically “I would move heaven and earth to get her here -- but it might take more than that.” What is it that decided her not to act at the National again, presumably despite repeated requests? The 50th birthday celebration might be a good time to let us know.
Will we be talking like Downton Abbey next?
Experts at the University of Leicester have concluded that Scots who watch EastEnders are adopting London cockney slang. Such is the power of television that there has been a change in the dialect of Glaswegians who regularly watch the TV drama. The study is serious stuff and is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The Leicester University experts say that television is a factor that helps accelerate language change. In that case this, should be an interesting autumn. Downton Abbey is certain to be one of the best watched dramas on television. So, as Leicester University and the Economic and Social Research Council will no doubt confirm, there will be tens of thousands of people in Glasgow and throughout the UK speaking in clipped, aristocratic 1920s accents. I never argue with publicly funded academic research.