Some of you might have seen an episode of the old sitcom Yes Minister in which the government minister confronts the head of the National Theatre and tells him he will be touring the country from now on. “Now you will be truly national,” he says, smiling at the stunned, open-mouthed director.
It’s a scene that I recall often as arts editor of this paper when I receive letters and emails saying we should cover more that is happening in the cultural field outside London. I hope that is something we are now doing regularly and effectively in response to your comments.
But, as the National Theatre celebrates its 50th birthday with a televised gala, I still wonder how truly national our publicly subsidised national companies are.
The National Theatre actually does do some touring. But the English National Opera does literally none – yet taxpayers across the country are paying for it. With the Royal Opera the answer is the same, zero touring. The Royal Ballet does tour – to Japan, Australia and America. Perish the thought it should ever venture into Manchester or Bristol or Newcastle or anywhere in Britain.
It’s not good enough and at a moment when we are celebrating one national arts company, the Government ought to take a closer look at how national our so-called national companies are. We all pay for them, we should all reap the benefits.
And I’ve no doubt that those of you who live outside London will continue to tell me if we too are falling down on our duty to be a truly national paper.