The late Joan Littlewood, the hugely influential theatre director who championed the stories of working-class people and ran the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, in London, is to be commemorated by a statue outside the theatre. I applaud the idea, but it does make me think how few statues there are in Britain to great figures from culture. The only one that has entered the public consciousness because of its newsworthiness is the most inappropriate: that of Michael Jackson erected by Mohammed al Fayed at the Fulham football ground, a juxtaposition that boggled the minds even of the most ardent Jackson fans.
In general, though, culture is ill-served by statues. Military figures do well, likewise statesmen, historical figures and some sporting greats. Actors do considerably less well, while dancers, musicians, playwrights and authors are also largely absent from our streets and squares. The Stage newspaper calculates that the very few statues of cultural giants include Laurence Olivier outside the National Theatre, Noël Coward and indeed Shakespeare inside the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and Henry Irving on the Charing Cross Road, with Oscar Wilde nearby. Outside London, Ronnie Barker stands outside the Aylesbury Watermill Theatre, Brighton has one of music-hall legend Max Miller, and Eric Morecambe is, of course, in Morecambe. There are others, but not a great many. Well, we can all make suggestions, and I look forward to receiving them.
I'd certainly like to see some statues of great British comedians. Peter Sellers would be a good start. Dame Peggy Ashcroft, one of the greatest actresses of the 20th century, has a statue in her birthplace of Croydon, but should have a place in Shaftesbury Avenue, as should John Gielgud and Edith Evans. London's Theatreland would be enhanced by statues of theatrical giants, just as the Royal Opera House would benefit from a statue of, say, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev dancing at their peak in the Royal Ballet (Fonteyn is commemorated in her birthplace, Reigate). The Covent Garden piazza means there is no shortage of space. The Royal Opera's Dame Joan Sutherland should be there too. Film director David Lean has surely earned his place in the streets, as has television's best known screenwriter, Dennis Potter.
If every town centre commemorated a local figure who triumphed in the arts, it would make such a positive statement about the importance of culture, and its place at the centre of British life. Statues of past cultural influences could bring to passers-by a moment of reflection on supreme talent and technique, memories of great performances and even some memorable jokes.
Daniel creates a lions' den for the first violin
The critics have been united in their rave reviews for Daniel Barenboim's conducting of Wagner's Ring cycle with the Berlin Staatskapelle at the Proms. But one or two were startled by Barenboim giving the orchestra's concertmaster a tongue-lashing during the performance, shouting and gesticulating at him. No one seems to know what the row was about. For me, this just adds to Barenboim's charisma and uniqueness at the podium. He has not just the genius of a great conductor, but the intensity and dedication to detail that can cause an explosion at an unfortunate colleague. The Proms are a spectator sport, and Barenboim's genius, mixed with unpredictability and a refusal to hold frustrations until back in the dressing room, make him unmissable.
Dartford theatre insists on a threesome
A reader, John Mangold, tells me he tried to book two seats online for a show at the Orchard theatre in Dartford. The best seats still available were front row, lower circle, three remaining. "I clicked on two," he says, "but the transaction was refused because it would have left a single seat!" He goes on: "This strikes me as unreasonable as well as stupid. It implies that, unless they have a customer who wants three tickets, these seats will remain unsold. Unless of course, somebody buys one, then the two remaining could be sold as a pair. But of course, according to their policy, nobody ever buys one ticket."
Yes, the logic is bizarre. The customer should be able to book a pair (not exactly an unusual number when you go out).