The classical crossover singer Katherine Jenkins could soon be arriving at a station near you. You’d have to live on the route of the Snowdon mountain railway, mind, but you get the idea. Katherine’s name was this week proudly emblazoned on the side of a carriage. I could live without it telling us that she is an OBE. What is it with people in the arts now so keen to flaunt their honours — there was a time when the only honours that mattered to them were awards in their chosen art form.
But let’s leave aside the obsession with proclaiming honours, or doing a Sir Ben Kingsley as it is known in the trade, and turn our attention to the train carriage.
I’ve argued here before that more cultural figures should be honoured with statues in their home towns. It is the perfect way for different parts of the country to celebrate local heroes, and great artists should be seen as local heroes. They have brought credit to the places where they were born or where they grew up. But, I hadn’t hitherto thought beyond statues to train carriages.
It’s got potential, though. The opera singer Bryn Terfel, like Katherine Jenkins, is an artist whose name was put on a Snowdon mountain railway carriage in the past. But why not go mainline with the idea? I’d be happy to board the Mark Rylance carriage in his birthplace of Ashford, or go further down the Kent coast and take a ride on the Tracey Emin from Margate, where the artist grew up, to London, where she was born. Liverpool has its fair share of tributes to The Beatles, but as yet no Simon Rattle or even Sir Simon Rattle carriage departing Lime Street.
Tube trains could also get in on the act. A Hammersmith and City line train carriage could carry the name of Hammersmith’s very own daughter, Helen Mirren (Dame optional). We no longer have the romance of The Flying Scotsman steam train hurtling from Edinburgh to London, but we could have a hurtling David Tennant carriage. He was born just a few miles from the Scottish capital. Glossop in Derbyshire doesn’t have quite the same romantic ring, but one of its most famous daughters, Wolf Hall author Hilary Mantel, deserves at least one carriage in her honour.
It’s not exactly expensive to put a plaque on the side of a train, and it would have a singular advantage for the arts. Each time passengers boarded the train they would see an artist’s name. They might discuss that name on board, and they might be inclined to sample the work by that name. It would be a way of honouring talent, too, but most of all it would make culture a daily talking point.
TV has a new star in The Royal Opera’s Pappano
The two essentials for presenting an arts programme on TV or radio are knowledge and enthusiasm. The head of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor has both in spades, which is why he has become a bit of a media star relatively late in life. But he is not the only one to possess those attributes. I was delighted to turn on BBC4 and see a new series Classical Voices, presented by the music director of the Royal Opera, Sir Antonio Pappano. The series, on the art of opera singing, looks at both the techniques and the personalities of the best sopranos, tenors et al, and is riveting. Tony Pappano has not just knowledge and enthusiasm, but humour, an impish smile, an ability to convey highly technical terms in layman’s language, and an easy intimacy with his subjects. He also has an attribute that is rarer than one might think in both television and the arts. He’s a nice guy.
Now even the Dalai Lama has a booking fee
Among the readers’ messages I received this week about my campaign against booking fees, one particularly caught my eye. Dennis Pearce informed me that for a £20 ticket at London’s O2 he was going to be charged a £4.75 booking fee and £2.75 postage. Rightly irritated at having to pay all that on a £20 ticket he decided not to go at all. All very familiar, of course. But the difference with this example is that it wasn’t for a rock concert, but for an appearance by the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama is one of the most ethical beings on the planet. Perhaps he might have a word with the O2.Reuse content