A radical restores the Proms to their former hope and glory

'As a cheerleader for tradition, Nicholas Kenyon could mark himself out
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The Independent Online

"Rule Britannia" and "Land of Hope and Glory" are back at the Proms. Nicholas Kenyon, the Proms director, has restored them after taking them out last year in the wake of 11 September. That was a nonsensical decision. Quite why patriotism, even jingoism, was infra dig after 11 September, was never properly explained. What changing the programme did, as Kenyon clearly now realises, was to deprive the Last Night of its unique flavour.

Bringing back tradition to what is after all a traditional occasion is much more in the Nicholas Kenyon style. He is an unusual figure in the BBC. A gifted, shambling newspaper music critic, whose socks did not always match, and whose sweater usually lost the battle with his elbow, he nevertheless leapt across the bureaucracy to run Radio 3, but was unfortunate that his time there coincided with that of Matthew Bannister as director of BBC radio. Bannister, having got rid of the Smashy and Nicey brigade at Radio 1, turned his fire on the knowledgeable and affable Kenyon and regularly quizzed him, irrelevantly, on why his listening figures weren't as good as Classic FM's.

At the Proms, Kenyon was at first a little too Smashy and Nicey himself. Did the world's biggest festival of classical music really need late night performances of Beatles and Bob Marley music?

Now alongside bringing back the distinctive flavour of the Last Night, he has also got rid of the quasi-pop. In being a cheerleader for tradition, Nicholas Kenyon could yet mark himself out as something of a radical at the BBC. But one word of caution. The Last Night of the Proms is being relayed to a big screen at a square in Belfast for the first time. "Land of Hope and Glory" and "Rule Britannia" are not what one usually hears crowds singing on a summer night in Belfast. The organisers of the Proms may have given that some thought – though a little bird in Broadcasting House tells me they didn't.

* David Bowie is curating the Meltdown festival at the Royal Festival Hall in London in June. I am of a generation that would hand in my computer rather than cast doubt on Bowie's artistic street cred. But with the announcement of his programme this week, it's not easy to see what he's brought to the party that the South Bank Centre's usual programmers wouldn't have brought. Whenever I have spoken with Bowie he has enthused about some new band; and he still goes to clubs more or less incognito (well, without the missus, the minder and an orange streak in the hair) to see what's around. But his Meltdown programme with Suede, Coldplay, Supergrass, and (if the box office can cope) Jonathan Ross doing a DJ spot, seems pretty mainstream. He does, though, promise the Finnish accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen playing some Bowie hits. So we might yet get a pan-European insight into the Jean Genie.

* Amid all the comment about Adrian Noble's decision to step down as director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, it was less remarked upon that the RSC opened its last two shows this week as resident company at the Barbican Centre in London. Leaving the Barbican – an unloved building but with two first-class theatres – may yet prove a mistake. It will take a determined marketing effort to let the public know where the RSC is performing as the company flits from the Roundhouse to the West End and assorted spaces in south and east London.

The RSC needs a central London base. It needs to be identified with one theatre as it was with the Aldwych in the Sixties and Seventies. The saviour here could be Andrew Lloyd Webber. He owns 13 theatres in the capital; and he told me when he bought them that he would like to see one or two of them take on a distinctive role. Giving the Royal Shakespeare Company a London home would be a service to the nation by Lord Lloyd-Webber.

* Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, spoke on Wednesday at a public policy seminar organised by Queen Mary College on how arts and creativity "built a sense of well-being" and were important to health policy as well as cultural policy. She herself visited a Rembrandt exhibition at the National Gallery several times when she was co-ordinating help for British victims of 11 September, she revealed. Perhaps, come the next election campaign, she will remind her Cabinet colleagues of the importance of the arts for the country's health. In the last campaign they barely received a mention.

* The Booker Prize's new sponsor is the Man Group, the international stockbrokers, and it will henceforth be known as the Man Booker Prize. How long before a female novelist left off the shortlist, or a disgruntled newspaper columnist, complains how aptly named the prize now is. It's a feeble joke, but it will be made countless times; and you heard it here first.

d.lister@independent.co.uk

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