David Thomas: The girls will pose while the boys will fight

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As I write these words, I do not know which particular semi-naked starlet, teetering up to the Baftas, will have caught the picture editors' eyes for this morning's editions. Nor can I possibly predict the specific pop-star spat, outrageous display of public drunkenness, or daft political gesture that will cause the headline-grabbing ructions at the Brit Awards tonight. But girls will pose, boys will fight, and the tabloid beast will certainly be fed.

As I write these words, I do not know which particular semi-naked starlet, teetering up to the Baftas, will have caught the picture editors' eyes for this morning's editions. Nor can I possibly predict the specific pop-star spat, outrageous display of public drunkenness, or daft political gesture that will cause the headline-grabbing ructions at the Brit Awards tonight. But girls will pose, boys will fight, and the tabloid beast will certainly be fed.

It's all good grist to the celebrity mill. But as the awards season gets into full swing, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the ever-expanding razzmatazz of British entertainment-industry back-slapping, is in inverse proportion to the influence of the industry on the world stage. The prizes grow ever more glittering. But the business is fading away.

The woes of the British record industry have been well publicised. From the moment the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show on 9 February 1964, to the mid-Eighties commercial heyday of Duran Duran, Dire Straits, and U2 (Irish, I know, but made famous by Chiswick's very own Island Records), British music dominated the US charts. Today, it is virtually non-existent on the other side of the Atlantic. As far as Americans are concerned, our most successful artist under 40 is probably Charlotte Church.

The increasing irrelevance of British music is no accident. Not only have our creative obsessions - from Britpop to boy bands - become parochial, but the home-based companies that once spawned and supported British artists have either disappeared or been swallowed up within multinational corporations.

The disappearance of an independent UK record industry means that our music is effectively controlled from New York and LA. And US corporations seem to have decided to work on the same principles as their movie-biz colleagues. They will allow domestic markets to have their own local products. But they will reserve full-scale international exposure (dependent on their investment) for artists and products from the USA.

The lack of marketing clout is one reason why so many of our Lottery-funded films have performed atrociously at the box office or been left unseen on distributors' shelves (a total unwillingness to impose the creative disciplines that make Hollywood product saleable to a mass audience is another). With a very few exceptions the British film industry still consist of people who can't get a Green Card. If they were really any good, they'd be making it in Hollywood.

And that is a disgrace. The entertainment industry is going to be one of the two or three biggest businesses of the coming century. And the language in which it will do business is English. It's bad enough that there is no corporation here to match Time-Warner, Fox/News Corp and Sony. But what's really pathetic is that we don't even have as much control of the market as German companies such as Bertelsmann, or France's Vivendi, the recent purchasers of the Universal group.

The reasons, as in so many businesses, can be found in a combination of managerial incompetence and government interference. The only global brand we possess, BBC, is hamstrung by its non-commercial status. If allowed proper access to capital markets as a PLC, it would be able to fund proper global programming, or full-scale movie production. And please, let's not be sentimental. The Beeb is like the NHS: if the rest of the world really admires it so much, why don't they have one too?

The Brits and the Baftas are symptomatic of an industry that congratulates itself because no one else has any interest in doing so. The headlines are fine. But bottom-lines would be finer.

dwpthomas@aol.com

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