David Lister arts notebook

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The Independent Online
Concise as it was, Labour's manifesto this week did at least have three paragraphs headed Arts and Culture. The three paragraphs contained two firm commitments. One was a plan for new "quality assurance in hotel accommodation" for tourists, which is, shall we say, somewhat lateral to cultural concerns. Indeed a hotel tax with money collected going to museums and galleries, an idea avoided in all the manifestos, might have rather more benefits for the arts, as it certainly does in other countries. Why do we never contemplate that?

The other commitment is the establishment of a National Endowment for Science and the Arts to sponsor young talent. It will be partly funded by the lottery and partly by artists and scientists who, in a new golden age of five-star hotels for everyone, will be altruistic enough to leave the profits of certain copyrights and patents to the next generation.

The manifesto does not say whose idea Nesta was. In fact, the central plank of Labour's arts policy emanates from Rory Coonan, once the head of architecture at the Arts Council and now a freelance adviser on design policy. So freelance in fact that he also advises Virginia Bottomley on architecture. Perhaps Rory's non-partisanship is one reason why no one on the Labour front bench has yet publicly credited him with siring Nesta.

It was a different class of anorak that attended the National Film Theatre face-to-face with Nick Hornby this week. The creator of the love, life and Arsenal Football Club story, Fever Pitch, had primed himself for questioning by film buffs, but found himself confronting an audience of arthouse Arsenal supporters. How, asked one perturbed questioner, could a character be shown wearing an away strip in 1971 that did not yet exist? And, in a voice tempered with pity and disgust, another pointed out that an extra on the terraces was drinking a can of Holsten Pils. What was cinematically wrong with that? "Because they are the sponsors of our rivals Tottenham. We wouldn't be seen dead drinking that."

What a pity that House, the BBC fly-on-the-wall documentary on the Royal Opera House, was not shot this year. Not only could it have contained the current triumphs of the Royal Ballet - I saw an American woman outside the Royal Opera House offering a wad of notes for any seat to see Darcey Bussell and Sylvie Guillem dancing together in La Bayadere; it could also have merged fly-on-the-wall documentary and sitcom, by focusing on the antics of the ROH's administration as it tries to avoid making clear what it is going to do with its companies during the impending two-year closure of the House.

In short, a letter arrives from Keith Cooper, head of corporate affairs, the day before Easter, saying a "headline press statement" will be mailed "before Easter." The advantages of the fax machine are pointed out to him, but still no headline press statement or even downpage press statement arrives. In its stead, an invitation to a breakfast briefing last Wednesday with opera house chairman Lord Chadlington. This breakfast meeting is cancelled at around 8pm the night before. What are they trying to hide? Whatever it is, they failed. For the rather more efficient Barbican Centre innocently issues a press release detailing how the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet will perform at the Barbican Theatre during the Royal Opera House closure.

Marvellous news for Cliff Richard. His image is about to receive a much needed injection of street cred. American evangelist Geoff Godwin, in Northern Ireland with a lecture tour called "The Hidden Dangers of Rock Music". Sadly, his briefing documents seem to stop at 1958. He told a Belfast audience this week that Sir Cliff led young people astray, and his life is built on money and adoration, even if some of his songs are not "overtly Satanic". Godwin adds that Sir Cliff sings "lusty lyrics" and makes hundreds of thousands of pounds from "adoring fans who idolise him and not God". Sir Cliff, who is currently in London playing Heathcliff in the not overtly Satanic musical, issued a statement through a spokesman saying: "Cliff believes everyone is entitled to their own opinion and he will answer to God." That statement presumably applies only to the current controversy and is not a riposte to the Heathcliff reviews.

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