Letter: ROH and the press

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Sir: David Lister cites as evidence of his objectivity in reporting the arts (Media, 8 December) his revelation that "the Royal Opera House was paying Sir Jeremy Isaacs for a year after he left". There's a snag. It is not true.

My contract was to end at end September 1997, my 65th birthday. The board asked me to make way for a new chief executive at end December 1996. In compensation I received a modest lump sum and a contribution to my pension, in all a fair bit less than a year's salary. Shameful? I think not.

As for the journalistic rigour of which David Lister makes much, it is in short supply. No newspaper, at the time of the ROH lottery award hoo- hah, pointed out that, even at pounds 78.5m, it was only a proportion of the total arts allocation in one year and a minor proportion over five years, and that four other exactly equal streams of funding were on tap.

No newspaper ever cited average ticket prices at ROH, only the exceptional top.

Most importantly, no newspaper, in my nine years at ROH, ever troubled systematically to compare our funding base with any European comparator, or with the Met in New York.

The select committee, schizophrenically, has just pointed two contrary ways forward for ROH - government control or privatisation. The first course, in Germany, involves 100 per cent funding, with earnings remitted; the second, at the Met, an endowment of nearly $150m. If only they could have read all about it.

I agree with John Tusa that the arts in Britain, in difficult financial straits, have not been well served by the press.


London WC2

The writer was general director of the Royal Opera House, l988-97