BBC fights for the arts, Celebrity help for starving people and others

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Sir: What a pompous pain in the cultural posterior Philip Hensher proved to be in his analysis of the cultural content of the BBC's output (12 November).

BBC fights for the arts in a new world of television choice

Sir: What a pompous pain in the cultural posterior Philip Hensher proved to be in his analysis of the cultural content of the BBC's output (12 November). According to Hensher all you need to do is to stick a camera in front of a painting, play or pianist; add a few comments from intelligent critics and the job ought to be done. How many would watch these Hensher offerings on BBC 1 is a reasonable question. Not many, given the vast range of choice available to today's viewers.

The BBC, quite rightly, has to live up to the Reithian formula "to inform, educate and entertain", not just for a small intellectual elite, but for the wider audience who represent the licence-fee payers. Popularising great art is a difficult but essential objective for the BBC. Hensher displays real arrogance when he dismisses the Rolf Harris series on great painters which gave enjoyment and education to millions. He says Harris is remote, grand and a monstrous egotist. On the contrary, he is a warm, clever, talented and natural communicator who can reach out to millions who would normally hit the channel changer if we used the Hensher formula for great art programmes.

I endorse Hensher's welcome for the new Culture Show and the BBC 4 content, but don't let's pretend we're back in the 1960s when many great cultural programmes received large audiences because there was little choice. As an ex-BBC governor I don't want to let the corporation off the hook; they could and should do more. But when they make culture exciting and appealing to a wider audience we should applaud their efforts because in today's multi-media world it is no mean achievement.

Southall, Middlesex

Celebrity help for starving people

Sir: I was disappointed by Joan Smith's sourly literal reading of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" ("Band Aid, famine and bone-headed celebrities", 15 November). I doubt that the Muslim mothers and children who'll benefit from the proceeds of the recording will be as concerned as she is by its "Christian" content, and I doubt also that many of them will join her in saying, "No handouts please: what we need here is a political solution."

Of course, what's needed is a political solution, but it may be a long time coming. Is her sneery dismissal intended to suggest that any other action in the meantime is pointless and naive? These people need help now and a political solution for the future.

I can't help feeling that what really annoys Joan Smith is that these musicians have "risen above their station" by having the temerity to think they can make a difference to the world without understanding it as completely as she obviously does. Perhaps, in fact, they can't, but is it really so awful that they tried?

London W11

Sir: Joan Smith complains about the cultural sensitivity involved in singing a song about Christmas to starving people most of whom are Muslims. I think she rather misses the point. The song's lyrics are aimed at the people who are buying the single. If the performers had sung "Do they know it's Ramadan?" somehow I don't imagine it would have resonated to the same degree with the general public in Britain and thus sold in any significant amounts.

Granted that what is really needed in Darfur is political action on a governmental level to combat the violence, in the interim would she have people sit back and do nothing? In the absence of government action, any action by charities to combat the suffering caused by this violence is to be welcomed. As so often in the past people power will end up shaming the Government into action.

Newtownabbey, Co Antrim

Voters of Fallujah

Sir: Come January the happy survivors of Fallujah will vote for the democratic ideal as demonstrated on the city over the past week or so.

The inconveniences of destruction, death, untended wounded, no water, no electricity, no hospital, no outside help will not deter them from queuing eagerly and early at their polling stations to express their undying gratitude to the heralds of democratic freedom, the example of Fallujah a shining beacon to the peoples of Iraq and beyond.

Indeed, as the White Rabbit confided in me only the other day the PM regularly attends the Hatter's Tea Party to receive congratulations and encouragement.

Penzance, Cornwall

Sir: "The Coalition cannot prevail in Iraq" and the "whole venture is doomed", according to Andreas Whittam Smith (Opinion, 15 November). So what is to be done? I await his next article, when he might at least try to offer some suggestions on how the Allies might handle things differently.

Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire

Welsh revival

Sir: In the article "Twilight of the Celts" (10 November) you report on the decline of Celtic languages throughout Europe. For the Welsh language, reproduced are figures showing the number of Welsh speakers between 1891 and 1971 (apparently taken from the census figures for those years), showing a decline in the number of Welsh speakers over that period.

If, however, Marcus Tanner had looked at the 2001 Census figures, he would have seen a healthy revival of the Welsh language: 595,000 Welsh speakers out of a population of 2.9m (20.5 per cent), compared with 18.5 per cent in the 1991 census.

Blackwood, Caerphilly

Sir: Marcus Tanner is too pessimistic about the future of Scots Gaelic: the 2001 census showed the first increase in the number of those between five and 15 speaking Gaelic since records began. The decline of Welsh in this age-group was checked and reversed some years ago. The decline of Scots Gaelic will inevitably continue for quite a while, but the number of its speakers on present trends should start to increase somewhere around 25 years hence.

Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire

Sir: I think Sarian Grerelle (letter, 6 November) may be on to something with her notion of "historical guilt" as an explanation for English beliefs about what may be called the "conspiratorial" use of the Welsh language in Wales today.

English people seem to want to believe that Wales is just another part of England; after all, they all speak English and are quite happy to do so until an Englishman - or two - appears. That the Welsh were - historically - a defeated and conquered nation whose language was marginalised and whose territory was colonised is a fact that most English people would prefer to suppress. When confronted with that anachronistic remnant, the Welsh language (a reminder of the original un-Englishness of Wales) they resort in typical colonial fashion to paranoid fantasies about the natives. This quasi-colonial mindset would appear to explain the widespread sensitivity of some English to the speaking of Welsh.

I am reminded of a comment made by a Canadian acquaintance on the "problem" of the French language in Quebec: "Why don't they just speak English? After all (God damn it!), we defeated them on the Abraham Heights." The same would seem to apply to the Welsh.

Washington, Tyne and Wear

Nuclear warning

Sir: When calling for six new nuclear power stations to be built in the UK over the next decade Digby Jones ignores three key facts (report, 10 November). Firstly, nuclear power simply is not the best way of offsetting the carbon emissions that are fuelling global warming. An independent report for the European Commission, which looked at the entire lifecycle of nuclear power from cradle to grave, found that nuclear power would emit around 50 per cent more CO 2 than windpower.

Secondly, building six new nuclear power stations would take far longer than he seems to believe. Industry specialists estimate that the earliest a new nuclear station could come online is 2018-2020, while action on global warming needs to happen now.

Thirdly, we need solutions to climate change that can be used throughout the world. If we rely on nuclear power we will be faced with the spread of nuclear technology and nuclear materials worldwide. Most of the technology used in nuclear power programmes is "dual-use capable", that is it can be used in either nuclear power programmes or to make nuclear weapons. So widespread nuclear proliferation would be inevitable.

By contrast a mix of renewable energy and strong energy conservation measures, backed by gas in the short term, will allow the UK to cut carbon emissions and guarantee a secure energy supply. Plus it would mean we avoid creating yet more nuclear waste, radioactive pollution and targets for terrorists.

Executive Director, Greenpeace UK.
London N1

Not a Trot

Dear Comrade Editor: In his report on President Arafat's funeral ceremony in Cairo (13 November), Robert Fisk uttered such a malicious libel against me that I am certain that even the late George Carman QC would have taken my case without fee.

Mr Fisk called me an "old Trot". There is a very long list of old Trots who really were Trots who will be as outraged as me by this calumny. (These types can usually now be found in the City, appearing on quiz shows or ranting in certain national newspapers.)

Whatever other frailties I may have (many), I have been consistent in my opposition to Trotskyism and the false consciousness it engenders. (I was first taught to spot a Trot at 50 yards in 1965 by Mr Bert Ramelson, Yorkshire industrial organiser of the Communist Party.)

Yours fraternally,

Foreign Secretary
House of Commons

PS. Further reading. Isaac Deutscher: Trotsky (3 vols). Left Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder, V I Lenin 1919 (a prescient warning about Trotskyist adventurism).

Lawyers for rights

Sir: The real story behind Tim Robinson's shameless pillaging of millions of pounds from the Legal Aid Board (now the Legal Services Commission) is the injustice served to legitimate legal aid lawyers and the communities they serve ("Lawyer 'obsessed with power and money' jailed", 30 October).

Robinson cheated taxpayers of their right to legal advice by stealing from a common funding pool that provides legal aid to people often in desperate need. Further, his crime defames the reputation of hard-working legal aid solicitors like those who earn relatively modest salaries in law centres working with poor communities.

Although the court found Robinson guilty of fraud, his greatest crime is smearing the reputation of all honest legal aid lawyers who protect the human rights of local people, often in the face of hostility from the Government and sections of the media.

Director, Law Centres Federation
London W1

Backing Boris

Sir: Michael Howard shows himself as a jealous, legalistic headmaster in the way he first humiliated Boris Johnson and then sacked him. To this wavering voter, Johnson is an intelligent and charismatic Tory MP, whose public appeal could reverse the fortunes of the otherwise grey senior Tories. Doubtless, Howard would have found reasons to sack the colourful Winston Churchill in the run-up to the Second World War.

London W10

Sir: Reading your political obituary of Boris Johnson, it occurred to me just how suitable a leader he will make for the Tory Party of the future, if not of the present, come the inevitable sacking of Michael Howard.

Inverurie, Aberdeenshire

Rabbits redefined

Sir: While congratulating myself on owning five of your "50 best pets", I must point out that you made a common mistake in calling rabbits rodents; they are in fact members of the lagomorph order. You also reported that bearded dragons are vegetarians, whereas in reality they are mainly insectivorous.

Pitsea, Essex

Lest we forget

Sir: Can you have too much of a good thing? I refer to the custom which has now developed of having in effect two remembrance days: one on 11 November and one on Remembrance Sunday (when that is not the 11th). While all of us want to remember in a dignified manner the fallen of the two world wars and other conflicts there seems to be understandable confusion in people's minds about when the real Remembrance Day is.

Stanwell, Middlesex

To boldly split

Sir: An invitation to discuss the split infinitive (Errors & Omissions, 13 November) - what wonderful times for us pedagogic pedants! The rule against splitting the infinitive was an attempt by 19th-century grammarians to make English follow Latin: you cannot split an infinitive in Latin, therefore you must not in English. Is it a useful rule? As sense is not affected when it's not followed, I suppose not. On the other hand, how could we have poked all that fun at our American cousins on the Starship Enterprise and their mission "to boldly go" without it?

London W11

Our terrorists

Sir: If John Humphrys is serious about addressing abuses of English (8 November) he should focus on current political discourse. He might start with the weaselling use, by Bush, Blair, Hoon and numerous others, of the properly non-morally loaded term "terrorist". To its dictionary definition as one practising "an organised system of violence and intimidation, esp. for political ends", three extra words have now silently been tagged on, namely: "opposed to ours".


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