Arts Awards1997

Kathy Burke emoted in Deptford, cliches collapsed in 'Born to Run', and mi nd-games absorbed Patrick Marber. Our critics commemorate the triumphs - 'The Sweet Hereafter' - and the disasters - 'Merry Wives of Windsor' in t he year in which Radiohead finally delivered the Nineties 'Sergeant Pepper' for the Nineties

Sunday 21 December 1997 00:02

Best Pop Act

By Nicholas Barber

The Bends by Radiohead was one of the best-loved albums of 1995, but it took a while to get there. Its popularity grew over time, via word- of-mouth recommendations. Meanwhile, the plaudits it gathered in the press were squeezed to the margins by the higher-profile Oasis, Pulp and Tricky. This year would be different. The conscience-stricken media were so desperate to make up for our previous oversight that we had Radiohead pencilled in as Band of the Year from, approximately, 1 January - and if the group did happen to release a halfway decent record, so much the better. As it turned out, Radiohead rose to the challenge of matching The Bends - and our expectations - in audacious style.

This has been the year in which British rock bands boasted: "Everything grand you can do, I can do grander." Oasis, to their detriment, tried every trick the Beatles could think of to pump up the tunes on Be Here Now; The Verve and Spiritualized convinced listeners that a 70-minute album wasn't half an hour too long; and Radiohead made everyone else's records sound like rough demo tapes. Listen to OK Computer, with its perfectionist's attention to detail, its experimentation, its effectiveness as a unit, more than as a collection of individual songs, and you have to conclude that, yes, this is Radiohead's Sergeant Pepper.

They followed up the album with some uniquely weird videos, and a cathartic appearance at Glastonbury which not only marked their apotheosis as one of the world's greatest live acts, but also just about made the bedraggled thousands forget that they were sinking in a sea of mud.

If the group's media profile still seems lower than it should be, that's because they don't live in the gossip pages. They're not interested in the socialising, drugs or controversy that can come with a rock career, and by all accounts, Thom Yorke is so shy of supermodels' advances that he carries a slice of Black Forest gateau around with him so he can ward them off. This is not the sort of behaviour we'd want from many of our young rock stars, but in these tabloid-baiting days, it's refreshing to witness a band devoted to the musical side of things, particularly when the music is as sublime as that of Radiohead.

Previous winners, 1991-1996: Primal Scream, Nirvana, Neil Young, Blur, Pulp, Oasis.

Best Film

By Matthew Sweet

Film Critics - are they public servants, expert witnesses, sadists or parasites? The answer is, of course, all four. But the review of the year is the critic's annual opportunity to seem less like the curmudgeon who dwells in darkness and more the honest movie enthusiast. So this is my fan letter to those people who, this year, have made me catch my breath in admiration.

Two independent American comedies towered over the competition from the major Hollywood studios. Doug Liman's Swingers and Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy were sharply written, deliciously sleazy and unfailingly smart, and gave romantic comedy a much-needed shot in the arm. While bigger players were content to construct anodyne rehashes of screwball classics, Liman and Smith reinvented the genre without the help of a single star name. Both films meditated on undignified disasters precipitated by male sexual angst. Liman's film produced an uproariously funny scene of his hero (played by Jon Favreau) talking to a putative date via her answerphone. Smith's movie culminated in a scene of similarly harrowing comedy in which his hero (played by Ben Affleck) comes up with a gob-smackingly unconventional solution to his relationship problems.

But the film that really deserves to go in this year's time capsule is Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter, a film the wintry intensity of which will stay with me for a long time. Adapted from the novel by Russell Banks, it stars Ian Holm as a lawyer trying to persuade a group of bereaved parents to sue the makers of the school bus in which their children have perished. Director and cast have created a work of the highest emotional literacy, one that explores culpability, grief and loss in the most delicate, surprising and original detail.

Egoyan refuses to dictate his characters' feelings, adding subtleties where other directors would clamp down on ambiguity. Is Holm's lawyer an acquisitive ambulance-chaser or a man dedicated to helping a wounded community? The film is too complex and has too startling an impact to allow such convenient judgements to be made. A work of rare power that never attempts to fob you off with sentimentality.

Previous winners, 1991-1996: 'Edward Scissorhands', 'The Double Life of Veronique', 'Groundhog Day', 'Schindler's List', 'Crumb', 'Smoke'.

Best Screen Actor

By Matthew Sweet

This Was a remarkable year for its brilliant juvenile performances, and it's heartening to see that directors aren't too scared to make films about children and their desires by current panicky attitudes to such subjects. In Alain Berliner's Ma Vie en Rose, bright little button Georges du Fresne played a small, delicate boy determined to transform himself into a small, delicate girl, and turned in a performance of uncanny assurance.

In John Duigan's Lawn Dogs, young Mischa Barton brought a similarly precocious certitude to the role of 10-year-old Devon, who forms a troubling, proto- sexual relationship with Trent, a maligned lawnmower man (Sam Rockwell). In the extraordinary closing scenes, she holds her own father at gunpoint to rescue Trent from the angry retribution of her community.

However, my most gushing fan letter of the year goes to the incomparable Kathy Burke, whose performance in Gary Oldman's Nil by Mouth won her a well-deserved Best Actress award at Cannes. Although she's not the sort of plummy-voiced Shakespearean who usually gets garlands and invitations to the Palace, Burke is one of the best actors in the country, and should be nationalised or ennobled.

As Valerie, she is a nervy and brutalised woman who spends most of the film capitulating to, or cowering from, her sweatily vicious husband, Raymond (Ray Winstone). After he beats her to a mass of sores and bruises, killing her unborn baby in the process, she eventually confronts him on the stairwell of their grim council block. "You ain't taking the piss out of me no more," she assures him, and Burke lets you see Valerie using her rage and pain to drag this defiance out of herself. It's a staggering evocation of damaged, desperate bravery, made all the more powerful because it declines to follow the obvious melodramatic course. Unlike Mandy Jordache, Valerie doesn't have a patio under which to bury Raymond.

The pair are soon back together, and the final scene, in which Burke is giggling at the thought of her jailed younger brother - "In the fraggle wing, you know, with all the weirdos ... with all the nonces and rapists" - is so brilliantly played that, despite the utter bleakness of her situation, Burke can make you snigger, too, quite against your liberal will.

Previous winners, 1991-1996: Annette Bening, Jon Lovitz, Holly Hunter, Daniel Day Lewis, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, Kevin Spacey.

Best TV Drama

By David Aaronovitch

Let's Open the brown envelope before we even talk about the other nominees for the Palme d'Aaron. And the winner is ... Born to Run. What was this, we thought, when it first hit our screens - yet another whimsical northern comedy drama about brass and lasses? But Debbie Horsefield's perceptive writing with its counterintuitive characterisations, allied to the best performance of Keith Allen's life (as mid-life crisis victim Byron Flitch), made for a series that had people of all backgrounds and generations asking, "Did you see ... ?"

Other contemporary contenders included the dark, Altmanesque Holding On, which did for London house-prices what global warming will do for the Maldives, Jimmy McGovern's The Lakes, and Tim Firth's latest series of All Quiet On The Preston Front.

The costumiers and horse-hiring companies have been busy. At the end of the year the charms of Tom Jones have grown on me, sharing Samantha Morton (the face of the moment) with a goodish Jane Eyre. Back at the beginning of the year there was a splendid Mill On The Floss, followed by an OK Rebecca. Eccentrically, this adaptation stole the fiery denouement from Jane Eyre, maiming Maxim and rendering him sterile. There was a hilarious Ivanhoe (in which the false beards worn by the Saxons were a particularly memorable feature), and a peculiar half-disaster in the co-produced Nostromo. Particular plaudits to Hugh Whitemore for his wrongly savaged and hugely ambitious Dance To The Music Of Time, which was probably the most memorable drama of the year, and to the same man for Breaking The Code, the tale of Alan Turing.

Farewell to This Life, too popular with us viewers for the comfort of its arty makers, who spitefully took our toys away. And goodbye, too, to a truly terrible year for new sitcom. It was exemplified by Bloomin' Marvellous, and it is amazing how almost everyone in a Britcom needs to be a cretin or a dunce. There are exceptions. I'm Alan Partridge would look good in a good year. In a bad year it looks cosmic.

Previous winners, 1992-1996: 'Prime Suspect' (two years running), 'Middlemarch', 'A Village Affair', 'Our Friends in the North'.

Best Factual TV

By David Aaronovitch

THERE WERE SEVERAL great factual series on television this year. I have picked Peter Taylor's astonishing series, The Provos, because I have some idea of the exceptional journalistic qualities that went into making it. It added up to a unique visual document of the most painful part of recent British history, lending insight to anyone who watched it. Only in a country as phlegmatic as Britain - one that strangely takes the recent ceasefires for granted - could these programmes have received so little attention and acclaim.

It is interesting that the excellent The Nazis: A Warning From History, with its remarkable archives and telling interviews, should have aroused so much more interest. Among the dozens of factual series - now supplemented by the cheap-but-cheerful stuff on Channel 5 - Cutting Edge, Modern Times (both of whose most recent runs have been a disappointment), Secret History and Inside Story continued. As did the scores of arts and music programmes, such as The Works, Omnibus, Arena, The South Bank Show, Classic Albums and many, many one-offs. Those that I enjoyed the most included the showcase Storyville series, and Jonathan Miller's Opera Works.

The trend in popular factual programming was away from disaster shows (such as 999 and, er, Disaster) and crime programmes, and towards voodoovision and docusoap. Of the mysteries nonsense, the Paul McKenna series was the most egregious, and the entire genre was well debunked on Channel 4 in Equinox: The Secrets of the Psychics. Which reminds me that this was a good year for science programmes, pathological investigations (notably The Ice Mummies), and, of course, natural history, especially that coming from BBC Bristol. No one sentient can forget the underwater polar bears.

We were also made over again and again; our living rooms, our clothes, our gardens, everything, were given a seeing-to by young Scottish women with blonde bobs. And when we weren't being made over we were endlessly cooking with chefs of every sex, size, hue and accent. Except, of course, for white,middle-aged, middle-class Englishmen.

Flavour of the moment is, of course, the docusoap. Pick of a growing bunch were Driving School (or Two Daft Taffies) which made a cult heroine of Mo from Cardiff, and imprinted "Look out, woman!" on the national psyche; Hotel and Airport. For every good one, however, there was a Dover or a Holiday Reps.

And, of course, one night's programming stands out from all the rest, like the tallest peak from a high range. Election night, the night of 1 May, will be remembered by all those who sat up and watched a new dawn break (did we not?) on television, mostly on the BBC. It felt, at the time, like a very good show indeed.

Previous winners, 1992-1996: 'Katie and Eilish: Siamese Twins', 'The Ark', 'Without Walls: Dennis Potter', 'Panorama: Princess Diana', 'Timewatch: History of a Mystery'.

Best Stage Actor

By Robert Butler

New writing, we know, is the life-blood of British theatre, which is why these days typewriters are not enough. We have dramaturgical workshops, script surgeries, panels, prizes, more prizes and one-on-one monitoring. Yet acting is the life-blood, too (we need a new Olivier as much as a new Osborne). This year some of the best actors in the world gave performances that they hadn't repeated a dozen times in front of a camera and then allowed someone else to reassemble in an editing suite. Actors can make old plays seem like new writing; there'll always be a new Hamlet (Alex Jennings), a new Othello (David Harewood) or a new Lear (Ian Holm). And this year - in productions directed by Matthew Warchus, Sam Mendes and Richard Eyre - they were three of the best nights out.

Over the last couple of months, the West End has flickered back to life with Chicago, and two star turns. Edward Fox added a remarkable incarnation of Harold Macmillan in A Letter of Resignation to his gallery of famous faces, moving between immaculate public demeanour and inner turmoil. Maggie Smith demonstrated, as she stretched across the sofa to fill her glass for the umpteenth time, as the drunken sister in Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance, that star quality is something the audience want to drink in with the same thirst she displays for the brandy. On the South Bank, in David Hare's Amy's View, Judi Dench was teamed with Samantha Bond in a tempestuous mother-daughter relationship that convinced us they had known each for decades.

But the best acting was to be found in one studio: the Cottesloe. Here the bruised, hulking figure of Ciaran Hinds in Closer coped with the complexities of relationships with Sally Dexter and Liza Walker, while his fantasies were wickedly fed on the Net by an insouciant Clive Owen. Here, too, in Simon Russell Beale's superbly detailed Iago, hatred and contempt strained to burst out of his lumpy military jacket as his tight, venomous voice played on his victim's insecurities.

Here, most of all, Ian Holm, taking the title role in Richard Eyre's King Lear, gave a fiercely intimate performance that hurtled along with mordant intemperance. He took us on one of the great rollercoaster rides, charting the journey through rage, insight and regret with graphic precision. Holm thought he'd look like Captain Bird's Eye gone bonkers. As it was, it looked like one of the Shakespeare performances of our lifetime.

Previous winners, 1992-1996: Nigel Hawthorne, Simon Russell Beale, Robert Stephens, Alex Jennings, Diana Rigg, Ken Stott.

Best Play

By Robert Butler

In the "most promising playwright" category, the young Irish playwright Conor McPherson demonstrated, in St Nicholas and The Weir, a compelling gift for anecdote. At the other end of the spectrum, one of the most rewarding partnerships returned to form, with Simon Gray reuniting with Alan Bates for the ninth time in Life Support, in which the Gray/Bates character keeps grief at bay by trying one ruse after another in order to make contact with his comatose wife.

Hugh Whitemore's quietly absorbing if old-fashioned A Letter of Resignation cannily turned the Profumo crisis into a portrait of the Macmillans' marriage. But my runner-up is Tom Stoppard with his awesomely erudite The Invention of Love about the poet and scholar AE Housman. Who else but Stoppard could find a love story in textual criticism? During this dense, allusive play, I had the intoxicating sense that however hard I listened, plenty was still slipping by. If Invention of Love had the best speeches, Closer, written and directed by Patrick Marber, had the best dialogue - taut, searching, clever. Marber's scene construction possesses a dazzling technical poise. The four characters provoked each other in a nervy, relentlessly questing fashion. In so doing, they showed the desire for truth and intimacy to be as strong and reckless as the desire for sex.

Previous winners, 1991-1996: 'The Blue Angel', 'Someone Who'll Watch Over Me', 'Arcadia', 'Pentecost', 'The Phoenician Women', 'Art'.


By Michael White

As always, it's been a year of deaths and remembrance. We said goodbye to Solti, the "screaming skull", who mellowed into one of the most loving as well as authoritative Straussians of all time. We lost Hans Richter, the last of the great Russian piano school.

Among composers there was Conlon Nancarrow, the American experimentalist, and our own Wilfred Josephs, whose "serious" work awaits evaluation alongside all the Ohrwurms he supplied for film and television. Anniversaries included Schubert's, Brahms's and Korngold's who, between them, annexed a considerable proportion of the year's concert programmes. And in Korngold's case that brought some real discoveries from a "problem" composer who was the most remarkable child-prodigy since Mozart and so developed a musician at 20 that he had nothing new to say thereafter.

Among living composers, it was a good year for the tirelessly prolific Peter Maxwell Davies who had a touring production of his opera Resurrection and a battery of premieres, including a piano concerto and an oratorio, Job. Gyorgy Ligeti's output was acknowledged by some fine performances in the series devoted to his work by the Philharmonia.

And it was a good year for pianists - by whom I don't mean David Helfgott (whose RFH recital was a best-forgotten circus of grotesquerie), but Alfredo Perl and Maurizio Pollini, who both had Beethoven sonata cycles running at the same time in London, and the dynamic young Evgeni Kissin.

Kissin's violinist counterpart, Maxim Vengerov, established himself unequivocally as the hottest property in string-playing - eclipsing Nigel Kennedy who nevertheless made a credible return to the concert platform with the Elgar Concerto and a plea no longer to be known as Nigel. And two younger-generation singers - Ian Bostridge and Matthias Goerne - have made it as big as we all expected.

But my choice for Musician of the Year goes to an old-timer, Sir Colin Davis, whose work with the LSO has been consistently impressive. Indeed, he has never been better than in his recent cycle of Sibelius symphonies. Davis is a figure of benign integrity in times of shifting values, and is exactly what his orchestra needs at this point in its life. In London and throughout the country, British music-making is the richer for it.

Previous winners, 1991-1996: Roger Norrington, Michael Tilson Thomas, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Valery Gergiev, Simon Rattle, Simon Rattle.


By Michael White

It's been more turkeys than triumphs this year, with things like ENO's Italian Girl in Algiers and the Albert Hall Carmen squawking desperately at the bottom of the pile, and a general sense of the two big London companies devoting too much of their energy to dramas offstage as opposed to on. So that left most of the "events" to projects outside London or in less- than-mainstream theatre circumstances, like the Elegy for Young Lovers at the QEH; the concert performance of Die Walkure Act III at Edinburgh; the plucky, pint-sized Ring in Norwich; and the superb City of Birmingham Touring Opera's cycle of Britten's Church Parables, which took one giant leap forward in our understanding of these powerful, if pristine, pieces.

The best design of the year came in Alison Chitty's virtuoso paste-and- paper sets for the Glyndebourne children's opera, Misper. And Glyndebourne also delivered two of the year's best individual performances - from Anja Silja as the seductive senior citizen of The Makropulos Case, and from Gerald Finley in the title role of Owen Wingrave.

But it was with the Royal Opera that Finley had what I'd consider to be his and the whole British opera world's finest moment in 1997. And yes, I did say the Royal Opera, which bowed out of Covent Garden in July with all the shabby grandeur it could muster and now wanders the streets like an old tart with no appearances left to keep up. "Annus horribilis" somehow understates the case. But, along with all-time lows like the disastrously un-Merry Widow and incompetent Il Barbiere di Siviglia, there have been a couple of all-time highs when the constraints of the ROH's new, enforced austerity regime proved inspirational. One was Deborah Warner's minimal but masterly Turn of the Screw.

The other was the semi-staging of Vaughan Williams's epic pageant-opera Pilgrim's Progress, which took the received wisdom on this piece (that it's a no-no) by the scruff of the neck and proved it to be the sublime English Gesamtkunstwerk that only a few die-hard pastoralists had dared believe. The director was Joseph Ward, the conductor Richard Hickox (who also conducted the piece, magnificently, at the St Endellion Festival, Cornwall). And the star was Gerald Finley whose astonishing all-round performance - valiant, vulnerable, heartfelt, honest - had me on the edge of my seat and the verge of tears. For Finley, Hickox, and the piece itself, the Pilgrim gets my vote for Opera of the Year.

Previous winners, 1991-1996: 'King Priam', 'The Duenna', 'Die Meistersinger', 'Turn of the Screw',

'The Makropulos Case', 'Theodora'.


By Jenny Turner

It's a funny time for architecture coverage in Britain. It gets harder and harder to distinguish actually existing buildings from exquisitely modelled computer-aided proposals: and in London especially, it's mostly the fault of the millennium, already exerting its weird imaginative pull. So, one real-life edifice and a veritable Atlantis of possible ones make fitting highlights for the year. Colin St John-Wilson's new British Library building in Euston Road, London - just opened, after its troubled 35-year gestation - was described by our writer as looking like an overscaled DIY superstore. And it does rather, with that odd clock-tower and those shiny red bricks. But who cares what a library looks like, so long as it works? And early reports on the new Humanities Reading Room are promising; as are the lovely desks, the efficient retrieval system and the smoking area thoughtfully provided outside. But if it's virtual buildings which interest you, then the most thrilling way to see them is via the computer terminals which make up London Interactive at the Architectural Foundation in London: a fabulously deep and colourful hypertext thingy, developed by the AF and the software designers Hayes Davidson. The "first layer", which builds from a stunning aerial photograph to exterior and interior shots, info and in some cases fully digitised panoramas of newish buildings like the Oxo Tower, the Lloyd's Building - and of course the British Library - opened in November. New layers, dealing with the Millennium grands projets and a futuristic projection of London in 2050, are scheduled for next year.

Previous winners 1991-1996: Sackler Galleries, Royal Academy (Norman Foster), Cranfield Institute of Technology Library (Norman Foster), Waterloo International Terminal (Nicholas Grimshaw), St John's College, Oxford (Richard MacCormac), 'Blueprint' stand at the Interbuild exhibition (Zaha Hadid), Ruskin Library, University of Lancaster.

Best Ad

By Peter York

The BBC's Perfect Day commercial has it all: a remarkable artefact that made people sit up and ask what was happening (lots of stars, a lovely song, an elegant composition); it makes a remarkable impact on the BBC's case for the licence-fee externally and, equally important, it makes it internally too. It raised morale and focused minds on the arguments that matter. This is what the very best corporate advertising does in the text books: it creates a virtuous circle of good feeling among a range of stakeholders.

The real-world follow-through - huge sales of the record, big money raised for charity, the Lou Reed revival - has been professionally choreographed, making the BBC's pleading of its own case into an act of national service, an event like a royal funeral or Band Aid.

But is it an ad? It has all the characteristics of advertising - a persuasive communication with thought-through objectives and a consistent message delivered using the techniques and the actual resources of the advertising industry. The BBC got it very cheap because the stars only charged cab- fare - a measure of the BBC's pulling power - and they didn't have to buy the TV time, but otherwise it's obviously nearer to advertising than any other form.

How exactly was all this achieved? In the first instance, I would say by the decision to run with a clearly advertising approach - going for the emotional and aesthetic jugular - rather than a public-information film plus style.

The BBC's natural mission, to inform instinct, might've been expected to serve up Richard Baker with a symphony orchestra and a Radio One DJ with Radiohead - the sort of innocent, balanced, literal-minded things the BBC's apologists have cited in the past. Instead, they realised that the Devil just mustn't have the best tunes, used the disciplines of the voodoo arts, and - delicious irony - will almost certainly scoop the pool at the various ad industry Oscars.

Previous winners, 1995-1996: Miller Time, Superdrug.


By Jenny Gilbert

There have been exhilarating moments, but overall it's been an uneasy year for dance. Two of the capital's major dance venues have vanished into deep holes in the ground; a gleaming new Sadler's Wells is due to emerge next October, the gleaming new Covent Garden ... well, your guess is as good as mine. On the plus side, the temporary shortfall in performing space has brought the Coliseum's merits into focus - great location, huge stage - and given English National Ballet something to crow about. After 46 Christmases at the Royal Festival Hall (not a favoured spot for dance), it has landed the seasonal slot at the Coli. Now all it has to do is produce a Nutcracker worth the ticket. The RFH, meanwhile, is left to the poor Royal Ballet, which has already suffered enough. Whatever its deficiencies of creative management, the company does not deserve to share the scorching the Opera has had. Its strength, as ever, lies in its dancers (superb) and its unique archive of Ashton and MacMillan ballets, many of which haven't been aired for decades. On with the old, I say.

Elsewhere, there have been glimmers of gold among the pebbles, mostly of foreign extraction. Paco Pena's company of subtle Spanish dancers showed there's more to flamenco when you keep your shirt on. The six-week Kirov season produced a dazzling Don Quixote and a heart-breaking Giselle. The Dance Umbrella festival at long last succeeded in bringing the Mark Morris Dance Group to London with a ponderously-titled piece linking Milton's poetry, a Handel oratorio and Morris's playful choreography - L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato was pure joy.

But the bravest, boldest enterprise of the year came from Birmingham Royal Ballet. In sharp contrast to its sister company in the south, from which it disengaged formally this year, BRB is riding high. David Bintley has shown a sure instinct for balancing crowd-pleasers with challenges. His own jazzy Nutcracker Sweeties, set to Duke Ellington's version of the Tchaikovsky suite, was an almost-edible delight. His Edward II, based on Marlowe's play, was the most devastating piece of theatre I have seen all year. It achieved that rare liaison of riveting set pieces and lyrical solo dancing with pacey stage direction and psychological subtlety. For those who feared that great narrative classical dance died with Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Edward is the event of the year, and Bintley a choreographer to reckon with.

Previous winners, 1991-1996: Yelena Pankova, Irek Mukhamedov, Yolande Snaith, Adam Cooper, the Royal Ballet's corps de ballet, Deborah Bull.


By Tim Hilton

Not a good year for art; though there have been many pleasures in the last 12 months. The art world has been nervous about admission charges and has little confidence in the new government's arts policies, and we still worry about the future of art schools. The Royal Academy lost the respect both of the public and of artists when it blundered into its "Sensation" exhibition.

The RA did, however, give us decent exhibitions of Gillian Ayres and Georg Grosz. The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool mounted a surprisingly interesting Alma-Tadema exhibition. The Whitechapel featured two contemporary British sculptors, Tony Cragg and Cathy de Monchaux. At the Hayward we saw - for the first time - the art of the Harlem Renaissance.

Top gallery of the year was the Tate, celebrating its centenary with a moving Mondrian exhibition. Joint top curators of the year were Christopher Lloyd of the Royal Collection, for his excellent show of miniatures at the Queen's Gallery; and Lynda Morris of the Norwich Gallery, whose "East" exhibitions have more international feeling than most London shows.

Most successful artist of 1997 was Gary Hume, who was in "Sensation", then won the Jerwood Prize, and finished the year with a prize in the John Moores. But he wasn't the best. He doesn't like paint enough. Artist of the year was Euan Uglow, whose show of paintings at Browse & Darby in May was resolute, scrupulous, beautiful, and demonstrated a lifetime's devotion to art.

Previous winners, 1991-1996: Anna Maria Pacheco, Bridget Riley, Prunella Clough, John Gibbons, Anthony Caro, Jennifer Durrant.


By Sue Gaisford

Fitting a quart into a pint pot is child's play compared with the compression of this list, but it's a child's play that wins the prize. Becky Simpson was Lee Hall's Spoonface Steinberg (R4), an autistic girl, bravely facing death. Directed by Kate Rowland, underscored by the incomparably moving voice of Maria Callas, this was an original and profoundly moving use of the medium.

Other plays, too, will linger in the memory: Tanika Gupta's Voices on the Wind (WS, R4); David Pownall's A Gift From the North and Pound on Mr Greenhill (R4); Mirad, A Boy From Bosnia (WS), Shadowlands, Gaslight, The Playboy of the Western World, Tally's Blood (all R4) and Look Back in Anger (WS). They all illustrate the potency of radio drama.

There were some wonderful features: Fiona Shaw's foray into a convent, Taking the Veil (R4); the late Stefan Grapelli in Eighty Years on the Fiddle (R2); When Harry Met Betty (R4); Rock Kids and Secret Bedrooms (both R1); Piers Plowright's What are they looking at? (R3); Music, a Joy for Life (CFM); The Temptations of St Antony (R3); Matt Thompson's sensitive Touching the Elephant (R4); Roger Fenby's Ship of Light (WS), the threatened On This Day (R4) and the new soap Westway (WS) made a feisty start. On R3 Private Passions, The Christies of Glyndebourne and, of course, the Proms were frothy white horses in a sea of magnificent music.

The best dramatised books were Kes (R2), The Leopard (R4) and War and Peace (R4); the best phone-in presenter was Lorraine Kelly (Talk Radio) and the most powerful reading was The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (R4). And I laughed a lot, particularly at Booked! (R4), People Like Us (R4), Richard Barton GP (R4) and Messages to Myself (R4). Finally, a mention of Cate Foster, star of The Coroner.

This collection is but a tiny percentage of a year's glorious listening. Despite fearsome political problems, our doughty programme-makers consistently give us the best radio in the world.

Previous winners, 1991-1996: 'The Gang that Fell Apart', 'Knowing Me, Knowing You', 'It is with Very Great Regret', 'A Memory Lost', 'Fairest Isle', Leslie Forbes for 'A History of Britain in Six Menus'/Joanna Pinnock for 'Cry in the Dark' and 'Grubs Up'.


By Phil Johnson

In a year in which European artists and European labels fairly trounced the American opposition, no one did it better than the Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko. Although he's been recording fitfully for ECM for 20 years, his latest album, Litania - Music of Krzysztof Komeda at last provoked the interest and acclaim he deserves. It contains marvellously dreamy and atmospheric, yet pin-sharp and precise, music that acts as a bridge between the work of other ECM artists like Jan Garbarek and the classic arrangements one associates with Miles Davis and Gil Evans. The themes - arranged from compositions by the late Polish composer Komeda - draw on soundtrack music written for Roman Polanski's Knife on the Water and Rosemary's Baby and they act as jumping-off points for heady, serious improvisations.

When Stanko brought the group to London's Jazz Cafe for a one-off gig in October, it was the concert of the year. No one hogged the limelight and each round of solos seemed like an intense conversation between friends. Stanko - he 's 55 and has been playing since he heard Dave Brubeck when he was 15 - was a self-effacing figure in glasses and a little African cap, who waited patiently for his turn to blow. When he did, it was beautiful, like encountering the delicate light of a European forest in deepest Camden Town.

Previous winners, 1991-1996: Miles Davis, Tony Williams, Us 3, John Surman, Sonny Rollins, Nikki Yeoh.


By James Rampton

A demented German exchange teacher hurls boiling coffee in the face of a schoolboy who has just spurned his advances. As the boy lies insensible on the floor, the teacher moves to get a spade and bury him in the back garden. This is hardly the stuff of end-of-the-pier, "here's- a-funny-story" comedy. Audiences are jumping out of their seats rather than rolling in the aisles.

But that's what makes the League of Gentlemen so special. They - Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith and Jeremy Dyson - are prepared to tackle the supposedly untackleable, and through a deft combination of acting and writing turn it into disturbing comedy.

Some will be offended by their sketches about the death of children, urine-drinking and grotesque scientific experiments - the flood of complaints to Radio 4 proves as much. But for my money, they should be applauded rather than condemned for - as the jargon would have it - pushing back the boundaries of comedy.

Almost single-handedly, the League of Gentlemen have made dinner-jacketed sketch-comedy cred again - no mean achievement. They won the Perrier Award at this year's Edinburgh Festival, and their radio show will surely transfer to television next year. A similar buzz surrounded the Perrier- nominated Johnny Vegas at Edinburgh, who quickly became the "must- see" act with his original, in-your-face performance as a bitter and twisted entertainer. In a stunning coup de theatre, the show climaxes with him - a la Patrick Swayze in Ghost - helping a female volunteer fashion a jug on an on-stage potter's wheel.

Finally, a word for the winner of last year's IoS award, Al Murray's electrifying Pub Landlord. If anything, his bigoted Little Englander is even more fully rounded, and given added piquancy by the rout of Tory Eurosceptics at the General Election. Who said political comedy was dead?

Previous winners, 1993-1996: Lee Evans, Harry Hill, Phil Kay, Al Murray's Pub Landlord. ...CAPT: More class than brass: The able cast of 'Born to Run'; It's a Sinn: McGuinness and Adams in 'The Provos'; Baton charged: Sir Colin Davis, a figure of benign integrity - and a magnificent conductor of Sibelius; Hold tight: Ian Holm takes us on a rollercoaster rideMove over, darling: Patrick Marber's 'Closer'Drag and click the house: London InteractiveWho would true valour see: 'Pilgrim's Progress'Sangria in the park with Lou: 'Perfect Day' (BBC)

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