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David Lister: Deep in thought over the thinker in residence

Saturday 20 June 2009 00:00 BST

An intriguing appointment has been made, I hear, at London’s South Bank Centre, or Southbank Centre, as they annoyingly insist on being called. The country’s biggest arts centre, boasting among its venues the Royal Festival Hall and Hayward Gallery, has appointed a “thinker in residence”.

Now there’s job I would have loved. What kudos it would have been in the days when your occupation was on your passport to have the word “thinker”. True, it might have barred you entry to certain dictatorships and the BBC, but for dinner party invitations and the prospect of graduate groupies there can’t be a job to compare.

The decision to have a resident thinker was made by Jude Kelly, the centre’s enterprising artistic director. And the appointee is a deserving one. He is the fine journalist Martin Bright, and he will be given a room at the centre in which to think. I would love to suggest to Martin that his first task is to think about why his new employers spent thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money changing their name and signage from The South Bank Centre to Southbank Centre. But there are weightier things to think about. Martin will be considering a New Deal of the Mind, a new cultural agenda, with allusions to President Roosevelt in the 1930s. The prime purpose is to form a coalition of creative industries dedicated to combating the effects of the recession.

It’s important stuff, and we may well have thinkers in residence at all our major arts institutions. There is already one school that has adopted the idea. Why not hospitals, town halls, Manchester United? Wannabe thinkers could audition on Britain’s Got Talent. It could become a growth employment area. That, in turn, would doubtless lead to A-levels and degrees in thinking. Imagine the stigma in failing those.

There’s a brave, new, intellectual world out there. I do, though, worry a little about the implications for cultural institutions. If they have a thinker in residence, does that let everyone else off the thinking hook? I have dark visions of a Royal Festival Hall staffer being asked: “What do you think?” and answering with a nod to Martin’s office: “That’s his job.”

There are other problems. How do you disport yourself? You can hardly spend all your working hours chin on hand like Rodin’s sculpture. But equally one’s colleagues would not wish to see their resident thinker having a laugh or joining the South Bank Centre’s tiddlywinks team. One presumably must be deep in thought at all times. And what happens to a thinker in residence when he goes home? Does he refuse to talk shop and, in order to get away from the day job, watch a trashy movie? This new world of professional thinkers is fraught with possibility

They don't make 'em like they used to

Did they or didn't they? Did those two Hollywood megastars consummate their relationship? Is that a question you have been asking yourself for the past ... 64 years?

It was in 1935 that Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, pictured, began a romance during Flynn's debut film Captain Blood. He died as long ago as 1959. But now de Havilland, who is also the last surviving star of Gone with the Wind, has decided to unburden herself at the age of 92. She told researchers that she and Flynn did indeed have a relationship, but the affair was never consummated. "We were very attracted to each other," she said, "Yes, we did fall in love and I believe that is evident in the screen chemistry between us. But his circumstances at the time prevented the relationship going further. I have not talked about it a great deal, but the relationship was not consummated."

What commendable restraint. Not the lack of consummation so much as the 64-year delay between kissing and telling. Next time Sienna Miller or whoever is asked a question about her private life, she should reply: "Ask me when I'm 92. I promise to reveal all."

Aldeburgh: how terribly unEnglish

Who better to run the quintessentially English festival at Aldeburgh, with its annual homage to Benjamin Britten, than a Frenchman who does not much care for the composer?

I went to Aldeburgh this week to meet the new festival director, the acclaimed pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, pictured. Are you a fan of Britten, I asked. "You know that I am not," he replied, later explaining more diplomatically that he thought it "wrong to be a fanatic of any one type of music".

Well, let's see what he does. A new, more diverse approach at Aldeburgh could pay dividends. When I mentioned all this to the festival's chief executive Jonathan Reekie, he claimed that it wasn't a quintessentially English festival at all. "The light in this part of Suffolk is Scandinavian," he said, "and Britten looked across the water as much as to his English roots."

Danes and Norwegians should apply for the job when M. Aimard's tenure is up.

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