Tuesday 10 June 2014

Singing For Her Supper

Harriet Harman is reported as saying that the publicly funded Arts should be inclusive etc. etc.  Her evidence for this is that at a couple of visits to venues, one the Royal Albert Hall for a BBC Prom and the other the Royal Opera House, she perceives that the audience is entirely made up of white, middle class members of the Metropolitan Elite.

Given her status and ancestry this is rich.  It is also inaccurate, removed from reality and a cheap political stunt at the easiest shots.  A decade ago some in the media made statements of this kind and wildly preaching fascism leading me to complain to both the Press Complaints Council and the BBC Trust.

It was pointed out to them that because of the ignorance, failure to examine the facts and the nature of the prejudices and discriminatory views of those media people making the remarks they had managed to be homophobic, anti semitic, racist, ageist and metropolitan media elite class biased.

A choice example of this was a TV interval item at a concert where we were and the alleged press "expert" was ranting on much as Harriet does.  Then the camera moved to the Arena of the Hall and lit on an elderly lady.  She was a Polish refugee of the Jewish faith who as a child had survived Auschwitz but lost her family there. 

The camera then moved across tourists from Asia, a group of unwilling Italian students whose tutor had them doing a culture thing and then some "horribly" white males, according to the "expert", who as it happened referred to themselves as the Pink Centre.

Of the audience, very few lived in Central London, a small number from inner suburbs, some from the outer ring but many from up to a hundred miles.  Add to that not only tourists but others down for a weekend or a few days in town and you have a very mixed bag.   

Both the RAH and the ROH are open to all.  Anyone can go online, telephone the box office or walk into the building to the box office counters and buy a ticket for whatever events are going on.  It is a matter of personal choice, no more, no less. 

In relation to these complaints I ran the figures, clearly Harriet did not bother to attempt basic arithmetic or available statistics. The BBC Proms for example are in the Royal Albert Hall which has a maximum capacity of 5272 or when restricted 3971. 

There are over 70 Proms in the two month season let alone more concerts elsewhere.  There is a considerable variety of music, sources and it is quite wide in scope.  It is world based for a world audience.  In the hall itself there is an international audience.  My calculations, based on substantial experience suggest this could come to over 250,000 different people at least with a throughput of around 25,000 in the Arena alone. 

The Royal Opera House is open around 300 times in the main house with 2268 places, with the studio Linbury theatre and other performance areas.  The productions in the main house and Linbury are almost all multiple performances meaning many different people attending.  Even allowing for those who attend on a number of occasions my informed estimate is around 400,000 a year.    

There is a degree of overlap between the RAH and the ROH, but not many because the diversity of musical interest.  So my estimate is that these two alone could have an base of at least 500,000  who attend the performances.  It could be as many as 750.000 depending on the run of the actual figures.  Beyond them are those who listen and watch.  By no stretch of the imagination is this a restricted elite given the extent of those attending and the variations in types of productions.        

Harriet also omits to mention that those who do go pay for their seats or standing positions and some are cheap and some are not. A few of the audience may be on expenses but not many.  The RAH and ROH may be subsidised but to describe them simply as "publicly funded" is remote from the truth.

What was she watching?  Why didn't she tell us?  As a politician she is far more subsidised than most of us and there was the hidden subsidy of her presence in central London.  She went once last week and so did we. 

The performances during the week were two operas and a triple ballet.  Was she there for the beheading of elitist nuns?  Or the execution of political dissidents by firing squad?  Or was it the ballet fantasy featuring Bottom, a new modern dance one based on brain function and the last a satire with a good bit of slapstick? 

Because these are works largely from the past and for what is a minority audience relative to the modern entertainment market, it does not mean that the situation is as of the past. What is more is that these are not single audiences. It is many audiences across differing types of production.  At the ROH that for "The Nutcracker" ballet is not the same as that of "The Ring" opera cycle is an example.  The matinee's bring in a range of people. 

In marketing terms it is not a simple segment, it is a complex set of groups that varies in many ways reflecting the very many and differing performance types and activities at the ROH and the RAH as well, just check out the web sites.

That persons who are considered to be or recognised as members of the political and social elites might be seen at the ROH or RAH is neither unusual nor unexpected.  Moreover they are to be found at many different events or shows, sometimes voluntarily and sometimes as a part of their duties.

There are many more of the elites to be found at football matches and live performances of popular music.  This does not make the rest of the audience an elite group any more than the presence of the Emperors of Rome and their retinues at the Circus of Rome conferred elite status on the many thousands of plebeians.

If you looking for an elite at either the ROH or the RAH then they are simple to find.  They are the performers and the supporting staff and attendants.  They are why the audiences are there and it is their quality of performance that brings them in.  They are both among the world's best venues.

There have been places were elitism is rife, in its way.  In the 1970's and 1980's the Liverpool ground at Anfield had crowds that were almost rabid in the belief of their particular elite status. This attitude has been encountered at quite a number of other sporting venues among elements of the crowds. 

At the old Cardiff Arms Park they had a very elitist view of the Welsh rugby teams.  And as for the time I played against Pontypridd, believe me, this was encountering elitism at its most physical. 

But it has not been encountered at Covent Garden or at other musical or theatrical venues.  As for  the Arena Prommers at the Royal Albert Hall having done that for a few years it is a strange form of a very temporary and floating international job lot with a high turnover.  Outside the Hall we were frankly a scruffy and plebian group.

If Harriet wants to see what an elite is really like she might try Horseguards Parade for Trooping The Colour.  As a former squaddie I would be delighted to put her through some foot drill to get the sense of it.

At least then she would know what she was talking about.

1 comment:

  1. "It is a matter of personal choice, no more, no less."

    That's the point and that's what the vile woman doesn't like. She's quite mad.