The Cost Of Cutting Culture: A discussion

The Cost of Cutting Culture – can a creative education close the business skills gap?

A lively and engrossing discussion formed the majority of the Lord Mayor’s Gresham College Lecture on Thursday 9th January, attended by a packed audience and a knowledgeable panel including William Russell, Lord Mayor of London, and the directors of the City of London’s key cultural institutions: Kathryn McDowell CBE, DL, MD of the London Symphony Orchestra, Lynne Williams who is Principal of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Sir Nicholas Kenyon CBE, MD of the Barbican Centre, and Sharon Ament, Director of the Museum of London.

Introduced by the Lord Mayor, he made the points that over the last twenty years the tech companies have replaced the oil and engineering firms as as the world’s largest employers, with a raft of implications for what the jobs of tomorrow will look like.

With the changing demands at work, and the threat of automation to 40% of the UK’s current jobs, creative skills are becoming more important and desirable in the workplace. The so- called “Fusion Skills” – social, analytical and creative skills – will progressively play a larger part in the job descriptions of many future UK Jobs.

The alarming situation is that there is a genuine demotion of the arts in the UK school curriculum. The arts are not represented at GCSE Level at all.

The UK’s future workplaces will need to attract the best candidates by offering creative work environments but also extensions of that out into the environment. People aspire to work and live in areas like Shoreditch, Clerkenwell and Camden, as they are seen to have a creative vibe which enriches their environments. 

Culture Mile is a move to create a similar creative hub destination, a creative partnership between The Barbican Centre, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the LSO and the Museum of London. It aims to create a thriving and intriguing cultural community which runs from Farringdon to Moorgate- the Culture Mile.

The discussion covered what businesses can do to support and drive creativity, and the role of the Culture Mile in supporting a creative society.

Each organisation outlines the way that their work has developed to encompass outreach and life-long learning opportunities in the community, with particular drive to unlock each person’s creativity. The links between culture ,commerce and finance were also discussed.

Questions from the audience included issues such as sponsorship, digital services, and the work of creating a cultural community which could call Culture Mile its home- central to this being affordable housing.

So, lots to enjoy and lots to think about for the future, in a very listenable hour.

You can watch or listen to the whole event via the link here.


TALKING AUDIENCES: An Exhibition in Bristol

For anyone who lives in or is visiting Bristol within the next few weeks, there is a very interesting exhibition at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection, one of the world’s largest archives of British theatre history. Until February 28th, the Collection hosts “Talking Audiences”, an exhibition which is the culmination of two years of archival research by Dr Kirsty Sedgman into the Bristol Old Vic as part of her British Academy postdoctoral Fellowship project.

Nearly lost in the late 1940s, when under threat of being sold off as a warehouse, the Bristol theatre was built in 1766 as the Theatre Royal, and was one of the first successes of the Arts Council of Great Britain’s remit of making great theatre available across the country. Linked to London’s Old Vic, the relationship had its stresses and strains, but the theatre thrives to this day, long after the link has fallen away.

Although the theatre’s journey was an uneven one, the exhibition traces the ups and downs of these early years intercut with audience reactions, which makes a fascinating look at how a venue interacts with those it seeks to engage with.

You can find out more information here


Remembering Jill Hudson

Stage Doorkeeper Jill Hudson was the first person I met walking into the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1986. For the next 31 years she was the first person most people saw.

Jilly was a smart lady with a big heart and an even larger presence; she ruled the Stage Door with a friendly smile, a quick mind, a calm demeanour – and considerable authority.

The news that Jill has died on January 6th after living with cancer for some time, just a few days after her birthday (on New Year’s Day), is a sad moment for myself and all those thousands of show-people who came across her, and recognised her as a happy part of Drury Lane’s glittering history.

She started at Drury Lane like me, in 1986, on the original five-year run of 42nd STREET, an incredibly happy show which had a real family atmosphere thanks to the warm-hearted management of General Manager Bill Cronshaw. Jill left in late 2017 due to illness, interestingly during the revival of 42nd STREET (which ran at the theatre for nearly two years until January 2019). She did say to me in 2017 that she wanted to retire on the last night of the show, but sadly that wasn’t to be.

For 31 years a favourite with the large casts which filled the Lane, the stage door was really Jilly’s home, with assorted cards and gifts from previous celebrity (and non-celebrity) friends, soft toys and of course Chelsea FC memorabilia. Visitors buzzed in and out constantly, always welcomed and the kettle was always on for a brew and a chat whenever time permitted.

Jilly knew how to be firm whilst being pleasant, qualities which many a visitor appreciated, and in terms of working relationships you knew just where you were with Jill- and it worked both ways. She was the best.

She will not be forgotten by those many people who met her, laughed with her and enjoyed her warm and happy Tannoy messages- especially keeping people up to date on sports event back in the days before mobile phones. Indeed, Twitter and Instagram have lit up with tributes since the news of her passing emerged – proof, if any were needed, that Jill was more loved than even she may have even known!

My thoughts and heartfelt wishes go out to her family and loved ones.

Thanks for all the happy memories, Jilly. Drury Lane will never be quite the same again.


Goodbye, Jerry

“There are only a couple of us who care about writing songs that people can leave the theater singing.”

Jerry Herman, composer of tune-filled big Broadway crowd-pleasers such as HELLO, DOLLY!, MAME, LA CAGE AUX FOLLES and MACK AND MABEL, has died aged 88.

Herman’s biggest successes were based on other people’s stories, which makes sound sense. If they like and know the story, why would they not want to see it again as a musical? Thus, Thornton Wilder’s delightful THE MATCHMAKER became HELLO, DOLLY!, Patrick Dennis’ novel AUNTIE MAME became MAME , and Jean Poiret’s stage farce turned France’s most profitable-ever movie LA CAGE AUX FOLLES came to the musical stage and worked a new kind of magic with its story.

Many tributes have already been penned, so I shall not duplicate for the sake of duplication. I shall just content myself with remembering my connections with the man and his work.

I was lucky enough to be a House Manager at the Palladium during the original London run of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES in 1987. A truly lavish spectacle, this Allan Carr-produced extravaganza wowed audiences nightly with its glamour, humour, heart -and of course those priceless songs which sent audiences home happy and singing. The mischievous Cagelles were legend around the building- for all the wrong (right?) reasons. The magnificent George Hearn and Denis Quilley starred and it was a very happy show. There was some resistance to the show’s chosen theatre of residence, in that the Palladium was a family house and the fact that such a risque, adult show had come in was seen as something of a misplace. Certainly the venue’s vast capacity of 2200 was a factor in the show’s only running for one year. But what a year it was!

What was also very touching about LA CAGE was the audiences. All ages, types, everyone had a whale of a time, although I recall seeing no children as the show was aimed at adults. It was a time of social upheaval regarding attitudes towards homosexuality. As you may recall the world was in the grip of the HIV and AIDS crisis, with no effective treatment then in sight. Songs such as The Best Of Times took on a deeper resonance. Somehow, the show became a focus of energy around this upheaval.

I particularly remember older audience members wanting to talk with us on the outgoing- they had gay friends and they wanted us to know they valued and loved them. I can clearly recall conversations with people in their sixties and seventies who spoke lovingly about their gay friends and how difficult life had been for them. It was very moving and I felt honoured to be entrusted with their words. As I mentioned, the show closed after a year, and everyone was rather disappointed it had not gone on for much longer. Thankfully the show has had a large number of revivals since. But nothing will rival that no-expenses spared glamour-filled year at The London Palladium.


The one time that I met Jerry Herman was at a lavish benefit performance staged at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in February 1988, MACK AND MABEL IN CONCERT. Tickets were like gold dust. Rumours had been flying about the guest list and they mostly proved true. Barry Mishon produced one of his star-studded extravaganzas (he specialised in American star-laden tribute shows on Sundays in London in the 80s). Presenting a concert version with an (as I recall it) fifty-piece orchestra.

The performance was recorded for sound but not filmed, sadly. Some great performers graced this gala, the likes of George Hearn, Georgia Brown, Stubby Kaye, Debbie Shapiro, and in a spectacular roof-raiser, Tommy Tune and a company of dozens and dozens of glittering chorines all in white, singing and dancing to Tap Your Troubles Away, the ovation for which I have never heard louder in a theatre. You can actually hear the sound distort on the recording at the physical force of the applause and the house went truly crazy with a standing ovation and people crying and hugging themselves. I was on duty but even I couldn’t resist seeing this. A truly memorable show. We even got to hear Jerry sing, when he took a section of I Promise You A Happy Ending towards the end of the show.

After the bulk of the audience had departed, the post-show party was held upstairs in the Grand Circle Saloon, an expansive and elegant hall, and the company mingled with VIPs and others. Jerry Herman was there with his small entourage, and on his arm was the dazzling Lauren Bacall, a special friend, who appeared in the show as one of the featured narrators of the story, in between the songs.

Halfway up the stairs to the Saloon (I was following behind) I noticed that Ms Bacall stopped and seemed to panic. Jerry was concerned about his friend. I raced up to ask if I could help. Ms Bacall said that she had left a very special pair of gloves in her dressing room and was upset to be without them. I reassured her that we would locate it and asked the party to continue on. The items duly retrieved, I brought them to her in the Saloon. She was very relieved and kissed me on the cheek, and Jerry thanked me genuinely. She later told me that “a very special person”, now deceased, had given them to her and she considered them a kind of talisman.

Chatting later to his friends who had accompanied him, they were all delighted at the success of the event and the fact that it had raised a huge amount for the Royal Marsden Cancer hospital in Chelsea. The recording, released later in 1988 and still available today, also generated funds for the hospital’s cancer fund.


Time Travel Theatre: Celebrating Noel Coward’s 120th anniversary- and you’re invited to his 70th birthday!

In celebration of the 120th anniversary of his birthday, let’s remind ourselves of the author, actor and leading light of the English twentieth century stage, Sir Noel Coward (1899-1973).

The above footage was filmed on the occasion of his 70th birthday in 1969, exactly 50 years ago today. Anyone who was anyone in the theatre world paid homage to “The Master” at a gala reception at London’s Savoy Hotel. Sadly the footage has no sound as it was shot for British Pathé News who put a voice-over commentary over the sequences, as was their practice at the time.

So grab some canapes, crack open a bottle of bubbly/prosecco/Vimto/fizzy water, and let’s all celebrate Sir Noel Coward!

BONUS EXTRA

Here’s a clip of Noel Coward a few months later at the 1970 Tony Awards in New York being presented with an honorary Tony Award by the equally legendary Cary Grant.

With thanks to the original YouTube posters, British Pathé and MrPoochsmooch