Cutting culture

Are the arts an easy target for spending cuts?

Ed Jacobs has an interesting post over at Left Foot Forward asking if the arts are being lined up as an "easy hit" as government departments contemplate George Osborne's goal of reducing spending by 25 per cent across Whitehall. He offers in evidence £5m's worth of cuts recently announced by the Arts Council and the Arts Council for Wales's announcement this week that 32 arts organisations (including the Hay Festival of Literature) are to have their funding removed.

As Jacobs points out, this is all of a piece with calls by the new Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, for arts organisations to explore alternatives to public funding. Back in March, I blogged on a debate in which Hunt participated, and during which he argued that ensuring a "multiplicity of funding sources" was essential in straitened economic circumstances, and that the Conservatives would "boost philanthropy".

Hunt says he supports, as his Labour predecessor Ben Bradshaw supported, the "mixed economy" in arts funding, but it's becoming clear that he (and his colleague, the Chancellor) think philanthropy and endowments, on the American model, should account for a much larger portion of the mix.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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How Dame Vera Lynn was told to “posh her accent up”

Radio 2’s 100th-birthday tribute reveals how Lynn was forced to change her voice.

“I remember seeing her near an elephant, and this elephant rolled over a bit and she had to get out of the way . . .” Vic Knibb, the vice-chairman of the veterans’ group the Burma Star Association, was one of the thousands of British soldiers serving in the Far East during the Second World War who came across Vera Lynn in the jungle, singing from the back of a Jeep, accompanied by an out-of-tune piano.

Speaking in Radio 2’s celebration of the singer’s 100th birthday, Vera Lynn: the Sweetheart of the United Kingdom (Sunday 19 March, 8pm), Knibb and others recalled what it meant to them that Lynn travelled so far to perform for the so-called Forgotten Army in Burma. Unlike other entertainers, who stayed in Europe or visited only military hospitals in the UK, she deliberately went where few others did – where she felt she was needed by “the boys”.

The programme, which featured a rare interview with Lynn herself, was dominated by clips of her recordings from the Thirties and Forties. We heard frequent extracts from “The White Cliffs of Dover”, “We’ll Meet Again” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”. The contrast between these two voices, separated by more than six decades, was the most arresting thing this otherwise pedestrian documentary had to offer. The now gravelly-voiced centenarian sang, in her youth, with a smooth, effortless-sounding tone and crystal-clear diction. But how did the cockney daughter of a plumber from East Ham end up singing with received pronunciation?

The answer, as ever in Britain, is class. Lynn had no formal musical training, and as she had been performing in working men’s clubs from the age of seven, she was considered closer to a musical-hall crooner than a “proper” singer. But with her small vocal range and flawless self-taught technique, she chose her own songs to suit her voice. The BBC, for which she made her hugely popular radio show Sincerely Yours, requested that she take elocution lessons to “posh her accent up” and even at one point took her show off air for 18 months. “Every­body’s Sweetheart” wasn’t immune from snobbishness, it seems. 

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution