The Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Exhibition

The Courtauld Gallery, London, WC2: Mantegna to Matisse: Master Drawings from The Courtauld Gallery, 14 June – 9 September

This new exhibition draws from The Courtauld’s archives, spanning over 500 years of art historical drawings with an emphasis on both the “great masterpieces” and “rarely seen” works from artist like Dürer, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Van Gogh and Matisse. The Courtauld Gallery is home to one of the most important and extensive drawings collections in Britain, with over 20,000 pieces ranging from the Renaissance through to the 20th century. This is an unparalleled opportunity to view 60 of the finest in the flesh, as well as attended a related program of tours, talks and events held throughout the summer.

Music

Snape Malting Hall, Aldeburgh: Aldeburgh Music Festival, 7 – 24 June

The town of Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast is home the “vast skies” and “moody seas” that inspired Benjamin Britten, in 1948, to found the eponymous Aldeburgh Festival of classical music.  Reclaiming and converting old malting buildings, Britten and fellow musician Peter Pears laid the foundations for what was to become a flourishing performance space. It’s been called “arguably the best musical event in Britain” (the Guardian, 2009), and last year’s festival won the coveted Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award. Early highlight from this year’s 65th annual festival will include the Where the Wild Things Are opera, Sea Change – a unique musical adventure from guitarist James Boyd – and special performance from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Literature

Kings Place, London, N1: Poetry & Sport, Monday 11 June, 7:00 pm

This special “Olympic inspired” literary event rejoices in the oft under-acknowledged union of the poetic and the athletic. Poetry readings on the subject of sporting achievements and feats of human strength will offered by an eclectic mix of writers and athletes, including award-winning sports journalist Clare Balding, former Romanian fencing champion Laura Badea, and Britain’s most medalled Paralympic swimmer Chris Holmes MBE. With accompanying jazz music from The Denys Baptiste Quartet, this event promises to be “the perfect warm up to this year’s Olympic summer”.

Theatre

Jacksons Lane, London, N6: Postcard Festival, 7 – 30 June

The Postcard Festival will be a draw for warm weather revellers in search of a thrill. Postcard offers a platform for the best new talent from the world of circus, cabaret and visual performance – showcasing exciting, original and unexpected work. Expect their roster of enthusiastically named shows, including Boom!, Domestic Burlesque, Pop Magic!,  Lab Time: Experiments in Circus, Death Row Diva and Party Piece to knock your socks off. This is experimental, contemporary vaudeville at is most exhilarating.

Ideas

Montpellier Gardens, Cheltenham: Cheltenham Science Festival, 12 – 17 June

Cheltenham is the Gloucestershire town lauded for its impressive yearly calendar of brain-stimulating festivals, including jazz, literature and global music. Next week the town gives itself over to the realm of science, with over 300 thinkers, scientists, comedians and writers converging in a meeting of minds that celebrates and explores all things scientific. Saturated with familiar faces (Brian Cox, Marcus Brigstocke) and groundbreaking talks from botanists, evolutionists, geneticists, astronomers and others, the festival tackles though-provoking themes such as: Space and the Universe, Engineering and Technology, Politics and Ethics, and Being Human.

"Study for La Grande Odalisque" by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, featured in the Courtauld Gallery's new exhibition. (Photo: The Courtald Gallery)
MONTY FRESCO/DAILY MAIL/REX
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A hatchet job on the Daily Mail: Peter Wilby reviews Mail Men

Peter Wilby on Adrian Addison’s expletive-strewn history of the Daily Mail.

The Ukip leader Paul Nuttall recently claimed that he was among the crowd at the Hillsborough football stadium disaster in 1989 and that he lost close personal friends there, statements which suggest, at best, a flexible relationship with the truth. David English, the Daily Mail editor from 1971 to 1992, went one better. He claimed to have been in Dallas in November 1963 on the day John F Kennedy was assassinated. He was, he told Mail readers 25 years later, “part of the inner press circle which the Kennedys courted so assiduously” and: “We lived and travelled well, we President’s men . . . in brand new special planes.” In Dallas, he “witnessed the whole unbelievable scenario”. In fact, English, then based in New York for the Daily Express, was 1,600 miles away having a coffee break near his office. Adrian Addison’s riotously entertaining book is full of similar stories.

The present editor, Paul Dacre, has never been caught out in such flamboyant untruths. Yet, as Addison explains, the very appearance of the Daily Mail is based on a more subtle lie. Flick through its “human interest” features and you find “typical” Britons talking about their experience of relationships, crime, hospitals, schools, and so on. “Typical” in the Mail’s world means Mail readers as envisaged by its editor – white and middle class, not too fat or too thin, with smart but sensible clothes, hair and shoes, and free of tattoos and nose rings. A story does not, as editors say, “work” unless a picture shows the subjects conforming to this stereotype. If they don’t, make-up artists and hair stylists are despat­ched along with the correct clothing.

Addison, a BBC journalist for much of his career, has experience of tabloid journalism, though not at the Mail. Well over half his book is devoted to the editorships of English and his direct successor, Dacre, with the Mail’s first 75 years – including the familiar but still shocking story of its proprietor’s admiration for Hitler in the 1930s – dismissed in just 150 pages. The paper’s Sunday sister, launched in 1982, is mentioned only briefly.

In many respects, the book is a hatchet job. Dacre emerges, to quote Stephen Fry, as “just about as loathsome, self-regarding, morally putrid, vengeful and disgusting a man as it is possible to be”; English comes out very slightly better, thanks to personal charm and lavish parties; and the Mail Online’s publisher, Martin Clarke, who gets a chapter to himself, is portrayed as a cross between Vlad the Impaler and Fred West, redeemed, like Dacre, by demonic energy and undeniable success in attracting readers.

Like a good tabloid editor, Addison varies the tone, giving us occasional tear-jerking passages to show that even Mail editors have a human side. English befriends an ­office messenger boy, promises to find him a job in journalism if he gets an A-level in English, and proves as good as his word. Dacre, shy and socially clumsy, summons a features editor who had said the previous night, “You are mad, you know, Paul,” and asks, “I’m not really mad, am I?” Addison even deploys that old tabloid staple, the faithful, prescient dog. It belonged to Vere Harmsworth, the 3rd Viscount Rothermere and fourth Mail proprietor, who died in 1998 just 12 weeks after English, some said of a broken heart because the two had become so close. The day that Harmsworth, tax-exiled in France, was leaving home for London, where a heart attack killed him, his dog Ryu-ma refused to accompany the master to the airport in the chauffeur-driven car as it usually did.

The Harmsworths command a degree of admiration from many journalists. Of all the great newspaper dynasties – the Beaverbrooks, the Astors, the Berrys – they alone have stayed the course. The present proprietor, Jonathan Harmsworth, the 4th Viscount Rothermere, is the great-great-nephew of Alfred (“Sunny”) Harmsworth, who co-founded the paper in 1896. The Mail’s masthead hasn’t changed in 121 years, nor have several other things. Just as Sunny had only one Daily Mail editor until his death in 1922, Jonathan sticks by Dacre, allowing him to get on with his fanatical Brexiteering despite being a Remain sympathiser himself. So, too, did his father allow Dacre to denounce Tony Blair while he himself moved to the Labour benches in the House of Lords. Again like Sunny and Vere, Jonathan keeps accountants at arm’s length, giving the editor such generous budgets that the Mail scraps roughly two-thirds of the features it commissions yet still pays higher “kill” fees for them than other papers pay for the articles they print.

Other aspects of the Harmsworth legacy are less admirable. Most papers worried about the militarisation of Germany in the years before the First World War but, Addison writes, the Mail “raged”. Today, it is rage against immigrants, liberals, Greens, benefit claimants, human rights lawyers, the EU, overseas aid and a host of individuals from Polly Toynbee to Gary Lineker that oozes from almost every paragraph of the paper.

Many among what Dacre calls “the liberal elite” will find that Addison has written the exposé of the Mail that they always wanted to read. The inside story, with its unexpur­gated f***s and c***s, is as bad as you thought it was. But remember: the paper sells about 1.5 million copies a day, second only to the Sun. Its faults and virtues (there are some of the latter) owe nothing to marketing constructs, the proprietor’s business interests, party loyalties or anything other than the editor’s judgement as to what people will read. Denounce it by all means, but remember that millions of Britons love it.

Peter Wilby was the editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the NS from 1998 to 2005

Mail Men: The Story of the Daily Mail - the Paper that Divided and Conquered Britain by Adrian Addison is published by Oneworld (336pp, £20)

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 16 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit and the break-up of Britain