Mark Gatiss and Matthew Sweet in action at the Sherlock Prom. Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou
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Proms 2015: The Sherlock Prom goes inside the mind of the great detective

Fortunately, there was more to this programme than just a lot of TV adaptation soundtracks.

With the licence fee under threat and charter renewal on the horizon, the BBC is on a mission to remind us why it is worth every penny that we give them. The Proms is a big part of that - now in its 121st season, the world-renowned concert series could only exist in its current form with the emphasis on accessibility and low-priced tickets if underwritten by public money. This is partly why the announcement of every year’s programme sets off a rash of comment pieces debating exactly what kind of music we should be supporting: new compositions and artists, genre-crossing innovations, highbrow and serious performances of major works, or populist programmes that will get new punters into the hall?

The answer, of course, is all of the above. Yet when I saw the inclusion of a “Sherlock” Prom on this year’s programme, I was still a bit apprehensive. The BBC’s Sherlock is one of the corporation’s most on-brand and successful global exports, so I could absolutely understand the desire to do a bit of cross-pollination and remind the Proms audience that there’s more to it than Benedict Cumberbatch’s cheekbones - namely, its Emmy award-winning soundtrack. But as the NS’s Elizabeth Minkel has pointed out in a great essay about the Sherlock fandom, there just isn’t very much of it: “falling for a show with three episodes every two years does terrible things to your mind”, she writes. Unless they were actually going to wheel out Cumberbatch (unlikely, given his current Hamlet commitments) and fill a lot of the time with clips from the show, I just couldn’t see how it would even be long enough.

I was very relieved to discover, then, this was a concert dedicated not to Sherlock, but to Sherlock Holmes in all his various guises. Subtitled “a musical mind”, the programme was filled with a combination of the themes to the various film and TV adaptations as well as the music that Conan Doyle’s original character is said to have an affinity with in the stories. Thus, we got the themes from 1985’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and the main title music from 1970’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, but also two Lassus motets (upon which Conan Doyle’s Holmes once wrote a monograph) and a movement of the second violin concerto by the detective’s most admired violinist, Paganini.

The programme also served as a useful reminder that in many cases, TV and film music isn’t quite what it was. So while Frank Skinner’s (not that one) spectacular and dramatic suite for 1942’s Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror was thrilling and amusing in its propagandistic, camp way, Hans Zimmer’s rather insipid music for the 2009 and 2011 Guy Ritchie detective films was barely memorable. When we finally got to David Arnold and Matthew Price’s music for Sherlock, I was all soundtracked-out - although it was intriguing to see quite how much percussion their themes require.

Christine Rice. Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

The highlights of the afternoon, though, came from the non-soundtrack portions of the programme. Mezzo-soprano Christine Rice, resplendent in a nineteenth century opera gown, gave us two arias that Sherlock Holmes’ “woman”, Irene Adler, is supposed to have sung - “Una voce poco fa” from The Barber of Seville and “Ah, Tanya, Tanya” from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. Her deep tones and smooth delivery brought some much-needed contrast to the mostly-instrumental programme. Jack Liebeck’s Paganini, too, gave a bit of flair to the proceedings. Less successful by far was the inclusion of Wagner’s Ride of Valkyries, in a slightly ponderous and muted version by the BBC Concert Orchestra.

In between pieces, presenter Matthew Sweet and Sherlock co-creator and star Mark Gatiss provided the “musical mind” narrative that linked the music together, as well as short readings from the original stories. Although this was a long way from the full-costume pageantry of the Doctor Who or War Horse Proms of the past, there was a bit of effort made with the wing-backed armchairs the presenters occupied when not speaking and their velvet and tweed costumes. The glee of Sweet and Gatiss, clearly visible throughout, reminded me just why Conan Doyle’s characters have endured the way they have, to be adapted and remixed by every successive generation. As Laurie Penny has pointed out, Sherlock, its latest TV reincarnation, “doesn’t just engage with fan fiction - it is fan fiction”, created by lifelong fans of the Holmes canon. Judging by the knowing chuckles from the audience at all the nudge-nudge-wink-wink references in this programme, quite a lot of their peers were in the hall yesterday afternoon.

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

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Don’t worry, Old Etonian Damian Lewis calls claims of privilege in acting “nonsense!”

The actor says over-representation of the privately educated at the top of acting is nothing to worry about – and his many, many privately educated peers agree.

In the last few years, fears have grown over the lack of working class British actors. “People like me wouldn’t have been able to go to college today,” said Dame Julie Walters. “I could because I got a full grant. I don’t know how you get into it now.”

Last year, a report revealed that half of Britain’s most successful actors were privately educated. The Sutton Trust found that 42 per cent of Bafta winners over all time were educated independently. 67 per cent of British winners in the best leading actor, actress and director categories at the Oscars attended fee-paying schools – and just seven per cent of British Oscar winners were state educated.

“That’s a frightening world to live in,” said James McAvoy, “because as soon as you get one tiny pocket of society creating all the arts, or culture starts to become representative not of everybody but of one tiny part. That’s not fair to begin with, but it’s also damaging for society.”

But have no fear! Old Etonian Damian Lewis is here to reassure us. Comfortingly, the privately-educated successful actor sees no problem with the proliferation of privately-educated successful actors. Speaking to the Evening Standard in February, he said that one thing that really makes him angry is “the flaring up recently of this idea that it was unfair that people from private schools were getting acting jobs.” Such concerns are, simply, “a nonsense!”

He elaborated in April, during a Guardian web chat. "As an actor educated at Eton, I'm still always in a minority," he wrote. "What is true and always rewarding about the acting profession is that everyone has a similar story about them being in a minority."

Lewis’s fellow alumni actors include Hugh Laurie, Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne – a happy coincidence, then, and nothing to do with the fact that Etonians have drama facilities including a designer, carpenter, manager, and wardrobe mistress. It is equally serendipitous that Laurie, Hiddleston and Tom Hollander – all stars of last year’s The Night Manager – attended the same posh prep school, The Dragon School in Oxford, alongside Emma Watson, Jack Davenport, Hugh Dancy, Dom Joly and Jack Whitehall. “Old Dragons (ODs) are absolutely everywhere,” said one former pupil, “and there’s a great sense of ‘looking after our own’." Tom Hollander said the Dragon School, which has a focus on creativity, is the reason for his love of acting, but that’s neither here nor there.

Damian Lewis’s wife, fellow actor Helen McCrory, first studied at her local state school before switching to the independent boarding school Queenswood Girls’ School in Hertfordshire (“I’m just as happy to eat foie gras as a baked potato,” the Telegraph quote her as saying on the subject). But she says she didn’t develop an interest in acting until she moved schools, thanks to her drama teacher, former actor Thane Bettany (father of Paul). Of course, private school has had literally no impact on her career either.

In fact, it could have had an adverse affect – as Benedict Cumberbatch’s old drama teacher at Harrow, Martin Tyrell, has explained: “I feel that [Cumberbatch and co] are being limited [from playing certain parts] by critics and audiences as a result of what their parents did for them at the age of 13. And that seems to me very unfair.”

He added: “I don’t think anyone ever bought an education at Harrow in order for their son to become an actor. Going to a major independent school is of no importance or value or help at all.” That clears that up.

The words of Michael Gambon should also put fears to rest. “The more Old Etonians the better, I think!” he said. “The two or three who are playing at the moment are geniuses, aren’t they? The more geniuses you get, the better. It’s to do with being actors and wanting to do it; it’s nothing to do with where they come from.”

So we should rejoice, and not feel worried when we read a list of privately educated Bafta and Oscar winners as long as this: Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dulwich College), Emilia Clarke (St Edward’s), Carey Mulligan (Woldingham School), Kate Winslet (Redroofs Theatre School), Daniel Day-Lewis (Sevenoaks School, Bedales), Jeremy Irons (Sherborne School), Rosamund Pike (Badminton), Tom Hardy (Reed), Kate Beckinsale (Godolphin and Latymer), Matthew Goode (Exeter), Rebecca Hall (Roedean), Emily Blunt (Hurtwood House) and Dan Stevens (Tonbridge).

Life is a meritocracy, and these guys were simply always the best. I guess the working classes just aren’t as talented.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

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