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Jan 28 / Simon

Pauline Yates

Actor who played the wife of Reggie Perrin in the hit TV comedy
The Guardian, 27/1/2015
The gentle good nature of the BBC’s anarchic 70s comedy The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin that made it such a hit owed much to the innocent yet tacitly conspiratorial support of Leonard Rossiter’s wife Elizabeth played by Pauline Yates, who has died aged 85. She was a spirit of domestic calm in the mayhem created by David Nobbs’s other characters, led by Rossiter as the erratic Reggie Perrin, whose bizarre behavior she treated as normal and beyond explanation.

The show ran for three series between 1976 and 1979, in the course of which Elizabeth became almost as serenely batty as Reggie. Practically a non-drinker, Yates needed a large gin-and-tonic at the end of each recording.

But with her husband Donald Churchill she was almost a route map through British television comedy in the 1970s and 80s, she acting in many of them, he acting too but more often writing.

She was a consummate comic foil, appearing in The Ronnie Barker Playhouse on ITV in 1968, but also took on central roles as the MP of My Honourable Mrs (BBC, 1975) and the divorcee finding a new life after marriage in Harriet’s Back in Town (Thames, 1972).

Away from the suburban conservatism of the Perrin household, Yates was a lifelong Labour supporter who swore liberally and sent her daughters to comprehensive school when she and her husband could well have afforded private education. Nonetheless, she thought nothing of splashing out on designer dresses when she was in funds, insisting on three rules: not buying anything in the sale, never taking anything back and never looking at the price.

Pauline Yates was born into a working class household in St Helens, Lancashire, the eldest of three daughters of Thomas, a commercial traveller, and Marjorie who ran a corner shop. She was determined to be an actor, much against her parents’ wishes. Leaving school at 17, her mother gave her an ultimatum: get a job within a year or go for teacher-training.

In two weeks she had found work as an assistant stage manager at Chorley Rep before moving on to weekly reps throughout the north and, eventually, London. She met Churchill in Liverpool in 1960 and they were married that year in Hampstead Register Office.

Yates was a skilled television performer before and after the role she is best known for. Her looks and ability to learn lines very quickly, a trick perfected during her years in rep, made her a popular choice for casting directors, and she was in ITV’s Emergency Ward 10 in 1957, the first hospital soap, and the BBC police series Z Cars and Softly Softly as well as making a number of appearances in ITV’s Armchair Theatre, for which Churchill wrote several plays. Later, she was in four series of the Thames TV sit com Keep it in the Family (1980-83) as the put-upon wife of a cartoonist (Robert Gillespie), and in 1985 appeared with Julie Walters in the film She’ll Be Wearing Pink Pyjamas as one of a group of middle-aged women at a survival school. Her last TV appearance was in the 2002 pilot for the ITV crime series Rose and Maloney.

On stage she was in the Liverpool Playhouse production of Pride and Prejudice as Mrs Bennett, and toured as Lettice in Peter Shaffer’s Lettice and Lovage [afraid I don’t have dates for these].

Domestic life in the Churchills’ Primrose Hill home could have been sit-com script. They loved to entertain and the house was often full of actors, writers and directors sitting around a drink-laden table gossiping and laughing. Yates could sometimes be found in the kitchen pouring wine down the sink to encourage the guests to go – “Time for them to FUCK OFF!” she would explain gaily.

True to his own working class roots – his father was an engine driver – Churchill was avid for bargains, and on Saturdays would wait until the end of the morning to go to Camden Market to buy cheap veg, or even get it free. He would return at lunchtime with his prizes in a whicker basket on wheels, “laughing to himself and imagining that he had beaten all the other writer residents of Camden Town such as Alan Bennett, Beryl Bainbridge and Jonathan Miller, and proudly announce he had bought food for the week for under two quid!” recalls their daughter Jemma, also an actor. Her mother would then surreptitiously slip most of it in the bin, replacing it with Marks and Spencer produce, while her father would surreptitiously retrieve it and make a stew that would last a week.

Acting was part of the household, and bedtime reading was an essential element of the day for Yates in which she would play all the characters. Her husband used to complain “I think you LIKE reading to her”, but for Polly, now a playwright and screenwriter, it was a nightly professional theatre performance which she regards as the most important of her education. She has written scripts for children’s television for 15 years.

Donald Churchill died in 1991 from a heart attack on the set of the ITV sit com El C.I.D. (Granada TV), a week before his 61st birthday.

Pauline Yates died in her sleep at Denville Hall, the actors’ care home. She leaves her two daughters and three grandchildren.

Simon Tait
Pauline Lettice Letts, actor, born 16 June 1929, died 21 January 2015

Oct 8 / Simon

Open channel

Classical Music, September 2014
High in the Urals, east of Moscow, work begins shortly on a £160m new theatre as a second venue for the 145-year-old Perm Opera House, which recently played host to a Greek-Russian descent into the Underworld. Simon Tait reports

The house was full at the start, as it always is in the Perm Opera House and Theatre, but not by the time this particular world premiere was over. Some left during the performance, noiselessly and politely, some went as the curtain calls were being taken making more of a point, while others, stunned by what they had just witnessed, applauded wildly, and in the end the depleted audience accorded the production the Russian compliment of rhythmic, co-ordinated clapping.

What they had seen was a new kind of opera, a blend of artforms that the general manager of the theatre, Marc De Mauny, describes as “as much an arts installation with sound as a musical piece”, combining music, but also visual art, dance and sonic effects, with heavy references to classical Greek tragedy. The Financial Times described it as a “Gesamtkunstwerk bringing together voice, orchestra, ritual theatre, imagery and dance”.

The music by Dmitry Kurlandsky is atonal, with a chorus of 40 ranged on either side of the stalls voicing not words but sounds that are almost primeval. The libretto is by the Greek poet Dimitris Yalamas and the set is designed by another Greek, the arte povera conceptual artist Yannis Kunellis. The director, also Greek, is Theodore Terzopoulos, who has also devised the choreography that uses 30 dancers from the Perm company.
Perm is a city 700 miles east of Moscow high in the Urals whose reputation is growing as a cultural hub. The piece revives the long dormant reputation of the opera house by its 42-year-old Athens-born artistic director Teodor Currentzis, who three years ago was brought by the Perm regional government from the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre in Siberia’s capital where he had been principal conductor for six years. It is the Musica Aeterna Ensemble that he founded in Novosibirsk, that provides the chorus.

The idea of Nosferatu took five years to bring to fruition and the production, Currentzis says, is a genuine joint Greek-Russian creation. He commissioned first the librettist and then the composer, and the full team evolved, each component devoted to the concept of taking a classical story and giving it a current context. The Kunellis set is sparse, with eternal symbols – coffins, knives, books – filling the whole backstage space and changing with each of the three acts.

The narrative, Currentzis explained, is based on the Persephone story and her descent into the Underworld with Hades. But it is an allegorical use of the story and some of the methods of the Athenian theatre of Aeschylus whereby we can read “our horrible world”, he said. “This is a message for future generations,” he added. “If we were to go back to Aeschylus’s theatre for a moment I think we would be absolutely shocked – it is not the theatre we’re used to now, it would be a completely different type. The past is a link, it’s a carrier of truth for us.”

Nosferatu, sung by the baritone Tasos Dinas, represents the human propensity for corruption which, Currentzis says, is no less horrific now than it in ancient times.
“Today”, he says, “we drink champagne and we’re happy; just one week go I had news from a friend in Yemen, in a civilised city, with a photograph of a girl of eight, a bride, and this girl had died from sexual abuse on her wedding night. That is how horrible our world still is”.

The 850-seat theatre was built in the 1870s by an affluent community, and survived through Stalin’s empire. In the Second World War the Kirov Ballet, now the Mariinsky, was evacuated here for four years and created a ballet school, so that Perm Ballet is now the third most important classical dance company in Russian after the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky itself. Its state subsidy is worth 90% of its income and it is open six nights a week for opera and ballet, playing to houses of between 85% and 100%. Ticket prices start at about £1.70.

Perm, the city and the district, were depressed and the former governor, Oleg Chirkunov, saw its future in contemporary art. He brought in Currentzis who in turn recruited his friend De Mauny, an Englishman who had trained with Currentzis at the St Petersburg Conservatoire and had been running a Baroque music festival there which he had founded.

They have persuaded the funding authorities that the opera house needs a second venue,. And work began in August on building the £160m Diaghilev Theatre next to what will be renamed the Tchaikovsky Opera House, named for the composer who was born a couple of hundred kilometres from Perm. Designed by the British architect David Chipperfield, the 1100-seat Diaghilev – the founder of the Ballets Russes spent his childhood in Perm and his grandfather helped fund the original building – is expected to open in 2016.

Nosferatu is the first manifestation of a future of programing that will include avant garde dance and opera as well as favourites from the more traditional repertoire. The production has been made possible by the support of the Stella Arts Foundation, set up 11 years ago by the wife of a Russian millionaire businessman, Igor Kesaev.

“We are not concerned with politics in this country or social issues, but very much with philosophy, and that is what was attractive about Nosferatu,” Stella Kesaeva says – a long-time admirer of Kunellis’s work. After two performances in Perm in June, the production is to be seen in Moscow in April at the Bolshoi Theatre.

The composer, Kurlyandsky, says that he had to forget everything he had been taught to create the score, to the extent that it wasn;t entirely clear which bars were his and which came from one of the other collaborators.

“Therefore,” says Currentzis, “there are elements of this production that are still a mystery for us. I hope it can develop and unfold itself later – it’s an open channel for us to explore more and more.”

Oct 8 / Simon

Ramblers uncover secret war bunker

The Times, 27-9-2014
Simon Tait

The entrance to a hole in the ground in a Wiltshire woodland is hardly visible, even after the undergrowth has been cleared away from the rusted metal grill, but it is the gateway to a Britain where Nazi Germany has invaded, where ordinary civilians have become underground guerrillas, nocturnal saboteurs and spies, where clandestine radio stations are manned by female officers, reportedly nicknamed “Secret Sweeties”.

Germany’s invasion never came, but the largest of the subterranean radio stations in the intelligence network set up in the Second World War – “Super Zero Station” – has been discovered and has been scheduled as an ancient monument by English Heritage to protect it.

“The role of the Auxiliary Units in the Second World War is one of the relatively little understood and untold chapters in our national history,” said Tony Calladine, acting head of designation at English Heritage. “Those men and women who were trained to resist invading forces in what would have been its darkest hour, for little or no recognition, are celebrated in this designation.”

So secret was the system that eventually covered the coasts south and east from Cardiff and north to Caithness that little detail is known about the GHQ Auxiliary Units (Aux Units) set up by Winston Churchill in 1940 before the Battle of Britain, and even less about the men and women who served in them. Their existence was “Most Secret” and kept on a “need to know” basis.

Aux Units was divided into two sections, the Operational Branch guerrillas (Ops) who were largely civilians specially trained and living in underground bunkers of which over 1,000 are thought to have been made; and the Special Duties Branch, the vital communications system in 155 stations manned largely by women in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, of which the station uncovered in Wiltshire is the most refined.

Those who served were never recognised for their work, though they were kept in continual readiness until after D-Day in 1944, fully aware that if caught they would be handed to the Gestapo. Ops recruits were enlisted into the Home Guard and could eventually claim the Defence Medal, but the 3,250 Special Duties civilians could not.

The British Resistance Archive, which seeks out Aux Units survivors and their families, has managed to help many get their medals and also included some surviving volunteers in the 2013 Armistice Day parade at the Cenotaph for the first time. Its founder, Tom Sykes, hopes some wireless operators may join the parade this November.

There were 125 out-stations from which operators in the community would send their information, many of them in mundane hiding places such as in bell towers, down wells or inside church altars. One sophisticated outstation complete with maproom has been found intact under an outdoor Devon privy, accessed with the help of a bewildering complex of pulleys, counter-balances and switches.

Their messages would go to one of 30 in-stations, or Zero Stations, operated by the “Secret Sweeties”, Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) officers. Their ATS commander, Beatrice Temple, writing in her personal diary, called the Wiltshire base the “Super Zero Station”, and The Times has been asked not to identify its whereabouts. Super Zero is between three and four metres deep, three metres wide and 10.3 metres long – three times the size of other Zero Stations, the whereabouts of half of them are already known. Its escape tunnel is 22m long.

David Hunt, a retired Royal Signals colonel who has made military archaeology his speciality knew of the existence of Super Zero from references in policy documents held in the National Archive, but not its whereabouts until local woodland walkers stumbled on it a year ago and Col Hunt was alerted. He knew immediately what it was and applied to English Heritage for its protection from treasure hunters.

“We had been building these underground stations since 1940 and this one was not made until about 1943,” said Col Hunt. “It was the ‘best of breed’, the most sophisticated, and they had to be concealed so that anyone walking above would be unaware of what was beneath their feet. Whereas most in-stations would be manned by three ATS officers, this one could have accommodated nine, and would have had a generator and been provisioned and with enough fuel for 21 days, completely closed down. The dugout had various layers of security for the entrance and a 30 m escape tunnel together with a sophisticated ventilation system.”

Super Zero was part of an “inner network” serving HQs up to Army Southern Command, controlling the south-west corner of England, nothing operational was written down in the interests of secrecy, and the specially adapted VHF wirelesses. Its aerial leads were concealed inside the bark of nearby trees.

But the Super Zero’s contents have still not been examined. “This control station in Wiltshire is particularly rare and fragile, to the point where we could not gain access to the interior”, said Mr Calladine. “These structures are dangerous and should not be sought out, especially on private land where trespass is illegal”. This particular one is also thought to have dangerous asbestos and to have become the habitat of protected bats and needs to be made safe before it can be examined, but in consultation with the owners of the property English Heritage intends to examine Super Zero as soon as possible

Aux Units was kept at readiness throughout the Second World War until after D-Day, and in July 1944, Special Duties were quietly disbanded. But their burrows were not destroyed; their entrances were concreted over and concealed so that the special construction and security techniques developed over four years would not become public – in case they might need to be used somewhere in the uncertain post-war future. The special wireless sets, designed by radio amateurs serving in Royal Signals, were all removed and destroyed to keep their “privacy technology” and no records survive. Even today the secrets of how it worked are still not fully understood.

“We can only speculate about what was in Churchill’s mind, but war is unpredictable and no-one knew what would happen, or even who the invaders eventually might be,” said Col Hunt. “These were left, operable but with their equipment removed, so that what had been achieved was not forgotten, and just in case.”

“We continue to protect, where appropriate, structures that tell fascinating stories related to many aspects of our national heritage, some of which are featured and explained on our Heritage Highlights pages (,” said Mr Calladine.

Sep 16 / Simon

Favourite themes taken from life

Art Quarterly, Summer 2014
Simon Taitcelebrates a book focusing on Rembrandt’s sources of inspiration

Rembrandt’s Themes: Life into Art; Richard Verdi; Yale University Press; £25

If you want the essence of this book at a glance, look no further than the frontispiece. The illustration Richard Verdi and his publishers have chosen is not one of the savagely honest self-portraits Rembrandt made throughout his life, nor the exploration of the tragic Titus – did a father ever know a son so well? – nor the glimmering landscapes (though some of the more intimate portraits appear towards the end of the book). It is a simple etching of indigent travellers at the door of a rather grudging householder who is dropping a few coins into a hesitant-looking palm, because these are not habitual mendicants but ordinary people fallen upon hard times. This is Rembrandt the man speaking.

Verdi hurries into his subject leaving behind the biographical facts he assumes we all know – for the record, Rembrandt died in 1669 aged 63 – along with his best known works, old ground not necessary to cover again. He is searching the life of the man looking back from the difficult later years when he was out of fashion and lack of commissions and penury forced him to look deep into his own psyche and powers of invention for his narratives. These are Rembrandt’s best work, and Verdi ranges back through his career to find their sources.

The book sprang from a series of lectures Verdi gave in New York the mid-80s to accompany an exhibition of Rembrandt etchings. He skips aside the arguments of attribution that have dogged Rembrandt scholars in recent years, and brings the gaze of a non-expert, he avers, to bear on relatively few works connecting them with what was happening in Rembrandt’s imploding life. His 1654 version of Bathsheba, contemplating David’s letter summoning her to his bed, has Uriah’s wife almost lasciviously proclaiming her nakedness and with the features of his mistress Hendrickje, the very year in which she was summoned by Amsterdam’s church council three times to answer charges of “acting like a whore”, presumably for living with the painter out of wedlock. He’d been here before: Hendrickje appears as Bathsheba in a much smaller version with a more modest nudity, an arm across her breast, a gauze kerchief in her lap, the year after Rembrandt’s wife Saskia had died.

Biblical stories were Rembrandt’s favourite themes, despite the Netherlands’ Calvinist church forbidding sacred imagery, and he returns to them for his uncommissioned work, but with slightly different takes on the familiar tales. He choses to make a drawn version of the Holy Family’s Flight into Egypt, for instance, which has them preparing to leave, not actually en route as they are more usually depicted, and Verdi returns to the theme of this subject which Rembrandt painted almost throughout his life. More than two dozen versions survive and in none of them are the figures formally posed in the traditional manner.

Rembrandt, like Durer before him and Hogarth later, made ends meet by creating etchings he could make prints from, and Verdi has found an important influence on him in his home town of Leiden in Lucas van Leyden whose drawings and prints he collected from his 20s. They gave Rembrandt a source of subject matter as well as instruction in this very particular and technically complex form, and it is in these black and white works on paper that Rembrandt commands the high drama if narrative, such as his 1653 etching The Three Crosses. Verdi acknowledges, too, the debt Rembrandt owes to his teacher in Amsterdam Pieter Lastman for his painting and to his fellow Lastman pupil Jan Lievens with whom he worked back home in Leiden, working up themes between them in their own styles.

So biblical themes seem to have dominated Rembrandt’s creative intent throughout his career, despite the religious strictures of Holland at the time, and Verdi shows us the artist’s development through them from his formative Leiden years in the 1630s but skipping past his fame to the painful final decade when, for instance, his 1654 etching, Presentation in the Temple, another favourite theme, is so sparingly drawn and so poignant as to make the drawing move in the imagination.

Sep 16 / Simon

Lost Arts

The Musician, Summer 2014
With funding failing across the board, what future is there for the arts in the UK? The Musician explores how the Lost Arts campaign is recording the losses…
Feature by Simon Tait

Sir Richard Eyre, the former artistic director of the National Theatre, was in euphoric mood at the recent Olivier Awards. He had every right to be. His production of Ibsen’s Ghosts at the Almeida had just won three statuettes. “There is something emancipating about doing a show outside the West End where you didn’t think you have to hit the jackpot every time. You’re not panicking about whether you can fill the theatre”.

But by saying that, Eyre betrays that he is living in a vacuum. Barely a month before the glittering presentation night at the Royal Opera House, Nottingham Playhouse, where Sir Richard cut his teeth as a director and artistic direct or of a theatre, was told that Nottingham County Council was scrapping all of its £94,500 annual grant despite a well-supported online campaign. It’s worth about 6% of its turnover, but it will mean something in the Playhouse’s offer can no longer happen.

Even inside the bubble of national London-based funding, the cuts are having their effect. In March at the National Theatre, where Eyre was boss for ten years, five musicians who had been the on-stage accompaniment for the smash-hit War Horse were fired i replaced by a recording. An injunction application on their behalf by the Musicians’ Union failed.

These two instances give a sense of the range of the challenge facing Britain’s culture, and the magnitude of the fight to keep to a minimum casualties in the fight to prevent the loss of art.

Lost Arts is a campaign set up in 2011 by eight unions whose members are directly affected by the cuts in cultural funding: The Musicians’ Union, Equity, BECTU, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, the National Union of Journalists, UNITE, Prospect, the PCS and the Federation of Entertainment Unions, a who between them span every sector of the arts and culture in the UK.

Its aim is to inform the next spending review by recording and cataloguing the projects, events, initiatives, performances, organisations and companies that are being lost because of cuts in public funding. “When we get to the end of the three year funding round we can be pretty sure that we won’t get the money back that’s been cut,” said the MU’s general secretary, John Smith. “So we’re going to have to be in a position to remind government and the public just what the nation’s lost”.

Maddy Radcliff is the MU’s campaigns and public affairs officer who has nurtured and tended the Lost Arts website for the last two years. “We are facing an unprecedented attack on our artistic and cultural life,” she said. “Central government is cutting arts funding as well as local authority funding that supports arts and culture where we live. With less money, arts organisations are cutting down what they can do and hiring fewer people to do it. It’s proving tough for them to survive. The big ones might have the money and the time to hire fundraisers or re-train staff, but that’s not true of everyone. Smaller organisations are struggling, and from the list you can see some have already closed.

“Right now, the creative economy accounts for 1 out of every 12 jobs in the UK. Arts and culture businesses make up about half of that. These aren’t just statistics – it includes all of us as artists and musicians. That’s why feeding in to Lost Arts is so important. So that we can make a collective case for the value of arts and culture, to us and our communities, before government.” (

The Lost Arts website gives the latest reports of where the cuts hare being felt, starting at the top with just over £14m from the British Library and nearly £5m from the V&A, both directly funded by DCMS. The cuts to the British Library, many of whose staff are members of Prospect which also represents museum and archive staff, have seen staff members reduced by a third, salaries for those remaining frozen for four years so far, and acquisition and conservation budgets severely slashed. Meanwhile, the BL contributes £4 to the economy for every £1 in funding it receives, said Prospect’s national officer Sarah Ward. “Our research clearly demonstrates that Prospect members are absolutely passionate about the work they do, they’re committed to their museums and galleries, to archaeology and to heritage,” she said. “However, these years of government cuts have had such a detrimental impact that motivation is at an all-time low, and members are genuinely concerned about what the future holds.”

From the Arts Council’s national portfolio, English National Opera has lost £777,000, English National Ballet £581,014, and Opera North £915,000.

At the other end of the spectrum, Manchester’s Castlefield Gallery has lost all its ££98,600 ACE funding as has Foursite, the women’s theatre company, whose £174,000 grant also went. For the gallery it meant a reformation, finding other ways of earning through, among other things, capitalising on its city centre property. For Foursite it meant the end, and the company closed after 25 years. Polka Theatre, the South London children’s company, has lost all of its £609,000 annual grant and so is having to rely heavily on the support of its audiences, and on top of its cut from the county council Nottingham Playhouse has lost £61,000 from ACE.

Music suffers in the latest Lost Arts reports, too. The London Philharmonic Orchestra and Philharmonia – joint residents at the Southbank Centre – have each lost £92,000, the LSO £100,000, the North Music Trust which runs the Sage Gateshead and with it the Royal Northern Sinfonia, £164,000, the London Sinfonietta £47,000 and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment £19,000. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic has lost £986,000 in its revenue funding, but has been awarded £240,000 from the Arts Council’s Catalyst Fund over three years to enable to raise its fundraising operation.

The nationally subsidised arts are at the point when the Lost Arts data will come into play, with Arts Council England to announce on July 1 how it will spread £271m in grant-in aid and £60m in National Lottery funding for National Portfolio organisations for 2015-2016 – the government has only confirmed ACE’s funding to 2016, not for the full cycle to 2018. The investment, as ACE prefers to call its grant-giving, has been £1.4 billion between March 2012 and April 2015 and the projected settlement for 2015-16 represents a further cut.

So far since 2011 national arts subsidy has fallen by 33%, meticulously meted out by the Arts Council to avoid major casualties, but casualties there have been. In 2008 the Arts Council had 880 regularly funded organisations on its list, that is cultural concerns in receipt of annual revenue; from 2011, and renamed national portfolio organisations, there were 696 after a 30% cut to its grant in aid.

Since then, ACE says, the arts have been resilient under the pressure of cuts, they have been inventive, open, and consultative, prepared to make partnerships with other arts organisations to not only save money but to expand operations. It has, ACE says, been a hard but uplifting experience. From now, though it is going to be much tougher and the uplifts more difficult to identify. Larger organisations and project are likely to find themselves without Arts Council revenue funding though ACE will not confirm that any of the eight major symphony orchestras it has funded for decades will lose NPO status.

ACE had had another cut for 2014/15 of 1.7% and for 2015/16 another 1.3%, and since the Arts Council itself was compelled to take 50% cut to its operations those cuts will have to be passed on, as sensitively as possible according to its spokeswoman: “We will look to protect the budget for funded organisations and will instead reduce our strategic budgets – the investments we make to support the wider development of arts organisations and audiences across the country”. IN 2014/14 ACE will also be able to use £28.3m of lottery money as revenue for the priority areas of touring and young people.

But the arts have been squeezed by a pincer movement of national funding cuts and local authority reductions, and the future in that quarter is even more uncertain. Business sponsorship and philanthropy have so failed to be the Seventh Cavalry, while according to the latest figures from Arts & Business trusts and foundations, such as the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the Pilgrim Trust and the Esmé Fairbairn Foundation, have increased their support to a point where some are seriously depleting their endowments.

Local authority funding has traditionally been at least the equal of the national subsidy for the arts, but between 2010/11 and 2012/13 the net expenditure for cultural services went down £3.378 billion to £2.9 billion, or 10%. Looked at in more detail, however, we find that funding by councils on arts development went down in the period by 5%, on theatres and public entertainment by 7%, on archives by 10% and on museums and galleries by 15%.

BECTU’s assistant general secretary, Luke Crawley, wants a change in the law to protect local funding.
“We’re trying to get the Labour Party to make a manifesto commitment, and it seems to have some traction, that arts funding in local areas will be statutory, the same way as spending on schools is statutory, so that local authorities will have no choice but to spend money on the arts,” he said. “We think that would go some way to heading off the most vicious cuts, and the way to stop threats of 100% cuts”.

Martin Brown, assistant general secretary of Equity, points to “extremely alarming” developments, such as Cardiff Council substantially withdrawing from funding its theatres, but he also has sympathy for those local authorities. “The arts councils are there to support the arts, nothing else, it’s their job. It is not for local authorities for whom costs for essential services are outstripping inflation and their income is going down. We fear we may be seeing a backing out of arts funding by local authorities that can never be reversed. The structural shift to the way live arts are funded we believe is really alarming.

“The funded theatre sector is a massively important generator of employment, not only directly on stages but because the work of funded theatres goes into not only the commercial theatre but into film and television, creating more employment again. I’m not sure the government has got that.”

The Writers; Guild’s assistant general secretary, Ellie Peers, fears a freezing of playwrights’ careers because subsidised theatres, for so long the breeding ground for new work, are cutting their development programmes in order to continue to keep their theatres from going dark by putting on standard repertory. She points to the up to 25% tax breaks the government is offering for theatre production coming into effect ion September, but how it will work is still unclear. “”It may help the theatres that remain to stay afloat, but for those that have closed it will be extremely difficult to revive.

“The money the creative industries bring to the economy is massive, but if you have a scenario where people cannot be paid for gong into that industry, because they simply can’t afford to, it’s a false economy, and very short-termism. New writing is how our theatre flourishes.”

In April this year the National Campaign for the Arts, the lobbying group founded in 1985 by Melvyn Bragg and Joan Bakewell, has launched a 50p campaign following the revelation that the contribution of local government to the arts has been steadily falling from 20p a head two years ago to 16p a head now. The NCS co-commissioned Ipsos/MORI to carry out a poll which showed that, even in these difficult times, local authorities should be investing at least 50p a head in arts , museums an heritage. It showed that nearly 90% wanted some funding for the arts, while in fact sewve4ral contribute nothing and others are considering 100% cuts to what they give to their cultural life, following the examples of Somerset County Council and the London Borough of Westminster.

The NCA’s chair is the actor and director Samuel West, son of two doughty campaigners for the arts, Prunella Scales and Timothy West. “Because investment levels are so small – less than half a penny in every pound – cutting them won’t balance the books,” he said. “Instead, it will make independent cultural organisations unsustainable and could make the UK cultural desert spread”.
Last year the NCA published its index, its annual health check for the arts (the next is published this autumn to chime with the party conferences), which showed how much harder arts organisations are having to work to get the funding they need. While subsidy has been sliding from both national and local sources, business sponsorship and individual giving are both falling, despite the government’s ambitions for philanthropy as a major source for cultural funding. The index also found that while employment in the arts is down, earning by the cultural sector is up – “This could suggest that arts organisations are working harder to produce great art with fewer people,” the report says.
The cultural sector has become adept at making its financial case for subsidy and for private funding, and it will become harder. While the economy appears to be reviving and coming out of the dark age of recession, the Arts Council warns that the cultural economy is traditionally three years behind the national situation, so that in practical terms the arts are where the country was in 2011. It means the campaign has to get even more urgent, said Sam West: “It’s difficult to put figures on the value of the arts to us because the government will have us talk in economic terms, but what’s at stake is not money, it’s not even art, it’s something more fundamental that that. It is our identity”.

Figures box

Arts Council England’s grant in aid

2009/10 444m
2010/11 449m
2011/12 338m
2012/13 360m
2013/14 352m
2014/15 350m

Regional breakdown of National Portfolio organisations

Region No of RFOs No of NPOs 2010/11 RFO funding 2014/15 Grant in aid Lottery funding for children and young people organisations Indicative Lottery funding earmarked for touring
East 34 30 11,017,813 10,714,731 1,295,189 875,000
East Midlands 54 42 11,326,007 9,939,532 947,408 566,000
London 277 250 178,853,242 164,851,588 1,626,878 6,517,000
North East 69 42 14,553,407 14,749,130 509,000 371,000
North West 109 85 24,643,339 24,298,468 1,423,000 435,000
South East 54 46 14,693,145 15,036,158 1,607,323 707,000
South West 78 69 17,248,321 15,489,543 926,355 1,294,000
West Midlands 66 51 48,955,631 42,348,396 1,183,208 4,383,000
Yorkshire 105 80 27,680,224 25,309,851 1,073,000 2,876,000

Top and bottom local authorities for cultural funding in pence spent per head of population
Top 10 Areas
Rank Area £pppw ?
1 City of London
2 Middlesbrough
3 Exeter
4 Kingston upon Hull
5 Eastbourne
5 Manchester
7 Maldon
7 Norwich
9 Cheltenham
10 Leicester
Bottom 10 Areas
Rank Area £pppw ?
309 Wealden
309 Adur
319 Selby
319 Bath and North East Somerset
319 Forest of Dean
319 Isles of Scilly
319 North Somerset
319 Wigan
319 Wokingham
319 Huntingdonshire


Samuel West, actor and chair, National Campaign for the Arts

“The government will have us talk in economic terms, but what’s at stake is not money, it’s not even art, it’s something more fundamental that that. It is our identity”.