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Jan 18 / Simon


Melvyn’s secrett
The new version of the Southbank Show Awards is taking form before our very eyes, through the ads being aired almost at machine gun rapidity before the broadcast next week as the Southbank Show Sky Arts Awards. Lord Melvyn Bragg is still in charge with the shift from ITV to Sky Arts, but there’s new artwork for the credits from none other than Anish Kapoor, and the theme tune, still the same Variations on a Theme of Paganini’s 24th Caprice (to give it’s formal name but better known to most of us as “dum-diddliddliddle-ump-diddlum”) reworked by Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber. Melvyn is the guest of the Arts Correspondents Group to whom he confides that the one-off show will be followed by seven programmes about the ten winners, which will make an interesting editing job. With him is more or less the same “outstanding” team that’s been with him since the shows started on London Weekend Television in 1978, transferred to ITV and then were unceremoniously dumped a year ago. But as yet there is no return for the Southbank Show proper, he confides – and he owns it. Not just intellectually, as they say, but actually, and he has had offers. Turns out that it hadn’t occurred to him to corner the copyright at the time he decided to succumb to ITV ‘s decision, but the advice of his mate David Puttnam came into play. “He said ‘Whatever you do, make sure you keep ownership’. So I did”. So where will the arts flagship go? Channel 4, of which Melv is a an admirer? BBC 4 for which he also has warm words? Sky Arts, who have been “a dream to work with”? He remains inscrutable. “I don’t know, and if I do I’m not saying” he says.

Philibuster? Not according to the N-n-n-noble L-l-l-lord L-l-l-lipsey
To the marvellous Ritzy in Brixton to see, in a packed main house, The King’s Speech which, as you know, is about how George VI conquered his stammer and won the war. It’s a very moving story, I find myself sitting next to probably the most straightforward and honest of politicians, the Labour peer and former Times journo David Lipsey, who is deeply moved. He tells me he’s relaxing before the forthcoming all-nighter Lords debate on voting changes in which he will be involved in trying to keep the chat going for 14 hours. Suddenly he sits up in his seat. “Blimey, there’s a thought! How many hours do you think we could use up with a half decent stammer?”

Book squirm
Having negotiated his way around the Labour government adeptly and then got himself on the right side of the new government by refusing to condemn their decision to scarp the quango he runs, Roy Clare, MLA CEO, has got himself in hot water with the Labour shadow arts minister by suggesting that libraries were largely used by the white middle classes and should therefore not be “preserved in aspic”. In response, Gloria De Piero chooses to take Clare’s comment as a reflection of the view of her opposite number, Ed Vaizey, demanding he condemn the remarks. “Ed Vaizey has been strangely silent on the fact that hundreds of libraries are under threat of closure” she says. “ Libraries provide a particularly crucial service to mums with toddlers, pensioners and the one in five people who do not have the internet at home and need their local library to look for jobs”. Curiously, no mention of borrowing and reading books in any of that – could it be that she’s actually making Clare’s point for him, that borrowing books is a white middle class habit, but that libraries offer much more these days to other elements of the community? Therefore, if he takes his argument logically forward, we need to modernise libraries for the modern community service, not close them. Just a thought.