Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Bigmouth strikes again

Is there an arts strategy point to be drawn from the odd fact that I found myself on BBC Tees yesterday afternoon talking about the tv chef Keith Floyd who passed away yesterday? Let’s have a go, shall we…

(I should explain they asked me as I had an earlier career as a chef, and I’d been a guest on the breakfast show just last week, so must have been in someone’s head as the more obvious people didn’t answer their phones. At least I’m presuming the BBC don’t have a gigantic database of all our lives, though I gather that kind of thing is all the rage. I failed miserably to slip in a ‘Patrick Swayze died today too and we support some great dance through the Arts Council you know’ line, for which I apologise to the Communications team.)

The point I was able to dredge up in the five minutes notice I had was that Floyd, for all his foibles and failings, was an early part of a movement that moved cooking away from exam-style following of recipes to something freer without abandoning high standards, more expressive – what you might call the ‘fondle vegetables in foreign markets and whack it in the pan’ school. It also led to the current ubiquity of cooking on British television.

The arts point I might draw from this is that too much arts coverage on television is still too much like Delia Smith to really shift how people think about the arts. Tim Marlow has a robust zest and zing, and Mark Kermode is one of my favourite cultural commentators on screen and page. But both arguably enjoy sorting the wheat from the chaffe a little too much for popular taste, though there are few things more enjoyable than Kermode demolishing some nonsense.

In terms of promoting ‘participation’, the really great new tv figure is Gareth Malone, whose new programme, The Unsung Choir, follows the creation of a community choir on a ‘tough estate’. He is human, warm and uncompromising, and the programme is a great example of what a deep introduction to art can do for people and a community. You can see it here, and if you don’t find any of it moving I diagnose you as a cynic. (The BBC have also wrapped some useful info around the programme to encourage people to join choirs and sing.) We need more advocates and champions like this on our screens. And then maybe in 20 years Saturday morning telly will be given over to arts coverage rather than cooking.

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