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Lord Higgins: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for allowing me to intervene. The Green Paper states that it will be done as soon as possible, which surely does not mean the next Queen's Speech.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, yes, but I do not believe that it can be brought within the proposed legislation now before the House, which was the question raised by the noble Lord. I hope that I have dealt with the queries that have been raised by noble Lords.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to all those speakers who have taken part in the debate. I have a short time in which to comment. My noble friend Lord Swinfen raised suggestions made by DIG. I hope that the Government will consider those suggestions. I am reminded that I helped in the creation of DIG. Its founder was the late Mrs. Megan du Boisson. She was the first person to go into the Public Gallery in the other place in a wheelchair, arrangements having been made by the then Serjeant-at-Arms for a debate of mine in 1968.
My noble friend Lord Higgins asked about the Disability Rights Commission and when it was to be set up. The proposal has been a Labour Party one for at least three years. As I understand it, the task force is the first stage. The task force has been established. I presume that the Minister will agree that it is expected to report and make recommendations before legislation can be prepared. I am grateful to the Minister for her replies to my points.
I should like to comment upon one of those points. She said that there would be 3 million or more disabled people of working age. The 1991 census recorded 6.5 million disabled people, by its definition, and that only 1.5 million of them were of working age. I realise that the degree of disability comes into that. No doubt if one has 8 million or 9 million as the figure for all the disabled people in the country, reducing the degree of disability, then one produces more of working age. The census of 1991 was the first to record the disabled in the population. It produced only 1.5 million disabled people of working age. Of course, more than half of them were in employment.
As a piece of modern history, I have in my hand a Green Paper in the original form. It is green and very different from the modern versions. As I said in my original speech, we are indebted to the late Richard Crossman for having invented the concept of Green Papers. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, on 23rd March 1875, 123 years ago last Monday, "Trial by Jury", the first successful collaboration between William Gilbert, the librettist, and Arthur Sullivan, the composer, opened at the Royalty Theatre in London. Both were brilliant but neither could achieve anything like his best except in partnership with the other. The only trouble was that
"Trial by Jury" was followed over the next 21 years by "The Sorcerer" and 11 other light operas. The Savoy Theatre was completed by Richard D'Oyly Carte in 1881, principally for the presentation of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. Richard himself died in 1901 and the company was taken over, first, by his widow, Helen, and on her death by Rupert, his son.
Between them, Gilbert and Sullivan and the D'Oyly Carte family established an art form, unique and essentially English, which has given pleasure and instruction to successive generations. They were masters of the "patter song". They devised the "Gilbertian ending" in which, after two acts in which the principal protagonists contrive to get themselves into a more and more convoluted state of utter hopelessness, a final twist--whimsical but wholly logical and even believable--makes everything come out all right again, and everyone lives happily ever after.
In "Ruddigore", for instance, a witch's curse causes a whole line of baronets to commit a crime every day of their lives until, sickened as each inevitably becomes, they refuse to do so and die in horrible agony as a consequence. The solution is found by the last of the line, who manages to persuade the ghosts of his ancestors that for a baronet of Ruddigore to omit his daily crime is tantamount to committing suicide and, suicide itself being a crime, they should none of them have died at all.
Their satire, both in Gilbert's words and Sullivan's music, of the foibles of various groups of their contemporaries is as fresh today as it was when it was written. And it still works best, not by substituting the modern equivalent but by keeping the text as it is and viewing our own idiosyncrasies in the light of those of our late Victorian forebears. And, perhaps that even applies to "Iolanthe".
It is a strange thing, but, in my experience, few people are indifferent to Gilbert and Sullivan; you either love it or you loathe it--and unfortunately those who have the responsibility for distributing public money seem to fall into the latter category.
The copyright for Sullivan's music expired in 1950 and, more important, that for Gilbert's libretti in 1961 because with this latter ended the monopoly of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. The major opera companies were now able to introduce splendid innovative productions of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, but they did so with massive injections of public money with which the self-financed D'Oyly Carte found it hard to compete. Even so, it struggled on for a number of years until it too had to go cap in hand to the Arts Council of England. To be fair, an offer was then made to it, but the conditions imposed were such that, rightly or wrongly, the trustees of the day did not feel able to accept. The last performance therefore took place in February 1982.
In 1993 the D'Oyly Carte received its first ever grant from the Arts Council of £30,000, and this was followed by one of £18,000 in 1994 and another of £20,000 in 1995, but these were only given for three specified works, by composers other than Sullivan and librettists other than Gilbert.
By 1997 the end had been reached. The D'Oyly Carte bequest had run out. After 10 years of carrying the company, British Midland and other sponsors felt that they could not carry on without at least a matching contribution from public funds--and who can blame them? Under extreme all-party pressure, the Arts Council made a one-off grant to the D'Oyly Carte of £250,000, £150,000 for a national tour and £100,000 to prevent the company from having to disband. This was as against over £20 million for the Royal Opera House, £16 million for English National Opera, £5 million for Opera North, £4 million for the Welsh National Opera and a considerable sum for the company's neighbours in the West Midlands, the Birmingham Repertory Company. Yet the D'Oyly Carte's national tour received rave reviews all over the country.
The Arts Council ordained that no more money would be forthcoming to the company from it unless a favourable report on its future prospects was obtained from one of three consultants on a list approved by it. The report from The Arts Business Ltd. was received by the company in February this year. Effectively, its recommendations were that it should re-write Gilbert; re-vamp Sullivan; drop all but a fraction of their works, replacing them with other light operas and musical comedy; sack the senior executives; and move the home base from the Midlands up to the north of England--oh, yes and change the name of the company from D'Oyly Carte.
The D'Oyly Carte company has already diversified from Gilbert and Sullivan to include other light operas, as indeed did its founder, Richard, when he built the Savoy Theatre all those years ago. And you cannot modernise Gilbert and Sullivan too much, without losing something of their essential quality. Indeed, some of the most successful non-D'Oyly Carte productions have done exactly the opposite and gone back to their 19th century roots.
And in any case, the report is already flawed in that its plan for the first year, 1998, relies on a large contribution from the Stabilisation Fund; the Arts Council has ordained that no further applications to this fund will be considered before 1999; and, as far as saving the company is concerned, 1999 will be too late.
The D'Oyly Carte's own productions are only a part of it. Its library is the custodian of all the original prompt books as well as Sullivan's orchestral scores of which a new edition has been embarked on, using modern computer technology to eliminate copying errors accrued over time. The information from these is
Just as the mediation of Richard D'Oyly Carte was fundamental in saving the partnership in its early days, only the company that bears his name has the capability, two years after the centenary of "The Grand Duke", the last of the Savoy operas, to preserve the Gilbert and Sullivan canon into the next millennium.
I find it ironic that other recipients of public money find difficulty in raising matching contributions from the private sector, while for the D'Oyly Carte this presents no problem and all it is seeking is a fair contribution from the Arts Council. Considerably less than £1 million of lottery money a year together with what they can raise elsewhere would save the company and prevent 10 years of unequalled private generosity being thrown away.
So, what am I asking for? Nothing less, I am afraid, than a Gilbertian ending so that the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, and its devotees throughout the country, can live happily ever after. And how can Her Majesty's Government, who have no direct responsibility for the distribution of lottery money, help? Well, a kindly glance, perhaps; the right word spoken at the right time in the right direction. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, could make a start on that this evening.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Denham, for initiating the debate. I hope that it will be an important contribution to saving D'Oyly Carte. On that hope rests the hopes of many thousands of people in this country and around the world.
I love Gilbert and Sullivan; but surely even those who do not would acknowledge its contribution to our cultural heritage, not as a Victorian museum piece to be dusted down from time to time, but, as the noble Lord said, as a vibrant art form whose language, satire and music are as lively today as a century ago; and which has served as a passport by which so many people--young people at that--have come to the glories of opera in this country.
If Gilbert and Sullivan have so much to offer, why then the consistent and continuing indifference towards Gilbert and Sullivan by the powers that be in the arts world? Why has the Arts Council given only occasional one-off grants? Why does the arts elite of this country continuously shun Gilbert and Sullivan? Is it because it is not what they consider to be high art? Does Gilbert's satire still strike home at the pretensions of our art
Nowhere is this official indifference more reflected than in the approach of the Arts Council over recent years to Gilbert and Sullivan. I feel that very keenly as a resident of Birmingham. We have in the city council a local authority which contributes most to the arts. Its support for D'Oyly Carte was significant. In 1991, when the company moved to Birmingham, the council gave it almost a quarter of a million pounds. It increased the grant year by year until 1995 when it contributed £335,000.
Yet, despite the city council's attempts to encourage the Arts Council also to make a contribution, no support was forthcoming. Of course, the one substantial grant made by the Arts Council was £250,000 last year. As the noble Lord, Lord Denham, pointed out, a condition of that grant was to employ a consultant to consider the company's funding and management arrangement. I suspect that all noble Lords are aware that the consultant and the company did not perhaps "hit it off". I am also aware that the relationship between Birmingham City Council and the company was not all it might have been. However, surely the penalty for failures in relationships should not be visited upon the thousands of people who queue up to see D'Oyly Carte productions year on year.
Despite my criticism of the Arts Council, I would not pretend that it has an easy task. I am delighted by the reforms which are taking place. I wish the new chairman and chief executive well. But I would urge it, as almost its first decision, to wipe the slate clean in its historic relationship with D'Oyly Carte and to see its way to ensuring that a regular and substantial grant is given to the company.
A key issue in this debate is artistic standards. One has read of criticisms of the company's artistic standards. I would be the first to acknowledge that in the final years of the original company, productions have become a little stale. But, equally, we should acknowledge that the reformed company has produced some outstanding productions which have been recognised up and down the country.
If no permanent grant is forthcoming, what then? What if the company closes? The works of Gilbert and Sullivan will not die. The strong amateur tradition will continue. From time to time, other companies will put on Gilbert and Sullivan productions. Who could forget the marvellous "Mikado" produced by Jonathan Miller for the ENO? But we would lose--and it would be a great loss--the year-on-year sustainability of Gilbert and Sullivan by D'Oyly Carte. It has toured so many parts of the country which do not receive visits from other opera companies. It has helped to grow an audience not just for Gilbert and Sullivan but for opera generally. It has given so much encouragement to amateur productions, as the noble Lord said.
Funding the arts is never easy and we all attempt to second-guess the decisions of those who are in a position to fund the arts. But, surely, out of all the money that is given to opera in this country, we could
Lord Rix: My Lords, in taking part in this debate, I must declare an interest in the works of Gilbert and Sullivan--works which are closely associated with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company--for at the age of 12 I played the part of Hercules, a page, with all of one line to speak, in my local amateur operatic society's production of "The Sorcerer" at the Star Cinema in Hornsea, East Yorkshire. I stress "Hornsea, East Yorkshire", because on Monday, during the debate on drama, Hansard moved me from the windy east coast to the suburbs of London. Furthermore, I draw attention to the fact that D'Oyly is misspelt on the list of speakers.
I believe that the only reason I had the part was because my mother was the leading soprano in the company, while my father was the chairman. Nevertheless, the playing of that tiny part, and my seeing many other productions of G&S over the years, gave me a love of, first, the theatre and, secondly, the D'Oyly Carte and other productions of light opera. And yet, once again, we are faced with the demise of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, founded in 1875 and going strong or battling on ever since, with a major hiccup in 1981, when the company closed until its relaunch some seven years later. Since then the company has performed regularly at over 40 venues nationwide and to an audience of over one million.
Despite this impressive phoenix-like revival, the company continues to be treated with short shrift by the arts funding bodies. The old cry was that the standards of the company had slipped; that the principals were encouraged to continue long past their sell-by dates; that the performances were but pale imitations of those in the great days of yore; and--perhaps most heinous of all--that the productions appealed to the provincial audiences and to the coach parties, thus bringing out the cultural snobbery which seems to pervade the opera establishment.
It certainly pervaded the Arts Council when I served on that august body and very little good was said about the company by those in charge of touring and music. As the then chairman of Drama and the Advisory and Monitoring Committee on Disability and the Arts, I had enough worries of my own and must confess that I took little interest in the works or benefaction of other committees. Thus I played little part in the discussion--and, it seems, condemnation--of the production values of the D'Oyly Carte, although I was aware that something was going on.
Last year, however, the Arts Council seemed to have a change of heart. As we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Denham, a one-off grant of £250,000 was made to the D'Oyly Carte in order to prevent the company from going to the wall and to support a limited autumn tour. This is a derisory sum in operatic terms--
But that was last year. This year, from the Arts Council, apparently nothing--other than a convoluted recommendation for the D'Oyly Carte to receive £150,000 of so-called stabilisation funding from the lottery when, as far as I can gather, there is no stabilisation funding available. A Gilbertian solution indeed!
Of course, the Government will pray the arm's-length principle as absolution in this matter. I served on the Arts Council for nearly eight years and one of my reasons for resigning was my belief that the arm's-length principle was a very short-arm indeed. Of course, that was under the ancien regime--things may be very different now. All the same, I cannot believe that a discreet telephone call from 1 Cockspur Street (the Department of Culture, Media and Sport) to 14 Great Peter Street (the Arts Council of England) might not work wonders. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, may not be John Wellington Wells--but he could deal in magic and spells--and for the noble Lord, Lord Denham and other noble Lords bringing it to his attention and possibly saving the D'Oyly Carte:
Lord Renton: My Lords, it is a great delight to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rix, who has spoken with such wide experience of matters which are relevant to this debate. I must confess that when I used to enjoy seeing him in Whitehall farces, even occasionally taking down his trousers, I used to think how brilliantly he
We owe a lot to my noble friend Lord Denham. He talked about loving Gilbert and Sullivan. I am one of those who do love it, as does everyone, I believe, except a few high brow prigs, music prigs largely.
Gilbert and Sullivan operas not only have a wide variety of gorgeous light music and contain a lot of fun and wit; they also portray in a light-hearted way the lighter side of the heart of our nation, not only as it was 100 years ago but in many ways as it still is today. For example, in "Utopia Limited", which is not produced often enough, we learn:
Of course, in "Iolanthe" as has been mentioned, we learn a lot about your Lordships' House as it was and as, I am glad to say, it still largely is. Long may it remain so. For example, what about the Lord Chancellor's song in "Iolanthe"?
I could not help thinking, during our debates on the Crime and Disorder Bill of the "Mikado". I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, who did such wonderful service in replying to some of the debates on that Bill, must have been tempted to sing:
Of course, I am glad to say that there are some splendid amateur operatic societies which perform Gilbert and Sullivan very well. In particular, there is one in Peterborough which I visit regularly, not far from where I live near Huntingdon. Every year the members of that company put on a week of performances on a grand scale. Really, although they are all amateurs, it is done with such excellence that there is not much difference between them and the professions. Also, at St. Ives, near Huntingdon, there is an amateur music and drama society which gives splendid performances.
But we must not leave it merely to enthusiastic amateurs, however much we may enjoy them. We must make sure that the D'Oyly Carte Company continues its splendid work, especially in its tours of our country.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, with others, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Denham, for tabling this Question, although I regret that a situation has arisen which makes it necessary for him to do so.
As other noble Lords have said, D'Oyly Carte is an evocative symbol in our national culture and it seems to me extraordinary that we should be here this evening contemplating the possibility that government action may be necessary to save it from extinction.
My own reason for taking part in this debate is the same as that of many other noble Lords; namely, a long-standing and lasting affection for the words and music of Gilbert and Sullivan. My memories of my early days in Wales are, predictably, much associated with the sound of music; and, although our staple diet was largely, Calon Lan, Dafydd y Garreg Wen and sometimes Handel's "Messiah", we were never far away from "Pinafore", "Patience" or the "Pirates of Penzance". I think that this House is an appropriate place in which to debate the future of D'Oyly Carte as Gilbert, as has been said, seemed to have a special affection for the peerage. In "The Pirates of Penzance", as noble Lords will recall, the intricacies of plot were resolved at the end by the revelation that the pirates were all, in fact, Members of the Upper House. The Duke of Dunstable is one of the leading characters in "Patience" and, of course, no one will easily forget the Duke of Plaza-Toro in "The Gondoliers" or Pish-Tush, the Gilbertianly-named nobleman in "The Mikado".
However, I suppose that the prime example of all this, as the noble Lord, Lord Denham and the noble Lord Renton said, is "Iolanthe", which, although it was first produced, as we heard, in the Savoy Theatre over one hundred years ago, still has some quite interesting relevance for your Lordships' House. I am sure that noble Lords will recall that one of the principal characters to whom the noble Lord, Lord Renton, referred in "Iolanthe" is half man and half fairy. For those who are curious about these matters, his top half
As the action developed, it transpired that the new Peer was in fact, as we have heard, the long-lost son of the Lord Chancellor and his bride Iolanthe, who had been banished from the fairy world a quarter of a century earlier for marrying an ordinary human being--that is, if one can describe a Lord Chancellor in those terms. There was then a great deal of mysterious influence on the proceedings of the House of Lords. At the end, in one of those endings to which the noble Lord, Lord Denham, referred, the Fairy Queen exercised her prerogative by transforming all the hereditary Peers into fairies, so removing their right to sit and vote in the House of Lords. The Government may wish to bear that device in mind.
I mention these aristocratic preoccupations only to suggest that, in the long term, not much changes in people's fascination with the mystique of your Lordships' House. Speaking personally, I would be happy if not much changed in the world of Gilbert and Sullivan and D'Oyly Carte. But that is perhaps too much to ask. Social mores and cultures change and perhaps the familiar and much-loved D'Oyly Carte conventions have become to some extent a specialised taste. Certainly this seems, to some extent, to be the general tenor of the report prepared by Mr. Richard Crossland of Arts Business Limited, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Denham. The summary of conclusions of the report, when referring to D'Oyly Carte, contains the following comment:
I do not wish to become involved in the crossfire between the Arts Council, the report of the ABL, and the D'Oyly Carte Company. Rather than take sides in the matter, I should prefer to quote a key passage from the section on funding in Mr. Crossland's report, because it seems to me to go to the very heart of the problem and, indeed, may lead the Government to take some action:
I conclude by saying that this is our national light opera company, which presents not only Gilbert and Sullivan but, as we have heard, other European light opera. It is a part of our national heritage and it seems to me to be quite bizarre that the D'Oyly Carte Opera is excluded from the list of organisations receiving regular funding by the Arts Council. Like the noble Lord, Lord Denham, in no spirit of challenge or confrontation but by way of genuine and anxious inquiry--and, indeed, in the hope and perhaps even in the expectation that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will be able to give us an encouraging reply--I ask: what can the Government do about it?
Lord Renton of Mount Harry: It gives me great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in this debate. I remember well another operatic evening organised by the noble Lord and Lady Chalfont which was not actually Gilbert and Sullivan; indeed, it was a marvellous performance of "La Traviata", perhaps in celebration of a wedding anniversary or a birthday. It took place at the Garrick Club. I was sitting in the front row and was fortunate enough actually to have Violetta die in my arms. I do not believe that I have ever had such an exciting operatic evening.
But we are gathered here tonight at the instigation of my noble friend Lord Denham not to talk about Italian tragic opera but rather to talk about something which is extremely important: English, comic opera. Both my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referred to the fact that in some way--and perhaps this has influenced the Arts Council's judgment, upon which the noble Lord, Lord Rix also commented--Gilbert and Sullivan works have for some time been thought of as being, in a sense, slightly low brow.
In this debate, it is worth countering that image by remembering, for example, that Lytton Strachey the important historian and essayist, commented that, in his judgment, the most permanent and enduring achievement of the Victorian age would be the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. Some people may say that that is an overstatement, but it is a remarkable fact that, for many generations, under the aegis of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company Gilbert and Sullivan was not in any sense thought of as low brow; indeed, they made a very important contribution to the development of light-hearted comic opera of the sort that would be put on at the Volksoper in Vienna, the works of Kalman, Offenbach, and so on. It is that aspect which makes the difficulty for D'Oyly Carte in getting money from the Arts Council seem even more strange and wrong. In fact, in putting on Gilbert and Sullivan operas the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company has been an upholder of an extremely important tradition of English creativity in music that should be continued.
One has to ask oneself whether the D'Oyly Carte will be a casualty of "Cool Britannia". I certainly do not think that it should be. I very much agree with my eponymous friend, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, when he said that this is an obvious child to receive money from the lottery.
It is a coincidence that we are having this debate today as a new chairman, Eric Anderson, is taking over the Heritage Fund. I pay tribute to the good work done by his predecessor, my noble friend Lord Rothschild. I think the National Heritage Fund has been a huge success. It has allocated more than £1 billion over the past three years, and it has more than £1 billion worth of applications in front of it at the moment. However, I cannot say the same about the Arts Council's handling of lottery money. It is a great pity that the arts part of the lottery budget should be handled by the Arts Council. It would have been much better if the Arts Council had only handled Treasury money for revenue funding, and the lottery money for capital funding had passed through a different route.
That said, it is surely ridiculous, at a time when the total amount of money available for the arts has been effectively doubled thanks to the lottery, that we should question tonight whether this important part of British musical heritage should survive. I hope that as a result of this debate the Minister will decide that an appropriate telephone call may be a good thing. I refer to that marvellous principle, the arm's length principle, which I remember so well and with such pain from when I was Arts Minister.
I am quite certain that revenue funding should be available to D'Oyly Carte. If D'Oyly Carte is allowed to die, an important part of British musical history and comedy will die with it. And it is an internationally famous part of British musical history that has been enjoyed and performed by amateur and professional dramatic companies all over the world.
The Earl of Kinnoull: My Lords, the debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Denham has provided both humour and a great deal of wisdom. I congratulate him on introducing the debate to seek to rescue the D'Oyly Carte company. It is a rare moment when my noble friend comes here as if on a white charger and summons and attracts 12 eloquent speeches to his cause. I congratulate him on his eloquence and on his powerful and persuasive appeal.
It seems that only Gilbert and Sullivan with their unique humour could be the centre of debates in both Houses on the same day and on April 1st. I start with the premise--as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said--that the D'Oyly Carte is our national light opera company. It has over many years produced beautiful and varied productions of light opera--not just, of course, Gilbert and Sullivan--and, as a touring company, it has brought more joy to more people, both young and old, than any of the more prestigious and hugely expensive opera houses. D'Oyly Carte has a great tradition. It is proud and professional and often wins the most excellent reviews, or it has done so up to now. As has already been said, it is undoubtedly part of our musical heritage and culture. However, as others have said, its future is black. As we know, it has a large overdraft. It has no funding for 1998 and it cannot even contemplate a programme. Unless some funds are found soon, its demise is possible.
The debate in another place this morning was judged to be supportive on all sides. I have not seen the transcript but I am told that the Minister made some encouraging noises and implied that the Arts Council would clearly pay attention to the debate. But what does that mean in reality? The Arts Council has already announced its allocation of funds for the performing arts for 1998. But D'Oyly Carte needs funds now, or in the very short term.
On 28th February of this year, the outgoing chairman of the Arts Council, my noble friend Lord Gowrie, wrote that there were no funds available and the council had to rule out an emergency package. What can the Government do? I am told there is an avenue--not the stabilisation fund--via the lottery fund of some £200 million to £250 million which could be drawn, subject to Treasury consent. I am sure that the
My final comments concern the past relationship of D'Oyly Carte and the Arts Council. Like other noble Lords, I find this story deeply disturbing. It is as if civil servants within the council have no sympathy for what is to them a minnow, but with a loud voice. It was said this morning in another place that D'Oyly Carte felt badly let down when in 1996 it was encouraged to apply for the new stabilisation grant, which would have suited it admirably, but the application--which was supported by independent consultants--was turned down flat. As we have heard, it received a one-off £250,000 grant last January.
I am sure a fresh look at this matter will be given under the new chairman of the Arts Council. But I think the Government need to do more if part of our musical heritage and culture is not to perish. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will be able to provide the answer tonight.
Viscount Mountgarret: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Denham, for giving us the chance to debate this matter. He has given the Government an opportunity to hear of the difficulties which face the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.
Until about 1965 D'Oyly Carte had the monopoly of performing the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. Due to the popularity of those operettas they were even more in demand then than perhaps they are today. Certainly the company was not as short of cash then as it is now. Since then these works have been performed by other companies. While that is to be welcomed, the fact is that Gilbert was a stickler for perfection, and D'Oyly Carte are accepted specialists in the finer art of Gilbert and Sullivan. If the company were to have to bring down the curtain in 1998, this country would lose what has already been referred to as a national institution.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, referred to many of the sayings, the wit and satire expressed in the operas as having the same importance today as they did when they were written. He quoted mostly from "Iolanthe". "Iolanthe" may relate to your Lordships' House, but there are many things that we should bear in mind. I refer, for instance to the call to the Bar, to ensure that they do not take fees with a grin on their face when they have not been there to attend to the case. Alternatively, when the Fairy Queen in some trouble needs to get married immediately, she turns to the guardsman outside Buckingham Palace and asks him, "Would he mind being a fairy?" to which he replies that it would be a pretty poor day if the British soldier did not carry out the request of a damsel in distress. That is not a bad thing for the military to remember today.
It all comes back to funding. The Arts Council is funded differently from some years ago. Nonetheless the monies available generally for the arts have been on the small side, to say the least. Twenty or 30 years ago I was told that more money was given to aid the Hamburg State Opera than the whole of the Arts
I have a suggestion. The operettas were in full swing, going full blast at the turn of the century. It would be marvellous if this company were on a sound and sure financial footing at the end of this century and the start of the next. The enormous sums earmarked for the millennium festivities and the dome at Greenwich are mind-boggling. One wonders whether a little pruned from that might assist this company, which is a national institution and might well outlive the Millennium Dome and the numbers of people who go to see it. But let us not go down that route tonight. From time to time, performances of D'Oyly Carte might be given in the Millennium Dome, representing our national heritage, as will other events. These are thoughts that one puts forward.
What will the Government do? Can the Government do anything? Unless such companies are properly funded, they will fall by the wayside. I think, as do other noble Lords, that that would be very sad indeed.
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Denham, for asking the Question, and for making me stop to think how easy it is to stand by and bewail afterwards when something very precious has gone. I, too, have a song to sing, thanks to the D'Oyly Carte Opera Touring Company.
Where I come from, the thought of making a long journey to the grand opera at Covent Garden would have been a terrifying prospect. The rough fighting city from which I come, Plymouth by the sea, in Devon, had a rather cavernous, tatty theatre, post-war. It was in Union Street, more famous with sailors for other more intimate treats than theatre, but there it was. It was there that pantomime and the odd travelling show turned up. It had the occasional circuit star--those who were brave enough to come to a service town--Frankie Vaughan, the Beverley Sisters and Max Bygraves. But for a full house, with most of the spectators spilling out from the cheap seats at the top, the theatrical groups, and amateur groups came from all over the west country. Gilbert and Sullivan societies would come from miles around. They wanted to see the real thing, brought all the way to us in Devon. There was D'Oyly Carte's "Pirates of Penzance", the "Mikado", "The Gondoliers". They were the tops.
Why? I think it was the fact that the performances came to us in Devon, so far away, colourful and clever, with tunes and lyrics that were so accessible, such fun, so poignant, that on leaving the theatre, voices as off-key as mine could be heard confidently singing,
To lose a peripatetic company that is custodian of so much history and knowledge of the original works of such unique talents as Gilbert and Sullivan is sad; and, with a bit of encouragement, needless. Nostalgia aside,
However, I shall speak tonight as a consumer champion. I shall assume that the Government continue to support the Arts Council with money albeit reduced, to support the arts. I shall address myself to the subjects raised by the Arts Council's new chairman, Gerry Robinson, who, I was heartened to read, had so alarmed some sensitive souls that they alluded sniffily to his love of "opera highlights" and his book-free home. It sounds very much like mine, I may tell noble Lords. So I have great hopes of him in our cause tonight. Gerry Robinson is a brilliantly successful businessman who knows all about consumer choice, consumer information and consumer access.
Therefore I would ask him to look across the range and imbalance of the present provision and give greater choice to the British public--a greater access to our English language, clearly articulated, set to musical scores, and accessible to so many of all ages.
If the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company can prove itself to be a unique centre of excellence from which amateur societies around the world can learn, and from which generations in a new century will be able to enjoy and share a very special English form of Edwardian music and lyric, then I, too, would like to add my voice to the voices of noble Lords who have spoken before me, to press the Minister, in the words of a very different man who also wrote clever music, to go, "and pick a pocket or two", for us, for a very special treat.
Lord Harris of High Cross: I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Denham, not so much for the opportunity to speak this evening but for the chance to enjoy hearing other "Savoyards", expressing their enthusiasm. I have enjoyed the debate so far, despite the absence of music. I hesitated a long time before adding my name to the list of speakers. I took part at the last minute. I think that there is no greater enthusiast in the House for Gilbert and Sullivan. It was a sheaf of tickets for the D'Oyly Carte at Sadler's Wells in 1949 that persuaded my more musically inclined wife to plight her troth to an economist and somewhat of a philistine. There is the dilemma--an economist! Should an honest market man get mixed up with what looks suspiciously like an appeal for subsidies, even for so good a cause? To me, public money has always been tainted money. Public money? It is not; it is private money. It is other people's earnings. That is what we are talking about.
I have struggled with that dilemma. Your Lordships see someone emerging from great anguish and torment. Indeed, last night I was, "lying awake with a shocking headache, and repose was tabooed by anxiety". Was I to break the habit of a lifetime? In 19 years in this House I have never spoken, much less voted, in favour of a penny increase in government expenditure.
Of course, if I were Pooh-Bah, I could now assume a variety of offices. I could have squared the doubts of the Treasury by getting the Secretary of State to declare opera an educational treasure trove--as indeed, it is--and on such an educational enterprise public funds should be lavished. Then, as Pooh-Bah, I could get the Lord High Auditor to turn a blind eye to any over-spending.
In my anguish, I recalled Bunthorne--and suddenly I had it. Noble Lords will remember that, in "Patience", he puts himself up "to be raffled for". I then thought: Ah, the lottery! Then we come to the Arts Council.
The Arts Council has always been a touch too highbrow for my plebeian tastes. But it is a splendid opportunity--the people's money for people's light opera. It seems that, after all, we can square the circle. Here is a chance for the Arts Council to demonstrate to the great British public that it is not the creature of the luvvies, the lofties and the lefties. Give Gilbert and Sullivan a decent slug of cash, so that they can have the best talent and show what they can do. It would be a good investment, because at some stage in the future they will manage under their own steam.
To put myself back in standing as an economist, I heard the fag-end of the previous debate on exports and unemployment. It struck me that a flourishing, unique, English comic opera must be a good investment as regards tourism--invisible earnings--and employment.
The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, this has been a delightful and important debate. We thank the noble Lord, Lord Denham, for allowing us to discuss this subject this evening. By some happy coincidence (and possibly other noble Lords were also there) at the memorial service held this morning for Lord Wyatt of Weeford (luckily I arrived early), the introductory organ music was a medley of songs from Gilbert and Sullivan. I thought to myself: in the past he has dealt harshly with me on betting issues; what a pleasure it would have been to see him tonight, sitting impishly on the Cross-Benches. As a great lover of Gilbert and Sullivan, I am sure that he would have added much to the debate.
This morning, I took the trouble of telephoning an opera singer whom I know only indirectly, Valerie Masterson, who has had a long career in opera. She began her career singing Gilbert and Sullivan. She is one of the great aficionados, one of the great sopranos, and great practitioners of singing roles in the operettas. She gave me a few minutes of her time. First, she echoed some of the comments made by noble Lords in the debate. She said that the operas are truly Victorian gems. She is alarmed by the hand-to-mouth funding and the possible demise of, as she termed it, this Victorian institution--indeed like this House, but one that will perhaps live longer. She asked me whether I would particularly stress the importance of the operas in education. She entered music and opera through Gilbert and Sullivan. She said that, especially in the North, where she comes from, there is an
Valerie Masterson also stressed that there is an enormous interest in Gilbert and Sullivan outside this country, particularly in America and Australia. My wife, who very seldom takes any interest in what I say in this House, rang me this afternoon just before the start of business. She had been working on her computer--something which I do not understand. She said she had discovered that there were 22,000 pages on the world-wide web relating to Gilbert and Sullivan. So nobody can think that Gilbert and Sullivan creates no interest outside the British Isles.
As noble Lords may know, I have an interest in film. The great British director--he is a cult figure in some countries, though not in this country--Mike Leigh, who has made enormously important films such as "Life is Sweet", "High Hopes" and "Secrets and Lies", which have won awards, is now preparing a film about the late Victorian period based on Gilbert and Sullivan at the time that they were preparing "The Mikado". The film is in preparation now, in the unique and rather unorthodox way in which he prepares film; shooting is expected to start in June.
I suggest to the Government--who have a wish to appear cool and hip--that, as a betting man, based on the success of Mr. Leigh's films, I should not be at all surprised if, when the film comes out, there is an enormous resurgence of interest in Gilbert and Sullivan, which may even wake up the Arts Council. Money may even come from sponsorship or other sources. So I say to the Government: for Heaven's sake, do not let the D'Oyly Carte die before the film comes out!
This has been an important debate. There is not much more to add to the points made by other noble Lords. Perhaps I may pick out one point, since I happen to agree with it. The noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, said how much better it would have been had the Arts Council been restricted to Treasury funding. It would then no doubt have been possible to find some other way of raising funds, from the lottery and elsewhere. I could not agree more. I hope that the reconstructed Arts Council will take a better view. The noble Lord read out the catalogue of conditions. It is deplorable that a body of such importance in our cultural life should have made a judgment that has led to such conditions.
This has been a wonderful debate in which to take part. I hope that the Government will take note of what has been said. I am sure that the noble Lord's reply will be well up to the standard of those speeches that have preceded his (not mine, of course, but others). We look forward to some encouraging news. And, I would remind him, we look forward to the film.
Lord Luke: My Lords, I knew that this debate would be one of the most delightful in which to take part. We are most grateful to my noble friend Lord Denham for introducing it so elegantly. He gave a most polished speech.
As some noble Lords have mentioned, the same subject was discussed this morning in another place. Incidentally, I understand that it is the first time that this kind of matter has been discussed in both Houses on the same day since there was great disquiet at the attitude of the Church of England to the 1662 Prayer Book. Within 36 hours of those two debates, the Church of England had done a U-turn and changed its mind. Is it too optimistic of me to suggest that the new chairman of the Arts Council might do likewise?
The real problem here, as I think most noble Lords would agree, is that we in Britain--incidentally, one of the richest countries in the world--are remarkably contrary in our approach to funding the arts. It is all right if the arts concerned are foreign, highbrow or indeed avant garde, untried or unknown: then they are acceptable. If they are "easy" or popular, they are somehow considered to be hackneyed and therefore not to be supported. I cannot help wondering, if it was a question of the work of my noble friend Lord Lloyd-Webber, who, sadly, is not with us this evening, what would happen. I am quite sure that his works would not have achieved much under the Arts Council.
This is a kind of cultural snobbery, as the noble Lord, Lord Rix, so amusingly said, and he was absolutely right. Gilbert and Sullivan operas, albeit light opera, are quintessentially English and patriotic, as we were patriotic in the 19th century--and therefore somehow unfashionable in some peculiar way. To me they are part of our national treasure, but, although I like them, I do not love them as so many noble Lords have said they do.
D'Oyly Carte should become, and should be treated as, the national light opera company, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, suggested. Richard D'Oyly Carte wanted this and, as has been said by several of your Lordships, the company has given several successful productions by Lehar, Offenbach and Strauss. Skills acquired in Gilbert and Sullivan productions--in other words, comic ability and verbal dexterity as well as the ability to sing--mean that performers trained by D'Oyly Carte are very much in demand in other opera companies. If this company went to the wall it would mean there would not be this pool of very well--trained singers and performers.
So what would happen? Apart from the national disgrace of such a disaster if D'Oyly Carte went to the wall, as has also been said before, there will continue be performances on an amateur basis, as happens now all over the country. But if there is no base for D'Oyly Carte to produce the operas as they were originally supposed to be produced, the standard of production will slowly drop away. It would be inconceivable for the Opera Comique in Paris or the Volksoper in Vienna, as mentioned by my noble friend
For us and for the D'Oyly Carte, occasional and grudging sops will not do. A proper operating subsidy is essential. This is all about immensely popular music. It really ought to be the business of government--particularly this Government--to recognise this. The argument about arm's length will not do. That arm really needs to be twisted and twisted hard. I fear that a telling look, as so eloquently described by my noble friend, is unlikely to be sufficient.
Arts Business Limited suggested that D'Oyly Carte should accept the proffered arrangement in Newcastle. However, the D'Oyly Carte management are extremely concerned, I know, because the theatre in Newcastle which it is suggested could become their base is not owned by a charitable foundation. This means that it cannot qualify for a lottery grant and that D'Oyly Carte would not be absolutely sure of security of tenure. They have had experience of losing a great deal of money when they had to abort a season of productions as a result of a theatre being closed.
As I said, I think this has been an absolutely first-class debate, following on what happened this morning. Please can the noble Lord the Minister tell his right honourable friend about our very deep concerns, and that the deadline is June?
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