MANDRAKE: Theatre bailouts are politics in all but name

Hackney Empire in London

Hackney Empire received £500,00 from the government's Cultural Recovery Fund - Credit: Hackney Empire

Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre was the biggest winner in the government’s cultural bail-out scheme in England, with a whopping £999,999 coming its way. This made it the envy of far more acclaimed, but less generously supported venues, such as the Bristol Old Vic, and, in London, the Almeida and the Kiln, where the great Indhu Rubasingham, pictured, presides. The spirited Watermill Theatre, near Newbury, meanwhile, received not a penny.

My man in Whitehall tells me this was a political rather than an artistic decision. “Four years ago, the government chose Coventry as UK City of Culture for 2021, with celebrations and events now to run from May 2021 to May 2022 because of the coronavirus crisis,” he says.

“The government and Department of Culture are desperate that the Midlands city is not seen to fail – hence the largest dollop of money to the Belgrade Theatre.”

He added that Boris Johnson is eager to be seen to be more concerned about culture after the crass advert, which was recently recirculated, which suggested that a dancer called Fatima might want to re-train in cyber security.

Kid Gloves

Mandrake wondered out loud in August if Johnson had been thinking “tactically” about the peerage he bestowed upon the former Evening Standard editor Veronica Wadley. Her Brexit-backing husband Tom Bower’s biography of Johnson was, after all, soon to come out.

The reviews for Boris Johnson: The Gambler have certainly been interesting. The Financial Times wrote this of Bower’s approach: “Governmental failures that cannot be blamed on officials are often down to the weak ministers, rather than the man who appointed them... political opponents are derided in a series of low swipes, which Bower rarely bothers to justify.”

The Guardian said that its “fearsome investigative author” had “put away his knuckledusters and slides on kid gloves for ‘Boris’, as he fondly calls his subject throughout a text in which every other politician is referred to by surname.” Even the Sunday Times – a fervent champion of both Johnson and Brexit – had little time for the book, it deemed its “literary and intellectual qualities” to be “non-existent”.

Every cloud

All things considered, the coronavirus hasn’t been too bad for Geordie Greig, the editor of the Daily Mail. His newspaper is once again selling more than one million copies, and, what’s more, the virus has necessitated a postponement of filming of Poster Boy.

This is the film that the actor Patrick Ryecart has scripted about the German tennis ace Gottfried von Cramm, who was banned from playing at Wimbledon not long before the war because the powers-that-be didn’t care for his outspoken opposition to Adolf Hitler. Greig’s grandfather Sir Louis Greig was chairman of the All England Club at the time and is unlikely to emerge well in the film, which is to be directed by Mike Newell.

Two years ago, I recounted that Greig – when he was editor of the Mail on Sunday – had spiked a feature about how Wimbledon had wronged von Cramm. Sidewinder Films are, meanwhile, collaborating with Ryecart to produce a documentary about the von Cramm story. They recently released At the Heart of Gold, focusing on the cover-up behind the abuse of gymnasts in the US Olympic squad.

Hard times

No woman has ever emerged entirely unscathed from a relationship with Boris Johnson – and Jennifer Arcuri, pictured, is no exception.

The American businesswoman’s unstartling revelation over the weekend that hers had been a sexual relationship with the prime minister resulted in the usual pile-on from the keyboard warriors, but her newfound friend Petronella Wyatt was not among them. 

Wyatt, who had an affair with Johnson while he was editor of the Spectator, admitted to me that Arcuri was having “a hard time”.


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