Andy Richardson: 'Imagine a world without Julie Walters and Sir Lenny Henry'

Let’s talk about the arts.

Dame Julie Walters
Dame Julie Walters

Let’s talk about cinema and gigs, comedy and drama, dancing and raving. Let’s talk about the abandonment of a sector that defines our national identity, about the hundreds of thousands of people who’ve been sitting at home since March, or paying the bills by delivering parcels for Amazon.

The Government would have us believe its £1.5 billion is the cure. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time, would even have us believe pantomimes are still possible.

Yup, and the beanstalk that Jack planted took him all the way to a moon made of cheese.

Imagine a world without Julie Walters and Sir Lenny Henry, without One Direction (fine, no bad thing) and Led Zeppelin, with no Beverley Knight and no Only Fools And Horses, where Clint Mansell didn’t write breathtakingly beautiful film scores and Jasper Carrott didn’t tell us about the nutter on the bus, or where Frank Skinner didn’t make us laugh (or, should that be loff) and there was no Black Sabbath, ELO, Duran Duran or Laura Mvula. That’s the dystopian future in store if the Government continues to fail the arts.

The West Midlands’ world class arts scene is slowly grinding to a halt after the Government refused to back it. The grassroots have withered, the institutions are crumbling, the Government is sitting on its hands, complicit.

Earlier this summer, we likened Oliver Dowden to Richard Beeching, the notable chairman of British Railways who oversaw the axe of between 4,000 and 6,000 miles of railway. Oliver Dowden is the Becching of the Arts was a good line; as memorable as Boris’s about wind power blowing the top off a rice pudding. It wasn’t then imagined it would be true; that Mr Dowden would ignore an entire sector and watch it crumble. Yet he is. Wrong man. Wrong place. Wrong time.

From Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn to Wolverhampton’s Grand, from the Garrick in Lichfield and Gatehouse in Stafford to Oakengates Theatre in Telford and beyond, from Birmingham’s imperious Symphony Hall, Hippodrome, REP and Alex, none are likely to trade for the best part of a year. And staff are being hung out to dry, with no sector-specific support for their jobs.

Imagine a world without panto, live music, drama and comedy. Bleak, isn’t it. It’s the one Mr Dowden’s signed us up to.

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