As an occasional live attender in the past, for me this was a first for the BBC’s Reith Lectures, normally an austere and rather forbidding event. Whoops, cheers and whistles greeted the cross dressing artist and potter Grayson Perry in Londonderry Guildhall for the third in this year’s series, Nice Rebellion Welcome in! (text pending on website.) No, not that sort of rebellion but how claims that art is rebellious and original are easily subverted by the lure of commerce and the fact that so much is rubbish. Bliss it was that there was hardly a local reference before the questions -= and still the whoops kept coming from what the chair Sue Lawley remarked was “a highly appreciative audience”.
The questions when they came were over subscribed by too many establishment members in the nervous and now outmoded Reith Lectures manner, no harm to them – Deirdre Heenan of Magee UU, Shona MCarthy of the UK City of Culture company, Bob Collins of the NI Arts Council, ex DG of RTE and a southerner. To Ms McCarthy, worried about the “gentrification” effect of the City of Culture year (in Derry?) Grayson said : “ Give artists a place where they can live and work cheaply”. (Roars of applause). To another worried about commissioning, he laid into the “brochure- speak pouring out of civic leaders.. let it happen, just let it happen.” As a good atheist, what did he want to take with him in his coffin? “ My teddy bear.. They can put all my art in a skip for all I care. But those people who bought it might be worried.” I’m too slow at getting over the culture shock, Turner Prize and all. But where it matters, young Derry take it all in their stride, thank God.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London