I once sat next to Max Mosley at a lunch at a time when he was more famous as the face of motor racing than as the bottom in the News of the World. The lunch was hosted by David Mellor (no stranger later to tabloid scandal – “From Toe Job to No Job”), who was then Arts Minister under Margaret Thatcher, before he graduated to the Treasury under John Major.
Mellor dilated at length about the Royal Opera House – the pros and cons, but mainly the cons – in the context of describing the virtues of subsidising cultural activities. Mosley couldn’t be persuaded that any subsidy to culture was justified but if the government was rash enough to subsidise culture, why not motor racing, was that not culture? While it was pointed out that there was no more heavily subsidised (by the manufacturers) activity on earth than motor racing, no one at the lunch chose to answer his question: what do you understand by the word “culture”?
Which is what, many years later – in fact a few weeks ago – I was asked while standing in front of a camera doing a trail for a TV programme. I had agreed to say something enthusiastic about “culture” that might persuade a viewer to watch The Culture Show on BBC2. I dithered, I struggled. “Er .?.?. culture is anything that isn’t sport or work or politics. Er .?.?. it’s about what we think, what we do, what we buy, how we behave, how we entertain ourselves. Er .?.?. our ‘lifestyle’ – if you must. All art is part of culture but not all culture is art?.?.?.”
At which point I asked if we could stop recording to clarify whether – for the purpose of promoting the programme – we were talking about “art” or “culture”. To the production team my cavil was as arcane, irrelevant and time-wasting as demanding of them an explanation of the finer points of the laws of croquet.
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