Diary

Frank Kermode

Roy Shaw will not have expected an easy passage as Secretary-General of the Arts Council, but the weather worsened steadily during his tenure, and the discomfort exceeded all rational apprehensions. His book explains why this was so.[*] The directorate of the Council exists primarily to make judgments of value; it is required, having taken the best advice available, to decide which enterprises deserve public support, and to what extent. The directors must therefore be confident that they can tell the bad from the good and the good from the best; and their criteria, which they cannot be expected to scrutinise from day to day, are those of standardly-educated middle-class people with an interest in the arts. Shaw has no quarrel with them on this score, and spends quite a lot of time in this book defending establishment valuations. However, he also thinks that the best should be made available to sections of the population denied the education to enjoy it. His earlier career had been in adult education, and he brought to the Council a conviction that it had a duty to make its high-class products accessible to the lower classes. Nobody else wanted this: it wasn’t the job they’d signed on for, and in any case it was undesirable and perhaps impossible to bring off. So Shaw had to deal with a mutinous directorate as well as with a difficult chairman, Sir William Rees-Mogg, and a series of unsympathetic ministers. He has lost no time in his retirement in giving an account of what went on.

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[*] The Arts and the People by Roy Shaw. Cape, 144 pp., £9.95, 13 November, 0 224 02356 X.

[†] Giving it away: Memoirs of an Uncivil Servant by Charles Osborne. Macmillan, 324 pp., £19.95, 9 October, 0 436 35401 2. The second fruits appear to be crystallised in his anthology, The Collins Book of Best-Loved Verse (Collins, 222 pp., £9.95, 3 November, 0 00 223028 0). Best loved by whom is not explained. It is a collection of Golden Treasury-type lollipops with a dash of Auden, Betjeman, Eliot etc, designed, no doubt skilfully, for Aunt Edna’s Christmas stocking. It has wood engravings by Reynolds Stone.