Peer considers Britain’s Got Talent audition during creative industries debate

June 4, 2009 at 3:33 pm Leave a comment

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TV presenter Lord Bragg initiated a debate in the House of Lords earlier today to call attention to the contribution of the creative industries to the United Kingdom economy.

Known to millions as Melvyn Bragg, presenter of recently-axed highbrow ITV arts programme The South Bank Show, his debate promted an eclectic collection of speeches from peers.

Britain’s Got Talent, UK jazz and fashion designer Stella McCartney were among the success of British creativity mentioned.

Lord Bragg said the creative industries “are the flagship and the most powerful identifying characteristic of what we in the UK in the 21st century can do well both at home and abroad, and in the process enrich not only the economy but the minds and imagination of people here and around the world.”

He told peers that by 2013 the sector is expected to employ about 1.3 million people, more than the financial sector, and contribute £85 billion to the UK, up from £57 billion today.

“The musicals of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, and Sir Cameron Mackintosh, for example, spin around the globe like Ariel in The Tempest and bring in profits simply unheard of in any other age,” he said.

“These two men started out as kids on the block doing the thing they loved but they were hugely aided by the cultural density in this country and, with that help have become creators and supporters of highly specialised skills as well as writers, composers and producers of world renown in their own right.

“In my opinion, the way to kill the creative industries is to straitjacket them in regulations and subject them to that influential new army of consultants who, bewilderingly, claim merit from starting with a clean slate—that is, knowing nothing about the subject.

“Artists have their own slates and knowing about their subject is their life’s work, so ask the artists who do the work.”

Lib Dem Lord Roberts of Llandudno had praise for Welsh language events and the biggest TV show in the country.

“I thoroughly enjoyed parts of Britain’s Got Talent,” he told peers.

“It was valuable because it introduced a massive viewer population—I am sure that is not the right way to describe it—to things like community groups such as the street dancers, Flawless and Diversity.

“If their influence can now spread to other communities and young people, that will be a tremendous benefit to us.

“The programme even gave my granddaughter an idea—I have seven grandchildren, at the last count.

“She saw this grandfather and granddaughter competing, and next I had a phone call: was I willing to enter Britain’s Got Talent with her next year?

“If the House is abolished I might have time on my hands, and we will be able to have an alternative career.”

Baroness Young of Hornsey raised the issue of the environmental impact and the fashion industry.

“Increasingly, awareness is being raised within the industry about its responsibilities in terms of its environmental impact, exploitative employment and trading practices, and animal welfare,” she said.

“Awareness-raising among the public is crucial, as is encouraging a different approach to fashion, rejecting a high turnover of goods that are produced cheaply by exploited labour and which have a negative environmental impact.

“Because this debate is about the creative industries, I am referring to designer clothing—an issue in itself, as of course it tends to be out of the price range of most people.

“But it is important because designers increasingly work across a range of markets, with the likes of high-end designers such as Matthew Williamson and Stella McCartney creating clothing for the high street.

“What they do and how they work is reported on extensively in glossy magazines and consumed by a great many people, particularly young women.”

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston reminisced about a TV-free childhood.

“I grew up in Scotland before television, and a pretty bleak time it was,” he said.

“Our most exciting cultural activities were watching films and listening to music from America. We saw very little that reflected our own lives, and a career in what we now call the “creative industries” was open to very few. Well, how things have changed.

“When I left school in the mid-1950s, about four pupils in 100 went on to university. Today, almost half of pupils go on to higher education, more than half of whom are women—another remarkable measure of our progress in the past half-century.

“And, of course, many of those students now choose media-related courses, or study for careers in other creative activities.”

Lord Colwyn informed peers that he is a “very mediocre trumpet” player and co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group.

“We had to change the name from the All-Party Jazz Group to the All-Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group because of all the requests that came to Westminster to book the non-existent parliamentary jazz band,” he said.

“Many UK jazz musicians have developed international reputations for live performance and have recordings that are seen and bought by a worldwide audience. There is an active jazz scene in all major UK cities.

“Every year there are jazz festivals all over the country, many attracting some of the finest jazz musicians in the world. More than 3 million people patronise these events with five times that amount expressing a definable interest in jazz.”

Lord Colwyn said the annual turnover of the jazz sector of the British music industry is in excess of £88 million.

Oscar-winning film producer Lord Puttnam spoke about the diversity in the sector, including video games and the importance of the UK’s huge archive of films and TV.

“By combining the availability of an extremely rich array of material from the UK’s archive and the possibilities offered by digital technologies, we have the opportunity of looking at things and, as it were, reassembling them,” he said.

“We can try to reimagine our world as it might be, or even as it might become.

“All this is part of what is really an enormous opportunity for the strategy for UK screen heritage, for which the Government have recently given the UK Film Council a capital allocation to begin to bring forward.”

“We have the creative talent,” Lord Puttnam told the House.

“We have the creative and cultural assets.

“All we really now need in order to deliver our potential is the vision, ambition and energy that demonstrate our commitment to these creative industries as being the real standard-bearers for our national prosperity in the 21st century.

“I very much hope that today’s debate will reinforce the fact that all sides of your Lordships’ House recognise the opportunity and the fact that it is there for the taking.”

Lord Inglewood was in misanthropic mood.

“The older I get,” he said, “the more I am staggered by the number of bad paintings in the world.

“An awful lot of them were thought to be good at the point at which they were created.

“If you go into a bookshop, it is unbelievable how many bad books are on the shelves; if you go into the basement of a second-hand bookshop, it is even worse.

“You have to realise that, for the people who created them all, they were important intellectual projects.

“However, to have a successful creative economy—rather like to have an effective programme of scientific research, a point made recently in an article that I read by the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow—it is necessary to understand failure.

“Society must know how to handle it and deal with its financial implications.”

Winding up the debate for the government, Lord Davies of Oldham was upbeat about the prospects for the UK’s creative industries.

“We all recognise the difficulties that the economy faces and the difficulty of resources for aspects of the creative industries,” he said.

“But we should also recognise the extraordinary advantage that we have.

“My noble friend described London as the city of delights. Whether or not we accept that at face value, we know what he means; namely, that London is the world capital for art.

“It leads an immensely creative country and this debate has shown all its richness and its importance. We should support it in every way we can.”

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