There are 40 living actors, split equally between men and women, who are a sir or a dame – far more than in any of other branch of the arts. I suspect the government’s arts and media honours committee has half an eye on the press when dishing out KBEs and DBEs for thespians because it will hit the headlines.
So, with the Queen’s birthday honours announced later this week, my money is on another getting a gong of sorts. I am not knocking actors. Yet it is perverse that few writers, particularly those working in TV, have any honour at all, let alone a knighthood or damehood. Why has there been nothing for Andrew Davies, who over the past four decades has written remarkable works including House of Cards, Pride and Prejudice, Bleak House, and Les Mis. Snobbery because he is primarily an adapter?
No honour either for the brilliant Jimmy McGovern, who, writing for almost as long, has Brookside, Cracker, Hillsborough and Broken among his credits. Or what about a knighthood for Roy Clarke, 89, who created Last of the Summer Wine, Keeping Up Appearances and Open All Hours? Among female writers, Heidi Thomas (Call the Midwife), Sally Wainwright (Happy Valley and Gentleman Jack) and Debbie Horsfield (Poldark) also remain without a gong despite distinguished track records.
Some might knock honours as establishment frippery. But while they exist, there should be greater recognition for those who create dramas or comedies and put the words into actors’ mouths.
Twenty seven lecturers, sacked by the National Gallery in 2017, were told by an employment tribunal in February that they had the right to be recognised as workers, and not freelancers. The gallery had claimed they were self-employed even though they paid tax at source. Three months on, and the lecturers, very much a public face of the gallery, are still awaiting settlements. Yet the National Gallery is by far Britain’s wealthiest, with more than £200m in its coffers, so could easily pay up.
The simmering dispute is another example of a poor relationship between the National Gallery and its workforce. There was a lengthy run-in with gallery assistants between 2011 and 2015 over cuts, and the main union rep was dismissed after opposing privatisation of some services before being reinstated. The National Gallery might know a lot about art, but it has many things to learn about human resources. The gallery says that it is not yet able to comment on the lecturers.
The London borough of Waltham Forest is nearly halfway through its time as the capital’s first Borough of Culture. In 2020, it is Brent’s turn. I’m all in favour of these crowns – like Hull as UK City of Culture in 2017. So far more than 100,000 have attended events in Waltham Forest, including celebrations for Damon Albarn and Matthew Bourne, who were both raised in the borough. Next is a celebration of another former local, Fanny Cradock, the 1960s cult TV chef, who is apparently a gay icon. Duckie Loves Fanny will offer food, music and gender politics in an illegal cruising spot in Epping Forest. What a recipe.