‘Our arts don’t need government funding to achieve success’
- Credit: AP
Now here's some cultural history for you, viewed, as it were, through the other end of the binoculars. To their fathers, many of whom had done military service, their sons, born, like David Bowie, just after the Second World War, must have been something of a disappoint-ment. It was often said by that generation that their offspring were 'LMF – lacking moral fibre'.
In their great-grandfathers' time, Britain had been a global military and imperial power. In their own fathers' memories, Britain had still been a significant manufacturing nation. Now, within only years of the young Queen Elizabeth's coronation, it was said Britain was 'going to the dogs'. When National Service was scrapped in 1960, former soldiers, with a jangle of new pop music in the background, wrung their hands in despair. Regarding these new teenagers: pale, round-shouldered, effete and disinclined to graft, their parents remarked that we as a nation were finished.
Fifty years later it transpires they may have been overly pessimistic. Britain, while never having recaptured its empire, its military clout, nor its place as a manufacturing leviathan, within the past 60 years, has re-invented itself as a cultural superpower.
When the historians of the future look back, they may say of us: '...and yet, for all their apparent philistinism, their drunkeness, vulgarity, brawling and obsession with property prices, the New Elizabethans created a cultural powerhouse unrivalled throughout the world.
'During Queen Elizabeth II's reign, Britain's popular musicians were regarded as the best and the most inventive in the world. Her film directors, actors, writers and technicians astonished and delighted audiences. In fashion, art and literature, the mere mention that its creators were British might in be an international access pass.
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'During Elizabeth II's reign, if you had walked around the UK from north to south, you would have heard the sound of pop music spilling from the backrooms of the humblest pubs. In summer, during the early 21st century, many towns and villages held their own yearly music festivals in imitation of much larger ones like the Glastonbury and V Festivals.
'So popular were these smaller events, that many local entertainers were happy to perform free. The cornershops and newsagent windows were thick with a foliage of A4 posters, advertising music and comedy events, art classes, guitar lessons and small art exhibitions.
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'At times, it might almost have seemed that there were more arts practitioners and events than there could possibly be consumers to enjoy them. At the top level, however, early Elizabethan entertainers such as The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin commanded huge fees to play for audiences often numbering hundreds of thousands. The popularity of such acts helped effect changes in fashion, language and behaviour. Traditional social and hierarchical barriers tumbled.
'When the globally-famous David Bowie died, there was an unprecedented outpouring of grief for the passing of a genius. Bowie was even legitimately credited with having helped precipitate the fall of the Berlin Wall.
'The extraordinary thing about salient New Elizabethans such as David Bowie and Keith Richards is that hardly any of them had received more than a basic state education. None were mentored by those of power and influence. It must have been galling, or baffling, for the establishment of the time to observe the rapid rise of people such as David Bailey, Vivienne Westwood, Tracey Emin and J K Rowling.
'As for the various governments of the New Elizabethan Age, while they may have been nonplussed by the fame of these self-styled luminaries, they enjoyed basking in the glow which resulted.
'It would have been an awkward situation, as the new cultural giants, many of whom had sprung not from Britain's capital but from her dull estuarine suburbs, made their mark internationally.
'What else could their rulers do, but shake hands awkwardly with them, while dishing out the odd medal or knighthood?
'Had they been undervalued in their own land, our Bowies or our Rowlings? Only, as usual, by a handful of the most fustian intellectuals. In New Elizabethan times, though, the bien pensant of the quality press, still complained the arts were underfunded by the government.
'Did our popular arts really need funding to achieve success? Almost certainly not, it now seems. The more a government leaves its native talent to get on with its work unhampered by any kind of patronage or administration, the richer the results.
'The Beatles, for example, never received any bursaries. David Bowie paid for his own dance lessons. The Sex Pistols received no start-up loans. The New Elizabethans may yet rival their 16th century namesakes. We should hold our heads up with pride.'
•Martin Newell is an East Anglian singer-songwriter and poet. The views above are those of Mr Newell.