In Britain we’re obsessed with hierarchy, honours and pecking orders. On New Year’s Eve, the Queen’s New Year’s Honours were issued, and of course the list was big on our Olympic heroes from last year’s Beijing events; but on the arts front, the pickings were surprisingly slim. Despite a public campaign on behalf of Bruce Forsyth to be elevated to a knighthood (he already has a CBE), which included an online petition signed by more than 15,000 people, he was overlooked - according to a story in the Daily Telegraph, he was out of the running because he received his CBE in 2005, so was unlikely to be considered for an honour again until at least 2010. A source is quoted from within the Cabinet Office explaining, “There is a convention within the honours system that individuals who have received an award in the past will not be considered for another honour for five years. It is not a hard and fast rule, but unless someone does something exceptional, it tends to be adhered to.”
At least that’s now clear. But what do the awards themselves mean? When I wrote a story on Tuesday for an American website about Michael Sheen being awarded an OBE and Liz Smith receiving an MBE, the editor replied requesting clarification as to what those awards meant.
But the particular hierarchy of individual awards doesn’t mean much even to us: as a Guardian editorial pointed out on Tuesday, “Only medievalists will have any idea why the bauble being handed to top trade official Andrew Cahn is called a Knight Commandership of the Order of St Michael and St George. Even the common MBE signifies membership of the Order of a British Empire that has ceased to exist - rendering it anachronistic at best, and offensive at worst. Nowadays, the MBE is supposed to be about hands-on local community involvement, with the rarer CBEs and knighthoods reserved for nationally recognised work. But this rationalisation only reinforces the system’s class-bound origins”.
But it’s difficult, amongst the 966 people named, to even find the names of all the arts people that have been recognised. It wasn’t until I saw The Stage’s story that I realised that Katie Mitchell had been awarded an OBE, too, for her services to drama. That service may largely be to inspire controversy, as I wrote here about the critical response to her National Theatre production of Attempts on Her Life in 2007; but clearly someone at the Cabinet Office is paying attention.
And it wasn’t until I spotted a story on another website this morning, www.londontheatre.co.uk that I saw that Jennifer Sealey, artistic director of disabled-led theatre company Graeae since 1997, has been appointed an MBE.
At least here at The Stage the own annual list in we honour the great and good (and sometimes bad but brilliant) amongst theatrical movers and shakers is easier to find: just buy a copy of this week’s paper. The “pre-release” of a tally of the most influential “top ten” figures of the last decade of the Stage 100, which Alistair Smith has previously blogged about here, has already created a spirited discussion on The Guardian blog, since Lyn Gardner suggest that what The Stage “means by influence doesn’t necessarily tally with other people’s definitions - certainly not mine.”
Lyn then goes on to propose her own list of those she deems should figure on a current list of the most influential figures in the theatre. But in fact she has confused the two lists that this paper has produced - the ten-year survey, and our current tally - since many of her own nominations make it into our list this year.
But the problem with any list are the omissions as much as the inclusions, and having set a ceiling of 100 entries, we’ve had to leave a lot of worthy contenders off. But the survey specifically casts a light on the previous twelve months’ worth of activity, and in that light, it is interesting to see how Andrew Lloyd Webber - having taken the pole position across the previous ten years - has, for the second year running, gone into second place behind Cameron Mackintosh, whose ongoing programme of theatre refurbishments in the West End, as well as bringing in a new production this year of Oliver! and his international producing profile, have seen him more active than Lloyd Webber, even if ALW continues to court a more public profile with his TV judging work (which last year saw him the lead panellist on the Oliver! show, and this year will see him trying to bring victory back to Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest, by not just writing the entry but also presiding over a live TV search for who will perform it).
It’s also interesting to observe the slide, from pole position in 2005 and joint first position in 2006, to 7th in 2007 and now 17th this year for David Ian. He’s still active, but not nearly as attractive as he was when he had the corporate might of Live Nation behind him; but then what is still striking about theatreland is that, for all the corporate animals that have come to dominate the entertainment world, we still have a defiant group of independent producers still carving out their own distinctive niches here. The top twenty list this year includes the irrepressible Bill Kenwright (about to return to the West End with all guns blazing, with three openings lined up in the next couple of months), Nica Burns and Max Weitzenhoffer, and the return to the list of David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers, as well as the first appearance in the Top Ten of Judy Craymer, who steered Mamma Mia! into what is rapidly turning into the most successful stage-to-screen transfer of all time.
We’re not the only ones compiling Top 100 lists — last April the Sunday Telegraph set out its own stall of the 100 most powerful people in British culture. Intriguingly, they put the National’s Nick Hytner ahead of everyone (he’s only third in our list), in a list whose Top Ten is half theatre — Lloyd Webber’s at position 5, Cameron Mackintosh at 7, Michael Grandage at 8 and Kevin Spacey at 10 (one ahead of our own ranking of him at number 11).