27 September 2022

An open letter to our new culture secretary from a lighting designer


culture secretary michelle donelan

Dear Ms Donelan,

Please allow me, through these pages, to welcome you to your new job of secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. 

Many people have filled your role; you’re the 14th since 2007. In that period there have been just seven chancellors, five prime ministers and, until the other sad day, one monarch. The average time in your job is just over a year. There are individual shows that take longer than that to get on to the stage; it doesn’t feel long enough to figure out what everyone’s doing, let alone start making meaningful decisions. 

Ask it, and your own civil service will tell you that the sectors you oversee account for 13% of the UK economy, with the creative industries among the fastest growing. Despite what your government often seems to believe, this is a massively important area.

Narrow down the focus a bit to my world, the production side – the work of delivering live shows, events, television productions and films – and you’ll find a highly skilled, talented and serious workforce delivering big, complex projects bang on schedule. When was the last time you went to see a show and it wasn’t there ready for you? While you were there, did you wonder about the complexity of the scenery, costumes, props, lighting and sound in front of you – to say nothing of the tonnes of equipment hanging safely above you?

This is no longer the clichéd world of roadies pushing boxes. This is a world of high-level design, engineering and technology, often advancing the limits of what technology allows. Practitioners and suppliers from this country are in demand everywhere, their work acclaimed around the world. Just one example: four of the five nominees for best sound design for a musical in this year’s Tony Awards were British.

All these talents deserve the fullest support and encouragement from government, not to be ignored, dismissed and, in the worst case, told they should retrain. They need practical help with today’s challenges, including the ongoing recovery from the pandemic, the complications from Brexit and the looming catastrophe of energy prices and inflation. In that perfect storm, a number of long-established British suppliers in this field have been taken over by foreign companies. Has anyone in your department noticed that? Do you even know how many of these skilled individuals work in this field you now oversee?

It feels like you should.

Without culture, the UK would be an entirely different country, and a much less appealing one. But culture is not really a thing in itself, it’s the result of the people and organisations who make it.

Please, be bold on our behalf. Long-term bold, not just the sound-bites of electioneering. We need commitment. We need support. We need, as we used to have back in times when those leading the arts loved the arts and stuck around, an ally.

From Private Eye, 1582, 23 September - 6 October


I tried reading this to my wife but was so convulsed I couldn’t make it to the end!

02 September 2022

Scottish violinist Daphne Godson has died aged 90

The musician and teacher performed in several ensembles and taught at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music

The Strad, 2 September 2022

One of Scotland’s most accomplished violinists, Daphne Godson has died aged 90. Over her long playing career she was associated with ensembles such as the Scottish Baroque Ensemble, the Berenicia Ensemble, the Pegasus Trio, Merlyn Trio and the Scottish Early Music Consort.

Born in 1932 in Edinburgh, Godson attended George Watson’s Ladies’ College and the Waddell School of Music. One of her earliest notices appeared in The Scotsman in March 1950 when she was only 18, following a Saltire Society recital at Gladstone’s Land in Edinburgh. The concert also featured the counter-tenor George Rizza (later prominent in the world of music publishing). The reviewer noted that Godson ‘had, besides her beautiful tone, a confidence and a maturity about her playing that was quite exceptional’. A solo piece by Kreisler was ‘a tour de force, but it was her grasp of the implications of [Dowland’s] “Go, nightly cares” which was the more remarkable’. On the same page of the same issue a review of the Waddell Junior Orchestra remarks that Daphne Godson, among others, ‘revealed more than latent musicianship’.

She attended the Royal Academy of Music in London and, after being awarded a Belgian State Scholarship in 1954, went on to study at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels with the Hungarian-born violinist André Gertler (who also taught André Rieu). In 1957 she won first prize in the international violin competition held during the Darmstadt Festival of Contemporary Music.

The following year, 1958, she won a consolation prize of 2,000 Zloty in the third International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition in Poznań, Poland, one of five candidates representing Britain. Among the judges were David Oistrakh, Max Rostal and Gioconda de Vito.

Returning to Scotland she was active as a solo violinist and as a member of Edinburgh Barock, the Merlyn Trio, the Pegasus Trio and the Bernicia Ensemble, recording Rameau’s Pièces de Clavecin en Concert for Saga in 1966 and contributing to the 18th-century volume (‘Baroque and Classical Scotland’) of the LP series A History of Scottish Music (Scottish Records, 1972) with fellow violinist Leonard Friedman. There were also performances and recordings with the Scottish Baroque Ensemble – directed by Friedman – and with the Scottish Early Music Consort (Mary's Music: Songs and Dances from the Time of Mary, Queen of Scots; Chandos, 1984). In 1997 she was violinist and leader on the CD The Big Birl (Lismore Recordings), original compositions by Robert Mathieson, Pipe Major of the Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band.

After a recital in Glasgow with her pianist partner Audrey Innes in April 1962, Anthony Hedges commented in the Musical Times that they, ‘both as a team and as individuals, deserve to be widely heard outside Scotland. Each couples a great sense of artistry with admirable technical accomplishment; each has an ardent musical personality that communicates enthusiasm and enjoyment to the listener.’ In May 1962 she appeared at London’s Wigmore Hall in one of the Incorporated Society of Musicians’ Young Artists’ Recitals.

Daphne Godson was also principal of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (1974–76) and leader of the Edinburgh Bach Players, and appeared as a soloist with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Scottish National Orchestra and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.  From 1964 she also taught at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and at the Broughton High School Special Music Unit.

An interest in early music (she was also an accomplished rebec player) did not preclude composers of other periods, including Hans Gál, whose Concertino for violin and strings she played at Gateshead in 1963 (‘in which she showed technical mastery, beauty of tone, and maturity of interpretation’, according to the composer Arthur Milner, who reviewed it in the Newcastle Journal), Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire (with the Bernicia Ensemble, Aberdeen, 1968), and Kenneth Leighton, at whose memorial concert she played in 1989 – the penultimate of 18 appearances she made at the Edinburgh University Reid Concerts series between 1959 and 1999. She also played in the University of Glasgow’s McEwen Memorial Concerts of Scottish Chamber Music.

There were more than 25 radio broadcasts between 1959 and 2004, including music by Hans Gál, Kenneth Leighton, Robin Orr and John Casken; and she was the violinist in a broadcast of David Greig’s play, Dr Korczak’s Example, first broadcast in 2004 and repeated as recently as this year on BBC Radio 4 Extra.

Among her avocations were hillwalking, reading and dressmaking. She could have had an international career, but said she was ‘perfectly happy in Scotland’.


Edith Muriel Daphne Godson, violinist and teacher; born Edinburgh, 16 March 1932; died Edinburgh 15 August 2022

18 August 2022


This obituary was originally written as an ‘advance’ for The Independent before it became wholly digital and with a different policy for obituaries. So it was never published and is presented here in the format adopted by The Independent at the time.

Martin How was a brilliant organist and inspirational choir trainer who spent the greater part of his career in the service of the Royal School of Church Music, as headquarters choirmaster at Addington Palace and as initiator of the Chorister Training Scheme, now adopted in various forms throughout the world. He inaugurated the RSCM Cathedral Singers, which sang at Canterbury Cathedral and elsewhere and frequently broadcast on the BBC’s Choral Evensong, and was an RSCM Commissioner, travelling widely at home and abroad to conduct courses, deliver lectures and adjudicate at competitions.

He was born in Liverpool in 1931, the son of John How, a clergyman who, when Martin was six, and after a period in Brighton, became primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, moving to Glasgow, where How spent most of his childhood. A music scholar at Repton School, then organ scholar of Clare College, Cambridge, he ran the college’s chapel choir of boys and adults, read music and theology and only narrowly missed being awarded a Blue for cross-country running, an activity he kept up well into his time at Addington.

After university he spent one term as a student at the RSCM when it was still at Canterbury, prior to a National Service commission in the Royal Army Service Corps for two years, where he claims that the experience was invaluable in his future career! In January 1955 he returned to the RSCM – now at Addington Palace near Croydon, former summer residence of the archbishops of Canterbury – intent on resuming his studies, but on 28 April the RSCM’s records state: “Mr M. J. R. How appointed H.Q. choirmaster”, a post he took up the following September in succession to Hubert Crook. From 1961-4 he was organist of Grimsby parish church – at the time the only parish church in England to have its own choir school – together with teaching and other musical activities, but soon returned to his former RSCM post and as Headquarters Commissioner. From 1971 until 1992 he was Commissioner for the South, then worked part-time as a Special Adviser, finally retiring in April 1994, but continuing to live in South Croydon and maintaining links with the music of Croydon Minster as Organist Laureate.

In the 1993 New Year’s Honours List he was appointed MBE “for services to church music”, and his many admirers might have felt that this was a somewhat paltry reflection of the impact and influence he had on the thousands from Britain and abroad who met him and worked with him. Perhaps his innate modesty worked against him in an age of celebrity overreaction, even in 1993.

Martin How’s natural charm and seemingly inexhaustible cheerfulness inspired his choristers as much as musical ability. At a reunion at Addington in 2013, Peter Hood, head chorister in 1963 when the college was still residential, recalled: “Martin’s secret was that he could instil discipline and we all had the greatest respect for him but he made it all such fun. I don’t think we necessarily appreciated what a wonderful thing it was that we were involved in; we just knew that we loved it and we enjoyed it. Addington Palace became our spiritual home and Mr How became our father figure and he constructed an enormous family for us.”

Martin How’s name is also familiar beyond Addington because so much of the music he composed and edited, which therefore bears his name, has a worldwide appeal – and worldwide sales. As a practising musician his aim as a composer had always been to provide practical music, appropriate to circumstances, but challenging for performers to achieve just that little bit more than perhaps they thought they could. So much of it reflects his own personal charm and modesty, but can express strong views and feelings too. As well as anthems and service settings, he wrote solo organ music, including an Elegy in memory of Dr Gerald Knight – director of the RSCM during much of How’s time there – and four sets of Pieces for Organ. Ever mindful that the RSCM’s membership includes choirs of all shapes, sizes and abilities, he also gave special attention to producing good music for limited choral resources.

A skilled accompanist, he was accompanist to the (then) Choirboy of the Year competition organized by the RSCM (sponsored by Rediffusion television) from the first competition in 1975 until 1989; in 1992 it combined with the BBC Choirgirl of the Year competition that had run concurrently since 1986, though from 1989 the RSCM competition had also included girls.


Martin John Richard How, church musician: born Liverpool 3 April 1931; educated at Repton School, Clare College Cambridge (organ scholar), Trinity College London and the Royal School of Church Music; At RSCM: Headquarters Choirmaster 1955-1961 and 1968-70, Headquarters Commissioner 1964-7 and 1970-1, Commissioner for the South 1971-92, Special Adviser 1992-4; organist of Grimsby Parish Church 1961-4; Organist Laureate of Croydon Minster 1994-[year of death]; MBE 1993; died 25 July 2022.

15 August 2022

Old African Proverb

 ‘When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.’

DAVID MICHELL, 1929-2022


David and I were very close at one time – we became friends originally as fellow members of the Hampstead Choral Society which I joined within a week of coming to London for library school (North-Western Polytechnic) in January 1967. I think it was at my second rehearsal that he chatted to me, after which we did so many things together: outings (the destination usually to include a cathedral and a second-hand bookshop), joining the Elgar Society London Branch on its formation, joining the Southwark Cathedral Choir. I remember a visit to Rochester where the discovery of a shop with a large collection of 78s took precedence over Evensong in the cathedral – one of the objects of the visit – which he missed and I attended alone.

David was best man at my first wedding. And, of course, it was through David that I met Robert Tucker. (David was quite alarmed to discover that everyone he met seemed to be a librarian!) I'm afraid that we eventually drifted apart and I always felt guilty about it (Robert kept in touch with him), but I felt I had outgrown the friendship, though we still exchanged Christmas cards. I hope he made appropriate arrangements for the disposal of his wonderful collection of recordings and other memorabilia, which could be claimed as of national importance. I once met his brother, who was at St Thomas’s Hospital when I visited David, who was a patient there in the 1970s.

Robert says that, despite his infirmities, David sounded quite unchanged on the telephone, and I can imagine his frustration at having his freedom curtailed so irrevocably. I could have provided the stimulating conversation Andrew Neill says David craved – which makes me feel even more guilty – but the trouble was that David didn’t want anything to change, and was very put out when I (and I think Robert too) got married and, of course, made changes to our lives. He wasn’t a misogynist or (so far as I am aware) homosexual, but just felt that women were a bit of an irrelevance in his life.

I loved his dry sense of humour, though this could sometimes be hurtful or embarrassing: I remember we were in a cafe near Southwark Cathedral, probably when we both sang in the Cathedral choir, and a poor old down-and-out came up to him saying ‘Can you help me, sir?’ to which he replied, rather sharply: ‘No! No one can.’ I remember Ron Taylor complaining that once when David visited him he started picking up and reading letters that were lying around. There was one occasion when, on Christmas Day, he missed the only bus to Southwark (when there were buses on Christmas Day!) for the cathedral services (and presumably taxis were completely booked up or unaffordable) and so, unexpectedly, had to spend the day at home, probably lunching on beans on toast (lunch would have been provided at Southwark, where the choir was also required for Evensong); on hearing this I invited him to Kennington (where I then lived – by then I had moved on from Southwark to St George’s Hanover Square) on Boxing Day for a repeat Christmas lunch when he also had the challenge of entertaining my mother, who had come from Nottingham for the occasion. As my best man (at St George’s), he was a bundle of nerves and, the day before, had to be sent home by my prospective mother-in-law to prevent him driving everyone mad! As I think we said at the time, anyone would have thought that he was the one getting married! Everything was fine on the day, but Janet did not help by telling him (teasingly) that if the groom fails to turn up the best man has to marry the bride!

He had a great love of names: in the musical world Graupner (composer) and Bronsgeest (singer) amused him; it was David who named Wulstan Atkins (with his utter devotion to Elgar) as ‘the Thirteenth Apostle’ (also, ‘Woolsack’). Other Elgarians earned similar epithets (no names no pack drill). We once visited (I think on a dull November day, having travelled by train, including an excellent lunch on board – those were the days! – and walking from Worcester to Lower Broadheath) the Elgar Birthplace, met by Alan Webb and – sworn to secrecy – CAKE provided by Mrs Webb! And there was that instantly recognizable cough that punctuated many a London Branch talk. He was a great friend (and fellow Cornishman) of Bill Harris (William Lewarne Harris), composer, whom I also got to know, the baritone Donald Francke, and of course Inglis Gundry. We were also frequent visitors to William Reeves, near him in south London, for second-hand books and music and I remember hesitating to spend the then considerable sum of £3. 10s. on the two volumes of Percy Scholes’s The Mirror of Music (I succumbed. They sell for up to £90 the pair now!). I remember my first wife Janet commenting on how his flat was surprisingly (for a bachelor!) comfortable and ‘chintzy’. There was also the Block instrument, indicating ‘train on line’ when the doorbell was rung. Did you ever notice that, though tall, he had very small feet?

The Hampstead Choral Society often sang in Promenade Concerts, usually as part of a vast composite choir: we sang in the Beethoven Choral Symphony conducted by Boult in place of Malcolm Sargent who was mortally ill. We thought how slow the scherzo was, until we heard the broadcast repeat and realized it was spot-on, the more particular pointing of the rhythm giving far more impetus than mere speed; another year we sang in Belshazzar’s Feast (David loved the alternative German title that then appeared in the vocal score: Belsazers Gastmahl!), conducted by John Pritchard with a choir of thousands; so many in fact that we planned, when they all shouted ‘Slain!’, to shout ‘Shit!’, but I can’t remember whether we did. David later joined the London Philharmonic Choir.

He often played recordings down the telephone when talking to me: I remember in particular the Eugene Goossens recording of the 1920 revision of the Vaughan Williams London Symphony and comparing it with the published score. He recalled, as a very young man, meeting Vaughan Williams (I think in Cornwall) and discussing a piece for which not all instruments were available locally (unfortunately I can’t now remember what the piece was) and RVW suggesting ‘You could try saxophones’, of which there was no shortage in the dance bands of the local seaside hotels at the time! David also recalled as a child witnessing the Crystal Palace fire (1936), which could be seen from the road where they lived.

This has been mostly about music, but David's interest in railways was significant too (I think he was in ‘planning’ at Waterloo when I first knew him) and he relished a recording of steam locomotives tackling the Lickey Incline. He was also a Territorial and, in our early days, was occasionally called for periodic training sessions; I think he may have been awarded the TD (Territorial Decoration).

As for the pronunciation of his name, it was definitely ‘Mitchell’, despite the actor Keith Michell pronouncing it ‘Meeshell’. I remember Robert Tong ringing me up about a concert at Queen Mary College that he was conducting and in which David was interested and Tong asking if my friend Michelle was coming – my first reaction was that I didn’t know any girl called Michelle!

Finally, as David tended to collect friends who were younger than himself, I always used to refer to him, teasingly, but quite truthfully, as ‘my oldest friend in London in both senses of the word’. (Actually John Bishop and Betty Roe probably also qualified but it was a pity to spoil the joke!) David was quite sensitive about his age (compared with us) though he would only have been in his 30s/40s at the time.

13 July 2022

Wise words from Roger Wright

‘In an age which seems to value surface knowledge and instantaneous gratification, we are in danger of missing the importance of deeper engagement, not least in classical music which demands time and careful consideration. We are also at risk of losing our sense of curiosity in a world in which there is more available to us than ever and in which there is more and more communication but apparently less and less to communicate.’ – Roger Wright.