This is the complete text of Chapter 4 of Fifty
Festivals: The history of the Bath Festival by Tim Bullamore. It is
spread over 4 pages. Use the navigation buttons at the top and bottom of
each page to move between pages.
CHAPTER FOUR Page 1
The loss on the 1955 festival was, not surprisingly, substantial.
The outright grant of £5000 given to Ian Hunter by the city council, together with the Arts Council's guarantee of £1000, was clearly not going to be enough to meet all the festival's liabilities. Hunter sensed trouble in the air, and even before the end of the festival launched a major public opinion offensive.
During his final performance at the Theatre Royal, Sir Thomas Beecham gave a speech to the audience reminding them that worthwhile festivals invariably made a loss. Rounding on the festival's critics he thundered:
The extent of Ian Hunter's overspend soon became known. In addition to the £5000 grant already given to the festival, Bath's ratepayers would have to find an additional £5759 to cover the deficit. And this on a festival with a turnover of less than £26,000. Hunter trotted out his excuses: the bad weather, the General Election, a threatened railway strike even a newspaper strike had all conspired against the festival.
When the city council considered the matter the deputy mayor, Cllr William Gallop, tried to defend the festival saying that every performance had been first class and every artist an acknowledged master of his or her own particular art. He said: `We ought to consider it as part of our duty to spend some money raised from the rates on helping to subsidise forms of art which would not exist unless they had subsidies from somewhere.'
But the critics had a field day especially as, at the council meeting where the deficit was discussed, there was an attempt to secure funding for a festival in 1956. Cllr Ronald Purdie said he was sure that the citizens of Bath would be shocked when they learned of the enormity of the deficit. He said: `Mr Hunter referred to general apathy at Bath. I am not conscious of any apathy, I am more conscious of active opposition to the thing.'
Cllr Albert Whitcher was similarly on form:
Alderman Alleyne Berry, hitherto a staunch defender of the festival, admitted that he too was appalled at the financial result:
Despite the undoubted artistic merits of the revitalised festival, the city fathers were so appalled at Hunter's financial mismanagement that by 30 votes to 21 the city council removed his financial lifeline, voting through just enough money to clear the deficit and no more. And so, after 1955, Bath's festival was set to end. Still trying to put the best gloss on the catastrophe 43 years later, Ian Hunter blames external events. Speaking in 1998 he said: `Fortuitously, the Suez crisis gave us a good reason for postponing it.'
Ever tenacious, Hunter was not prepared to accept total abandonment of the project. He immediately set to work trying to raise a private endowment. The problem he encountered working from London was that Bath's festival was considered to be a problem for the West of England. Let the West sort it out. At the time he said:
When news of Hunter's attempts to keep the festival alive reached the city council in October 1955 they offered a cautious, if unenthusiastic, welcome, providing it did not involve the authority in any financial obligations. Opponents on the council pushed to have the festival completely wound up, suggesting that Hunter would use the window of opportunity to foist a festival on the city by back-door methods. However, protagonists advised caution. Alderman Alleyne Berry said: `Here we have a reputable lot of people endeavouring to raise money for Bath and we cannot turn it down, we cannot cold-shoulder it.'
Alderman Major Geoffrey Lock insisted that Hunter was doing a grand thing, and if he and others were willing to run a festival at Bath, the city council should give them support. `For goodness sake give this man some encouragement,' he cried. His plea fell on deaf ears and in 1956 there was no festival.
* * *
During the course of that year various ideas for a similar event were floated, including a `Hollywood Bowl' in front of the Royal Crescent, a military-style tattoo and a `people's festival', whatever that might be. In September 1956 the indefatigable Ian Hunter returned to the city to meet members of the council. The Chamber of Commerce had been lobbying furiously behind the scenes. It could see the merits of the festival and was anxious that one should take place in 1957. It called on the council to provide a guarantee of up to £2500 to support Hunter's efforts. At a vote, the council was tied 23-23. The mayor declined to use his casting vote but declared the motion not carried, and therefore no money was forthcoming. The chamber refused to be downhearted and decided to raise financial guarantees from businesses in the city. By November 1, 1956, £1900 worth of guarantees were in place. With only ten days to go before their deadline, another £600 was required. By November 5 they had succeeded. The Bath Chronicle was generous in its praise:
How would the city fathers react? They were magnanimous, offering the services of equipment, staff and premises free of charge. Overall there was a sense of relief at being able to claim the kudos for a festival without having to take responsibility for the financial side of it.
On November 14, 1956, Ian Hunter presented his theme for 1957: `Elegance, wit, caricature, humour and light-heartedness.' Behind those fine words he was lining up a spectacular array of internationally renowned classical musicians, the likes of which Bath had never seen before. They included the brother and sister violin and piano duo Yehudi and Hephzibah Menuhin, the pianist Claudio Arrau, the soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and the keyboard player Rosalyn Tureck.
Unfortunately, early in 1957 an outside influence scuppered his grand plans: petrol rationing. It simply was not possible to guarantee either artists or audiences the fuel they would need to journey to Bath. Even Ian Hunter's extensive and influential contacts could not solve this problem. The idea of holding a more limited festival or delaying it until the autumn was considered, but eventually Hunter and the Guarantors' Executive Committee, which had been set up to protect the guarantors' interests, felt that it would be better to postpone until the following year.
* * *
The announcement of plans for the 1958 festival attracted uproar. Twenty deer were to be paraded through the streets of Bath before being roasted at a barbecue on the Recreation Ground. The ensuing outcry `barbarous', `inhuman', `a disgusting orgy reminiscent of the pagan Romans' brought swift denials and claims of misunderstanding. Within hours the plans for such an exhibition were scotched. The idea behind the barbecue was to widen the scope of the festival and make it attractive to a greater section of the community. The outdoor event did go ahead, without the macabre parade, but due to torrential rain had to be postponed until the following day.
The Bath Chronicle's headline captured the spirit: `Bath Festival for All' and for the first time the paper printed a special festival supplement. It also had a daily festival page devoted to news, views, reviews and previews. British Railways joined in the spirit by offering half-price excursions from Paddington Station to Bath Spa each train had an advertising board on the front bearing the city's coat of arms and the dates of the festival. In London, Ibbs & Tillett Ltd had been selling tickets from their office at Wigmore Street.
In keeping with the ambition to widen the festival's appeal, jazz made its first appearance on the programme. The unknown quantity of the swinging sixties may still have been a couple of years away, but Bath was leading the way in offering community entertainment and a festival for everyone. The Bath Festival of Jazz took place in the Regency Ballroom between June 2 and June 7. Writing in the introduction to the jazz festival programme, Duncan Harrison, managing director of the ballroom, said: `Jazz now plays such an important part in our life that to ignore it would be indeed churlish, and that jazz is an art form most certainly cannot be denied.'
There was dancing to Johnny Dankworth and his orchestra while almost 1000 people turned up to hear Chris Barber and his band. Humphrey Littleton not only gave his scheduled performance, but also lit up the festival with an impromptu jam session in the city centre afterwards.
Both in jazz and classical music the list of artists was impressive for a ten-day festival, including many of those whom Hunter had intended for the aborted 1957 festival. Not the least of these was Yehudi Menuhin, who received a standing ovation for his performance of Beethoven's Violin Concerto in the Abbey with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by a 29-year-old rising star, Colin Davis.
The 21-year-old pianist Ingrid Haebler also played with Davis and the London Philharmonic Orchestra (Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.1) as well as giving a recital. She had taken a dislike to the Steinway piano provided for her concerto at the Guildhall, and a Blüthner piano had to be hastily rushed over from the Pavilion for her. When it was returned to the Pavilion, the irascible and diminutive Russian pianist Shura Cherkassky played Gershwin the Piano Concerto and Rhapsody in Blue with George Boyd and his orchestra.
Isaac Stern appeared with the Goldsborough Orchestra led by Emmanuel Hurwitz; Rosalyn Tureck performed an all-Bach programme twice on the same day to satisfy demand; John Gielgud performed a Shakespeare monologue at the Theatre Royal; Harry Blech brought the London Mozart Players; local boy made good Raymond Leppard brought the Leppard Orchestra together with soprano Jacqueline Delman for a programme that included a performance of Mozart's Exsultate Jubilate; Yehudi Menuhin returned with his sister Hephzibah for a recital featuring Beethoven's Spring Sonata; and the City of Bath Bach Choir once again turned their attentions to Bach's B minor Mass.
One of the 1958 festival's greatest moments came with an appearance by the 42-year-old German soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf at the Guildhall. Schwarzkopf was one of the greatest The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians suggests the greatest of post-war women lieder singers. Writing in The Bath Chronicle (June 4, 1958), Morley Pooley summed up the reaction to her performance:
Regular open-air performances from the Band of the Life Guards and no fewer than three dress balls, all added to the festival spirit. Bath Drama Club gave an anthology of poetry, prose and plays portraying Bath from the fifth to the twentieth centuries, including writing by Chaucer, Shakespeare, Austen, Pepys and Dickens, called `In Praise of Bath'. Meanwhile, the Arts Council's `Three Modern British Masters' exhibition was on display at the Victoria Art Gallery featuring works by Matthew Smith, Victor Passmore and Francis Bacon. Who could deny the attraction of such a compact but spectacularly star-studded programme?
The festival was formally opened during a televised ceremony in Abbey Church Yard performed by the archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler. In his speech, Sir Mortimer hit on a familiar theme when he warned that it would be easy for Bath to become a museum, `a mere archaeological specimen.'
He continued: `I am going to be quite frank with you about this. If there's one thing in the world I dislike more than another, it is archaeology. The moment you think of a place as mere archaeology, you may be sure that the place is dead. But Bath, you'll agree with me, is not dead. It is a Roman city; it is a Georgian city; but Bath is also a modern city.' He added that for every new nuclear reactor built, the country should invest in a new festival such as Bath's.
The final result of the 1958 festival was an artistic triumph and only the smallest demand was made on guarantors. `Festival: all pleased' ran The Bath Chronicle's front page headline on the final day, June 7, 1958.
|Text copyright © Tim Bullamore 1999.
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