Six cheers for Mr Dorrell

The more the Minister of the Arts succeeds in winding up the nation’s cultural grandees, the better he is doing a job that should not exist outside Soviet Russia

SBHD: The more the Minister of the Arts succeeds in winding up the nation’s cultural grandees, the better he is doing a job that should not exist outside Soviet Russia

Two rival psychic mediums fought last week for the exclusive rights to a 35,000-year-old Egyptian warrior spirit called Ramtha.

Victory in an Austrian court went to Miss Judy Knight, 46, who told the judge: “I’ve had spiritual contact with Ramtha since 1978. I need him and he needs me.” Her opponent, Mrs Julie Ravel, 53, who had brought the case, insisted: “Ramtha feeds his thoughts and energies through me alone. I am his keeper.”

Ruling in favour of Miss Knight, the judge said she had years of experience and enjoyed a parapsychological contact with the spiritual entity. Mrs Ravel had infringed copyright by claiming to have contacted Ramtha in a Berlin glass shop.

The judgment freed Miss Knight to continue treating her followers in Washington State to the experience of witnessing her sink into an hypnotic trance and utter in a gruff voice the thoughts and advice of Ramtha on many topics, including family finance. Miss Knight had been a television cable salesperson until the ancient Egyptian surfaced in her kitchen.

Well, I’ve got news for both these ladies. I, too, am in almost daily contact with Ramtha. He first came to me in the Tandoori Nights restaurant in Cockfosters. I was thoughtfully chewing on a chapati when, to my surprise, an ancient Egyptian voice, not my own, emerged from my larynx and said, in English, “How about some mango chutney”.

The experience changed my life. Whenever the mood takes me, I plunge into a catatonic stupor and become the conduit for ancient Egyptian thoughts. The most remarkable features of this experience are first, that for someone who is 35,000 years old, Ramtha’s interests are remarkably contemporary (he is a supporter of Tottenham Hotspur) and secondly, that his thoughts coincide entirely with my own.

So it was not that surprising when, browsing in the wallpaper section at Homebase, I suddenly gave Egyptian voice to the sentiment, “Stephen Dorrell can’t be all bad.” Ramtha has little interest in the arts, having seen it all in 35 millennia, and once told me – I think it was in Safeway – that, in his opinion, Richard Attenborough was an insufferable little fellow who, in the Old Kingdom, would have been thrown in the Nile.

In Ramtha’s view the Department of National Heritage was an absurd creation that sprang from the same brow as the classless society and the Citizen’s Charter. It ought to be a source of comfort that the Minister in charge, Mr Dorrell, should be sufficiently honest to admit to having little interest in the job.

For this he has been roundly castigated by, among others, Mr Andrew Neil. “Mr Dorrell,” he says, “has looked and sounded positively bored … He cannot even remember the last film or television programme he saw and exudes no great enthusiasm for the musical or visual arts … all this for a man who has the pick of first nights.”

That last phrase prompted Ramtha to emit a kind of disgusted Egyptian choking noise. He and I can imagine few things more unpleasant than rubbing shoulders with the ghastly crowd of publicity-crazed celebrities, royals, and hangers-on who flock to first nights.

It is a badge of pride not to remember the last film or television programme one saw. Indeed, so unmemorable is most of the tosh on screens great and small that total recall is beyond human ability. Interestingly, it is also beyond spiritual ability; Ramtha says the last film he saw was The Jazz Singer, which he thought quite good.

Susannah Herbert, the Telegraph’s arts correspondent, puts her finger on the cause of the minister’s unpopularity among the chattering classes. “It’s not that the big cultural wheels dislike Dorrell, it’s simply that his apparent lack of enthusiasm for the Heritage job offends their amour-propre.” The grandees of the arts world are unused to being ignored by the keepers of the nation’s cultural purse strings.

Which is exactly why Ramtha and I raise six cheers (three each) for the man they call Mr Artless. In refusing to take the Puttnams, Attenboroughs, and Issacses as seriously as they take themselves, which is very seriously indeed, he does us all a service.

As Ramtha said in the Delhi Diner a few days ago, the Government has no business having a policy on the arts, let alone a ministry. Ministries of the Arts are the sort of thing they have in dictatorships. Both Stalin and Hitler had policies on the arts.

Artistic expression is nothing if it is not an expression of freedom. And wherever the State sticks its nose, freedom is diminished. Public money and art do not mix well. The Arts Council has been responsible for funding rubbish for years. There is little reason for expecting that the National Lottery windfall will result in better art, though it is almost certain to result in a great deal more rubbish.

Sadly, Mr Dorrell seems to be going the same way as Mr Norris, the Transport Minister who spoke the truth about the dreadful people who use public transport and then furiously backtracked. The Heritage Minister now wishes to be seen as an art lover, and has opera, theatre and film engagements in his diary.

Ramtha and I, though, suspect that the real Mr Dorrell will continue to surface, simply because he cannot stand the pretensions of the arts lobby or its claims to special attention. Much of his time will continue to be spent in avoiding Melvyn Bragg.

I knew it would happen. Suddenly, standing at that renowned phrontistery, the bar of the Green Dragon, it occurred to my Egyptian alter ego that I, or he, or maybe both of us, was a Philistine. So I ordered another two pints, one for him and one for me. And we drank to Mr Dorrell.

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