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BBC licence fee: Tory MPs warn No 10 against fight

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Two senior Tory MPs have warned Downing Street not to pick a fight with the BBC amid reports it wants the broadcaster “massively pruned back”.

The Sunday Times suggested No 10 believed the current licence fee should be replaced by a subscription service and certain channels sold.

Former cabinet minister Damian Green said such a radical overhaul would amount to “cultural vandalism”.

“Destroying the BBC was not in our manifesto,” he wrote.

Huw Merriman, the MP for Bexhill and Battle who is chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on the BBC, warned No 10 “ramping up an unedifying vendetta” against the BBC, saying the corporation should “not be a target”.

“This is not a fight the BBC is picking nor a contest my party promised if we got elected,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph. “If the BBC ends up in decline, it will be the government which will be accused by the very people we will rely on for support at the next election.”

Ministers recently launched a consultation on whether non-payment of the licence fee should remain a criminal offence.

Many MPs say those who are unwilling or unable to pay the compulsory fee – which from April will rise by £3 to £157.50 a year – should not be prosecuted. The BBC has warned such a change could have a significant impact on its finances and potentially put some of its output at risk.

The Conservatives’ election victory has triggered a wider debate about how the BBC should be funded in future and whether the licence fee, which is protected in law until 2027 when the BBC’s current Royal Charter ends, is still the best model.

During the campaign Boris Johnson, who worked for the Daily Telegraph, Spectator and other titles during a 30-year career in journalism, said the licence fee looked outmoded and its abolition needed “looking at”.

The Sunday Times reported senior aides as saying the PM was “really strident” about the need for major changes at the BBC. It said there was support in No 10 for the broadcaster being downsized and to sell off the majority of its 61 national and local radio stations.

BBC chairman Sir David Clementi has warned that putting the broadcaster’s services behind a paywall would lessen its ability to “bring the country together”.

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for an end to “political attacks” on the BBC and for politicians to support the role the BBC “plays in independently holding the government to account”.

But other Conservatives said the BBC must “get its house in order” if it wanted to continue in its current form.

Simon Hoare, chairman of the Northern Ireland select committee, said the broadcaster must immediately reverse its decision to remove free TV licence from millions of over-75s.

Speaking on Sunday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted that no decisions had been taken about the BBC’s long-term future and people should be “cautious” about unattributed comments in newspapers.

“It is simply not the case that there is some pre-ordained decision about the future funding of the BBC out there,” he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge show. “There is a long way to go on this and certainly no decisions – that is the point of a consultation.”

He said, the popularity of on-demand, subscription services like Netflix and Amazon Prime had changed the media landscape and the BBC had to adapt.

“We all want the BBC to be a success but everybody, including the BBC, recognises that in a changing world the BBC will have to change.”

Labour’s shadow culture secretary Tracy Brabin called on new Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, who was appointed in last week’s reshuffle, to “speak up for” public service broadcasting and ensure the BBC remained “fit for the future”.





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Van Gogh painting Spring Garden stolen from Dutch museum

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Media captionOther works by Van Gogh have been stolen, and were later recovered

A Van Gogh painting has been stolen from a museum in the Dutch town of Laren.

Police said on Monday there had been a break in at the Singer Laren Museum at 03:15 local time (02:15 GMT).

The museum later announced that Van Gogh’s Spring Garden, on loan from the Groninger Museum, was missing.

The Singer Laren Museum is closed due to the coronavirus. Its director, Jan Rudolph de Lorm, told reporters he was “incredibly pissed off” over the theft.

The value of the painting is not currently known.

The museum was created in the 1950s to host the collection of US artist William Henry Singer and his wife Anna.

On Monday the Dutch health ministry reported 11,750 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country, and a total of 864 deaths.



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Author Michael Rosen ‘poorly but stable’ say family

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Former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen is “very poorly at the moment” and spent a night in intensive care, his family have said.

The statement on Twitter said he was “now doing OK” and was “stable” and “alert” having been moved to a ward on Sunday.

It is not known whether the 73-year-old’s condition is related to the coronavirus.

The children’s novelist and poet was Children’s Laureate from 2007 to 2009.

His many works for children include We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, Little Rabbit Foo Foo and Tiny Little Fly.

Cressida Cowell, author of the How to Train Your Dragon series, said she hoped he would “recover swiftly”.

Rosen’s family thanked all his Twitter followers “for all their kind concern”.





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Arts go interactive during coronavirus lockdown

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The Royal Academy of Dance’s Silver Swans, pictured before the recent restrictions

As Britain begins its second week under strict conditions restricting movements and gatherings, arts organisations are getting creative in their attempts to interact with patrons.

The Getty Museum in the US, for example, has found a novel way for art lovers to engage with its collection.

Later this week the Royal Academy of Dance is launching a weekly series of online ballet classes, specifically tailored for the over-55s.

Theatres are now closed all across the country. But that doesn’t mean theatre lovers are being denied the joys of the communal experience.

Choirmaster Gareth Malone, meanwhile, is assembling a Great British Home Chorus to get us singing together even while we are apart.

Art imitating life

Based in Los Angeles, the J Paul Getty Museum is home to works by Rembrandt, Cezanne and hundreds of other world-renowned artists.

When the museum closed to the public on 14 March, its social media team started looking for ways to keep its audience entertained.

The answer lay in a Dutch Instagram account featuring elaborate recreations of works by Frida Kahlo, Rene Magritte and others.

The Getty put its own spin on the idea, inviting its followers to recreate artworks using three things lying around their houses.

Art fans jumped at the challenge, deploying everyday items, relatives and even pets to emulate works by Monet, Warhol and others.

One participant used coffee filters to make a mock-up of a ruff worn by one of El Greco’s subjects.

Another employed a shower cap and her own baby bump to replicate Raphael’s La donna gravida.

Bread, jam and a biscuit, meanwhile, were used to fashion an edible version of The Scream that certainly puts the munch into Edvard Munch.

“We are loving all your creative recreations,” the museum tweeted, exhorting its followers to “keep sharing”.

Keep dancing

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Millions know Angela Rippon for the glamorous dance routine she performed with Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise in 1976.

Forty-four years on, the former newsreader is still championing the terpsichorean arts in her role as Royal Academy of Dance ambassador.

Since 2017, the HealthCheck UK presenter has been raising awareness for the RAD’s Silver Swans project, branded ballet classes aimed at the over-55s.

This week the RAD is putting those classes online in the hope they will encourage older audiences to “unleash their inner dancer”.

“It’s a series of exercises that anyone can do at any level, that you can do at home in a small personal space,” Rippon told BBC News.

“You’re not going to be flying across the room like Carlos Acosta – you can do most of them holding on to something solid.”

According to Rippon, though, it’s not just the body that gets a workout.

“You’re having to use your brain as well so it’s a mental as well as a physical exercise,” she explained.

“It makes you feel good physically, but it makes you feel good psychologically too.”

The first online tutorial goes online on Wednesday, with new classes released weekly over the next nine weeks.

All the world’s a stage

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The closure of the UK’s theatres and performing arts venues has left the industry mired in turmoil and uncertainty.

With its base shuttered indefinitely, though, the National Theatre has decided to make some of its older productions accessible to a wider audience.

From 2 April, some productions previously screened in cinemas will be put on YouTube for theatre lovers to watch free of charge.

They include the comedy One Man, Two Guvnors starring James Corden; adaptations of the novels Jane Eyre and Treasure Island; and a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night starring Tamsin Greig.

The Hampstead Theatre in north London is also putting some of its plays online, starting this week with its 2016 staging of Mike Bartlett’s Wild.

If recent TV dramas Belgravia and The English Game haven’t sated your Julian Fellowes cravings, meanwhile, a 2017 recording of his musical version of The Wind in the Willows can also be streamed for free.

Lisa Burger, the National’s executive director, said its “varied” programme meant there would be “something for everyone to enjoy from their own homes”.

“We will be streaming each production at the same time each week in order to recreate, where possible, the communal viewing experience,” she added.

Roxana Silbert, the Hampstead’s artistic director, said its own offerings over the next three weeks would give audiences “entertainment, connection and nourishment in a time of uncertainty and isolation”.

The show, they say, must go on – something that producer Robert Myles has taken to heart.

He and a group of actors are gathering every Thursday to live stream performed readings of Shakespeare’s Complete Works.

So far they have tackled The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Taming of the Shrew, with the first part of Henry VI to follow later this week.

Sing for your supper

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Self-isolation is proving no hindrance to Gareth Malone’s new project, an online response to the nationwide closure of communal rehearsal places.

More than 160,000 people took part in the first rehearsal last week on YouTube.

“It is amazing how many people have signed up,” said Malone, promising to create something “really wonderful and inspiring”.

Those who have got involved have extolled the virtues of being part of what is now a globe-spanning venture.

“Amazing how a bit of singing lifts my spirits,” wrote one participant, while another said they were “absolutely loving the choir”.

“This is a wonderful idea,” wrote another choir member. “Thank you so much Gareth and everyone who is making this possible.”

For Angela Rippon, organisations and initiatives like the ones above are in an ideal position to appeal to a largely housebound populace.

“This is a great opportunity to reach a wider audience than they ever have before,” she said.

“Millions of us are in lockdown in our own homes and have the chance to do things we never felt we could.”





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