Sir: The Stepford Students (22 November) are nothing new. The NUS-inspired ‘No Platform’ policy has been used to ban anything that student radicals don’t like since at least the 1970s — usually Christians, pro-life groups or Israel sympathisers.
It should not be in the power of the narrow-minded activists of the student union to prevent individual students or groups from exercising their right to free speech and freedom of association. All students should have equal access to university-funded facilities, regardless of their beliefs. The student union should be seen largely as a social club with no powers to ban anything unless there has been genuinely bad behaviour, at which point it is the role of the university disciplinary committee to step in.
Joan and my father
Sir: I fear Richard Ingrams exaggerates when he claims that ‘no one would have heard of Brendan Behan if it weren’t for Joan Littlewood’ (Letters, 15 November). My father’s talent was already widely acknowledged by the time his play The Hostage was produced at Stratford East.
But I do agree that the description of Joan as ‘thuggish’ is very wide of the mark. She was certainly a tough nut, but one with immense charm. She was actually rather a shy person, whose gruffness could be mistaken for rudeness. When I was a child hanging around backstage at the Theatre Royal, she showed me nothing but kindness, and I remember her fondly.
The art of wonder
Sir: Harry Mount is right in lamenting ‘the death of serious public culture’ (‘Signs of contempt’, 15 November) whenever he visits a heritage property or exhibition. My recent museum visits with my children convinced me that museums are actually bad for their health. When museums emulate theme parks, with kids’ menus and tacky trinkets, children see them as intrinsically infantile.
I once accompanied a class of Spanish ten-year-olds on a tour of the Joan Miró museum in Barcelona, followed by the city’s Picasso museum. What a light-bulb moment; by first seeing Picasso’s later work and then his conventional early work, the kids understood the subversive power of art and why Picasso was so feared by Franco.
By all means give children grisly details of the ancient Egyptian embalming process or explain how medieval people went to the loo, but be honest with young visitors about what museums are for, so that children keep their sense of wonderment into adulthood. Above all, send kids away with a hunger for more, not just a doughnut and a fridge magnet.
The mark of equality
Sir: Dr Carl Gray in his recent letter about Mrs Alexander’s hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ has made the classic mistake of misplacing a comma (Letters, 22 November). The infamous line does not read ‘God made them high and lowly’ but instead ‘God made them, high or lowly’. The point of the line is that, whether we are high or lowly, God made us equally. Far from reinforcing the class structure, it stresses our equality before God. We need to reintroduce this line into the hymn books to correct 166 years of misrepresentation.
The Army went in first
Sir: May I correct the assertion that the cricket tour of Pakistan by a team largely made up of elderly white blokes from London, including Roger Alton (Sport, 15 November), was the first to tour the country since the appalling terrorist attack there on the Sri Lankans in 2009. The Army team, made up entirely of youthful soldiers, toured there at the end of 2012. According to the BBC, they received rave reviews and had all their matches broadcast live on national television.
Col J.M.C. Watson (retired)
Just think of the money
Sir: On your very first page of editorial you join the rest of the UK media in their relentless bashing of Bob Geldof (Leading article, 22 November). Surely the point is that he is doing something, while many stand by and do nothing. Ebola-affected countries do need our money and care not a jot where it comes from. The original 1984 Live Aid single raised £8 million worldwide and the campaign raised over £65 million in total. Whatever he helps to raise for Ebola aid through this recording should be praised, and its artists appreciated rather than mocked.
Not meaning to be critical
Sir: In his review of my book Closely Observed Theatre: From the National to the Old Vic (Books, 13 November), Robert Gore-Langton accuses me of being ‘in thrall’ to the actors and directors I interviewed, and bemoans the lack of ‘negative criticism’ in the articles reprinted there. This is totally to misunderstand their nature and purpose. They were written before the productions opened, for in-house publications such as programmes and magazines. I was not reviewing either the productions or the performances, but reporting from behind the scenes on the work and ideas of the actors, directors and others involved in putting them together.