Who is our John Amis now?

I was very much saddened to hear of the death of the music critic, writer and broadcaster John Amis. Here are some obituaries in the Guardian and the Independent. He was a genial presence on telly in my youth, always bursting into song on the TV quiz ‘My Music’ and popping up as a commentator and programme-maker. I once sold him a programme when I was ushering at a Docklands Sinfonietta concert in the 1990s, and I still kick myself for failing to offer an appreciative comment or any thanks for his work. Too late now.

Back then, in the 70s and 80s, there was a lot of talk about classical music woven into broadcasting in a way that doesn’t happen now – or perhaps I should say hasn’t happened for a long time. As well as John Amis, there was Anthony Hopkins (no, not that one)  with his introductions to music on Radio 4. It’s very difficult to find anything about classical music on radio 4 now – it all seems to be ghettoised. There are a few questions on Radio 4’s quiz ‘Counterpoint’, and an occasional mention on review programmes such as Front Row. Obviously you get a bit on Desert Island Discs, if the subject has a love of classical music. I can’t however think of a similar figure to John Amis in today’s broadcasting make-up.

As an addict of BBC1’s teatime quiz ‘Pointless’, I’m always depressed when participants shy away from any question to do with classical music. (In fact they run away screaming.) They probably know more than they think they do – certainly more than they know about the minor films of Cate Blanchett or how many UK snooker players have got a top break since 1976, which is the sort of thing they usually end up with.

We do have people like the comedian Bill Bailey, who created a whole show about classical music, with a full symphony orchestra – but I’m afraid I thought it was dire. I usually like him but I was bored rigid – he simply didn’t have enough to say. Tim Minchin is more impressive in that regard.

I have also been much encouraged to see Channel 4 and More 4 taking a new approach, with their current Chopin obsession and new ways of filming and talking about music (here’s a link which will get you into the right sort of area of their website). I hope the long cold winter is drawing to a close as people realise that classical music is just like any other music in at least one way in that it is simply a part of life.

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Published in: on August 5, 2013 at 14:18  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Aw, I remember him too. As you say, musical literacy now seems to be viewed by the beeb with noses firmly held. Sad. No, outrageous! *goes back to learning 3 chords on ukelele*

  2. Can’t say I would know anything about the minor films of Cate Blanchett. But I might have a better idea on how many UK snooker players have got a top break since 1976.

  3. Here’s something depressing: there was a round on Pointless a few days ago with pictures of musical instruments. Both teams chose to identify the autoharp, one of them saying it was an accordian and the other a harpsichord. Richard said “no, it’s a zither”. (It was definitely an autoharp.)

    When Alexander went through the instruments at the end, one lady looked very surprised when the trombone was identified. She had no idea what a TROMBONE looked like. I mean, they’re on Strictly and everything…


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