Magazine article The Spectator

The Power of Page Three

Magazine article The Spectator

The Power of Page Three

Article excerpt

One of the most influential jobs in Britain is about to be awarded. It-isn't often that a theatre critic can wield such power but the late Jack Tinker of the Daily Mail did: he became the arbiter of Middle England theatrical taste.

Tens of thousands of readers all over Britain would travel to the West End by coach and train to see something he had recommended. Or they might even stay away if his enthusiasm for a particular piece had been lacking. Although, as Cameron Mackintosh delightedly recalls, Tinker's poor review of Les Miserables did not stop anyone going to see it, several times in many instances. But Mackintosh and other producers such as Thelma Holt, Robert Fox and Michael White all recognise that the Mail's page three review is extremely important to their box offices and the message appears to have got through to the Mail's editor, Paul Dacre.

He has decided that the special relationship between West End theatre, the Mail and its readers must be maintained. Somehow, a new Jack Tinker has to be found. Names being mentioned include the Daily Telegraph's Charles Spencer, the Evening Standard's Nicholas de Jong, and our own critic Sheridan Morley. But this would be the easy option - a temptation I hope Dacre would resist.

On Broadway, the New York Times critic Ben Brantley - the lone voice of any importance - metes out his own kind of justice in the form of favourable or damming reviews. He is new, but he already wields formidable power and an even greater potential. In the West End, with a large number of critics at work for a wide spread of newspapers and other media outlets, no one voice has that sort of power, but that of the Daily Mail critic comes closest.

When he was still an undergraduate at Oxford, Kenneth Tynan wrote in the university magazine Isis that a critic must be capable of awe, of hate, enthusiasm and rapture. Jack Tinker was capable of all these and more. And, as has been said so often since his recent death, he also had the ability to communicate those emotions to his readers with the lightest touch, building up a unique relationship with theatregoers over more than two decades.

The decision that Dacre and those around him, including Robin Esser, editor of the Mail's Friday First entertainment section, will be welcomed by many who feared the paper might have decided to let its theatre coverage slip away in a downmarket slither of standards that so much of the media is undergoing. …

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