Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

President Sarkozy of France has undergone a cultural revolution.

He came into power intent on projecting an image of can-do capitalist modernity and, in this spirit, declared a thorough lack of interest in high art and culture. But in the past 12 months he has been eating his words. He discovered Proust, he has been reading Balzac, and every week he tries to watch one great film in the Elysee cinema room (Tarkovsky is a favourite). As though this wasn't enough, Sarkozy has accepted an insight that still eludes policy makers in the UK: that if you want to change the temper of the nation, tinker with the television. Above all else, it's what we see on our screens that influences public morals and tastes. To this end, Sarkozy has announced ambitious plans to reorganise the main state channel, TF1. Visitors to France often remark that this extremely civilised country has some surprisingly low-grade television - but the medium is now set to evolve in a more high-minded direction. Sarkozy wants to remove all advertising from the channel and to give it a new charter asking it to focus on great ideas, art and quality entertainment. It seems that the spirit of Lord Reith has finally made it across the Channel. Let's hope that this lends the good-but-timid guys in British television a little more self-confidence to resist the pull of the lowest common denominator.

Prince Charles's nostalgic views on architecture are more in vogue than ever. Following his successful objection to the Chelsea Barracks development, property developers are in no doubt that British taste is expected to be polite, conservative and essentially neo Georgian or Tudor in spirit. Kevin McCloud may be popular on Channel 4, but in the real world, the British continue to be intensely suspicious of modernism. I've never quite understood this, having grown up in Switzerland, a country that sees no conflict between respect for the old and love of the new.

In an attempt to get things to change, I've helped to start an organisation that describes itself as a Landmark Trust for contemporary architecture. It's called Living Architecture and is going to build one great modern house every year somewhere in the UK and rent it out to the public in the hope that once people stay there, they'll be won over by the amazing possibilities of contemporary design. …

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