L. COHEN TRIUMPHANT Victoriana the parks have remained and 'always shall be, amen. Pulsating with grena- dier bloom, the warm drenched grass, the cricket cries of boys scratch that reassuring bray from the bandstand. So did it sound in 1890, when the London County Council took over park management. Gounod, Sullivan—the repertoire, has hardly changed. They even play 'Rule, Britannia.' Mind you, what the Daily Mail termed 'a laudable attempt to raise the standard' was made in 1909. The repertoire 'was purged of works considered frivolous, for example- `Swanee River.' Today, the bandmaster enjoys a free hand to lure the public, but his field of entertainment appears gallantly .independent of public demand. Munn and Felton's (Footwear) Band commanded our respect recently, crashing away for 300 empty and sodden deckchairs by the Embankment. Hurrying umbrellas stood transfixed by 'God Save the Queen,' while rain- drops sputtered like hot fat.
Do the LCC know how many ratepayers come for their free banquet of brass? Head keepers submit reports, which led to the discovery that, even on fine Sunday evenings, people evidently prefer television. So now the bands give more afternoon concerts. Another change since 1890 has been a very gradual incursion by the Palm Court kind of ensemble, or tougher rivals exem- plified by the Watford Plectrum Orchestra.
All this adds up to a mere marginal tiumpeting in the LCC programme of 1,500. entertainments this summer. You don't hear much abOut the humble items which enliven . the grimy, brick- bound airheles of Paddington, Lambeth, Balhatn, We went to a concert party one evening, the air heavy with privet and frying fish. Boys in thug jackets loped around the deck-chairs, jeering under their cigarettes. No one in the'audience was under fifty : quiet, rather, lost people. How they loved it all: the arch, dreary little jokes and frayed 'vocalist' with a marigold perm. Old-age pensioners could get in for half-price, namely threepence. .Rain began filtering through the chimneyed clouds, but everyone stayed, . to chuckle gently at humour so awful it was comic. Those pensioners don't get many treats from our Welfare State. They also enjoy Old Tyme Danc- ing, entrance free. • 'Young 'uns won't come to anything,' a keeper remarked, 'unless they- can throw their money around.' Maybe, then, the LCC should charge more at their shy open-air theatres. We saw a miniature opera by' Haydn, and a Gilbertian romp .about income-tax—all for a shilling. Although a warm night hung over the great comfortabletrees, this Poor Man's Glyndebourne had almost no audience. How many ratepayers even knew about it? Advertising for minor events is limited to park notice boards.
`Our locals aren't familiar to this here opera lark,' explained a keeper patiently gathering stray children, 'but just you wait till next week, for them radar boys; there won't be an empty seat.' He meant RADA, whose annual show holds the palm of popularity, together with bits out, of Les Sylphides.
Gradually, the LCC have taken, to playing impresario while the profession go on holiday. More and more highly variegated patrons flock to hear Beethoven drifting over the manicured lake at Kenwood. Granted, a string tun/ may dwindle to a squeak, while trombones carry beyond Highgate, but, everyone is so enrapt by the weather (either rejoicing 'over 'no rain or manoeuvring plastic hoods) that Beethoven hardly matters. Last year, 16,000 tickets at nominal prices even made a tiny profit. Not so the open-air proms at Crystal Palace. South Londoners feel no great urge to defy the climate—not for classical pops, anyway. They will do it for mainstream jazz, laid on by a strictly impartial LCC to balance a quota of New Orleans jazz.
Contrary to what you may fear, these cultural junketings do not weigh heavy on the rates. The whole programme, including hundreds of movie and puppet shows for children, cost £69,500, gratifyingly balanced by £75,000 revenue from motor racing, merry-go-rounds and other profit- able indulgence. That is a mere crumb of the total LCC budget. We should like to have con- certs for all heights of brow, and sculpture exhibited more often than once in three years, even. if it means engaging an organiser instead of dumping the job on park officials.
'Howevet' , frugal, the County Council and boroughs.clo utilise their green lungs for activities beyond deep breathing. The guardians of our Royal Parks, not unnaturally, have quite a dif- ferent approach. The • Crciwn graciously permits the populace to hire threepenceworth of royal deckchair, or wander. through a garden once pri- vate 'to -Henry. VIII', now St. James's Park, Be thankful that -the Cr-own -tolerates boating, and don't expect a Punch and ..tudy as well. Beyond the expected modicum of brass, no entertainment is provided by. the Ministry of Works. As far as one could judge through a - barricade of tele- phone - wire (interviews 'being vehemently dis- couraged) the Ministry have quite enough to dO maintaining the flower beds.
And 'Lord :knows 'they're maintained wonder- fully, considering the Bank Holiday buns leave about nine tons of litter in Hyde Park alone. 'Maybe it is just as well that refreshments do not exactly beckon- from • every hedge. Richmond Park would be knee-deep• in icecream paper. However, in keeping with 'that tone of regal toleration, there are. indeed cafeterias, rare and hideous. You may queue up for the cakette, the violent orange liquid and strangely chemical sandwiches.
Even so, how declined from the taritiof 1889, when lady cyclists ate an elegant breakfast in the park, with 'Milk, per reputed half-pint tumbler, one oenny. Any complaints should be made in Writing.'