Boyle’s vision – a showcase for our mixed cultural economy

Boyle’s vision – a showcase for our mixed cultural economy

David Cameron’s speech yesterday on behalf of the UK’s creative industries came hot on the heels of Danny Boyle’s extraordinary Olympic opening ceremony.

The Prime Minister saw the opening as a showcase for the for-profit creative industries, and an opportunity to plead for more international inward investment (at a time when I’m hearing the Treasury and the UK’s Department for Culture Media and Sport making noises about another round of swingeing cuts to the subsidised arts sector).

Alongside this, the subsidised arts sector has been quick to try and co-opt Danny Boyle’s vision of a new Jerusalem as its own. One tweet on Friday, retweeted by amongst others the Royal Shakespeare Company’s incoming Deputy Director, proclaimed:

“Mr Boyle’s triumphant opening not possible without the subsidised sector. So many contributions. Do you get it yet Mr Hunt?”

While another micro-trend amongst the UK’s arts sector twitterati tried suggested Danny Boyle for the currently vacant role of Chair of the Arts Council (that one really staggered me – surely that would be more punishment than reward?)

I think this tug-of-war between the subsidised and for-profit sectors is unhelpful and inaccurate.

For me Friday was a perfect showcase for our very British cultural mixed-economy. With chicken and egg circularity, for-profit and subsidised creativity are so tightly interdependent, that it’s next to impossible to unravel cause and effect.

In an interconnected economy, what you spend, I earn and what I spend you earn. The spending of a state-paid teacher makes up Tesco’s profits. The profits from a caterer, whose main clients include a hospital, are taxed to provide the teacher’s wages. And that’s not just supply-side economics. Readjusting the supply (for instance, by investing in innovative training or entrepreneurs’ new start-ups) means that new demands are satisfied.

State spending plays a crucial role in keeping the UK’s circle of industry turning. The wrong-headed current government argument, that cuts in government spending would be made up by increased activity by for-profit businesses, forgets this. However, a subsidised arts sector that believes that it is the pinnacle of creativity, because it sits outside the mainstream of the marketplace, is just as far-fetched.

So, using Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony as our case-study, let’s look at a few examples of how interconnected our creative mixed economy is.

The Queen and James Bond
Whatever you think about the British monarchy, you could argue that our royal family are the embodiment of successful state subsidy. The Civil List, dating back to the reign of King George III, provides the monarch and their dependents with subsidy to live by and to carry out their duties to the state. Currently standing at just shy of £15m per year – and frozen at this level for close to two decades – the arguments for have most commonly been made on value-for-money grounds. The cash the state pump-primes into the monarch, the UK more than recoups in tax income, from tourism for instance. Ironically, this argument for a Keynesian model has been most vocal amongst the right-wing of UK politics, who decry subsidy in other areas.

Working on Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the fictional James Bond is a public-sector employee. Those Q-built gadgets may well have been some shadowy part of British Leyland. And those dry martinis bought at swanky for-profit bars? They would have to be claimed as legitimate state expenses. James Bond, the franchise is of course a multi-faceted for-profit business. It started as a series of books by ex-government employee Ian Fleming (who also wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – also featured in Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony) and published by for-profit publisher, Jonathan Cape. The films are produced by Eon Productions, the company of Canadian Harry Saltzman and American Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli (with a couple of non-Eon films including Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again). Video games of James Bond have been made since 1983 for for-profit publisher/developers such as Parker Brothers and Electronic Arts. Music spin-offs from the film have made money for rights-holders of UK artists such as Monty Norman, George Martin, John Barry, Sheena Easton, David Arnold and Duran Duran.

Where any of these entities pay tax in the UK, this for-profit activity generats revenue that has contributed to the Civil List and to the wages and expenses of any real-life Bonds who work for the UK’s secret services.

The London Symphony Orchestra and Mr Bean
The LSO is arguably the UK’s premier orchestra and has been used to play many of James Bond’s themes and orchestrations through the years (as well as many, many other theme tunes for other for-profit films such as the Star Wars series). Established in 1904, they are London’s oldest permanent orchestra. They have been subsidised by the UK’s Arts Council ever since the body’s precursor was formed in 1946. The LSO receives a current annual grant of £2,193,283. This income is added to by for-profit work such the film soundtracks above, international touring and sponsorship from businesses such as British American Tobacco, Canon Europe Industrial, Commercial Bank of China, Linklaters and Toshiba

Whilst the LSO played, Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean clowned. After graduating from Oxford University, Rowan Atkinson got his first break as part of (subsidised) BBC TV series, Not the Nine O’Clock News. However, Mr Bean was a commercial production for the UK’s ITV, produced by Thames Television then Tiger Aspect. It has been sold to more countries around the world than there are competitor countries in the Olympic Games (243 at last count).

The music that they were playing, Vangelis’ theme from Chariots of Fire, was the soundtrack to the 1981 Oscar winning Goldcrest film. Goldcrest was part of the Penguin books empire; Vangelis was signed to EMI records and publishing. This orchestral piece was heard in the context of over 100 recordings played on the night, celebrating the history of British commercial music.

Spending by state-subsidised orchestral players and administrators (contributed to by sponsorship from the likes of BAT), plus the profits from ITV and its production companies from international sales of Mr Bean, contribute to tax income that’s spend on items such as LSO subsidy.

Thomas Heatherwick and Desiree Henry
Desiree (along with Callum Airlie, Jordan Duckitt, Katie Kirk, Cameron MacRitchie, Aidan Reynolds and Adelle Tracey) was one of the seven young people who lit the Olympic flame on London 2012’s Olympic cauldron. She’s from my home borough of Haringey. She’s the world youth champion at 200m and one of our great hopes for the future of athletics. She currently receives a grant from UKA (UK Athletics), funded by the National Lottery as part of their UKA Futures Programme for athletes aged 17-20. The money Desiree and her trainer receive is small, (£2,250 per bursary – plus a number of crucial in-kind benefits – like free physiotherapy) but it can makes the difference between her competing and improving or dropping out. Alongside this state support, she also receives a small amount of sponsorship income from the grocery chain, Spar.

The cauldron that she lit was designed by Thomas Heatherwick. Heatherwick Studios’ client list, according to copy on their website, includes:

“property developers, publicly limited companies, sovereign wealth funds, religious communities, the British government, local authorities, charitable trusts, a school, a hospital, a luggage company, landed estates, museums and private individuals.”

His for-profit business has a mixed-economy client list. A tiny part of the profits from Heatherwick work on Pacific Place, Hong Kong, or his designs for the new London Routemaster Bus, or even from the fees for his Olympic cauldron make up Desiree’s grant that keeps her running.

Suttirat Anne Larlarb and Mark Tildesley
The two principle designers of the ceremony were long-time collaborators of Danny Boyle’s – Suttirat Larlarb and Mark Tildesley

Mark Tildesley studied at the London College of Printing then Wimbledon School of Art under the direction of Richard Negri. He co-founded with designer Francis O’Connor the Catch 22 Theatre Company, which received state-subsidy from the Arts Council. He continued designing for the theatre, with numerous productions for the (subsidised) Young Vic (under the direction of Michael Bogdanov) at the (subsidised) Royal Opera House. He learned his trade within the subsidised arts, before moving into films, with credits including production designs for directors such as Fernando Meirelles, Mike Leigh and, of course his designs for Boyle’s for-profit films such as 28 Days Later…, Millions, and Sunshine. In 2011 Tildesley won the Critic’s Circle Award for Best Designer for the (subsidised) National Theatre production of Frankenstein. Commenting on his designs for the opening ceremony, Tildsley said:

“It’s been an experience and I’ve enjoyed a lot of it. We’ve had to pitch and repitch to government ministers and stuff. It’s [laughs] interesting to hear their thoughts on stuff. On a film, there’s none of that. The producers are in from the get-go. It’s their project.”

Suttirat Larlarb is an American designer, and Stamford alumnus who moved to London over a decade ago. In the same interview as the one above, for the National Portrait Gallery, it’s interesting to hear an overseas interpretation of the UK’s cultural landscape. She commented:

“I’m American. How I’ve ended here reflects the decision I took 10 years ago as to where I pursued my creativity. At that point, Britain was so much more interesting than my own country. I still feel very strongly about what Britain has to offer. It’s a leader in so many cultural areas that inspire the rest of the world.”


These interweaving subsidised and for-profit narratives could be seen throughout Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony. Like British cultural diversity, it’s the mix that makes them distinctive, compelling and ultimately most valuable. Great Ormond Street Hospital and J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan, Akram Khan and Emeli Sandé, Kimbolton Fireworks and the GLA. I could go on and on (and I haven’t even touched on the economics of volunteerism – as explored by economists such as Gneezy, Rustichini and Ariely) but you get the point. Both subsidised art and for-profit creative industry are part of the same cultural ecology.

Denude one, and you threaten the other.