Mad dogs and Englishmen

by Keith Clarke

When Noël Coward told us that mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, he had sunnier climes than England in mind. Proof positive of the national madness is the sheer number of al fresco events taking place in a country where you don’t know from one day to the next whether you will be needing a sun shade or galoshes and a sou’wester.

When Garsington Opera first set up shop in an eccentric banker’s back garden, there was a covering of sorts for the audience, though those at the sides were in the firing line for any passing showers, and the performers were completely at the mercy of the elements. Now that the banker has passed away – victim of a heart attack at the wheel of his car as he drove back from Glyndebourne –  and his widow has claimed her garden back, the company has moved to the Getty family’s Wormsley Estate in Buckinghamshire, where tonight it will unveil its first ever production in the new home, The Magic Flute.

That production will be reviewed at the front end of this fine site in due course, but let me just add a little more background on the madness.

The new Opera Pavilion has all the appearance of a permanent structure, yet it will only be gracing the estate’s deer park for the length of Garsington’s short season. It takes 12-15 workers four weeks to construct the thing, and another four weeks to knock it down again. With a national minimum wage of getting on for $10 an hour, that begins to look a bit pricey, before taking into account the eye-watering rent the Getty estate is charging.

Is that mad? Of course it is. Gloriously so. And come rain or shine I for one will be cheering loudly for those who dare to think outside the box and do something completely crazy in the pursuit of first-class music-making.


The ever entertaining Michael White writes in the Daily Telegraph of the ”appalling news” that sales of ukuleles have risen faster in the past 12 months than purchases of any other instrument, outstripping keyboards and acoustic guitars. “Very depressing,” says Michael, who goes on to point the finger for this state of affairs:


1. The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain, which rose inexplicably to prominence a couple of years ago plink-plonking its way through arrangements of Beethoven’s 9th.

2. The Proms, which encouraged the UOGB in its assaults on Beethoven and (worse still) organised online tutorials so that thousands of others – innocent and harmless people, most of them – could share this evil practice.

Poor Michael, he’s clearly jealous that he can’t get his podgy fingers round this charming little instrument. For let it be revealed, I was one of those innocent and harmless people who shared the evil practice, and went on BBC Television News to share my enthusiasm. Why, I even blogged my hesitant progress.

The old uke has been neglected of late, but I feel encouraged by Michael’s assault to dust it off and give it another twang.

Comments are closed.