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Giles Coren defends ‘stressful’ theatre comments

BBC Front Row presenter Giles Coren has defended his recent comments that sparked a row over his suitability to present the new television arts show, claiming they were a joke that had been taken out of context.

In an interview with the Radio Times in which he spoke alongside fellow presenters Amol Rajan and Nikki Bedi, Coren said he found the theatre stressful and the seats too uncomfortable, meaning he had “not been to the theatre much in the past six or seven years”.

The interview was widely condemned on social media by the theatre industry [1], with individuals decrying the “outrageous” comments and claiming the presenters were not suited to presenting the show, a television version of Radio 4’s flagship arts show.

Speaking to radio presenter John Wilson on Front Row, Coren stressed that he was there to present the programme as a journalist not a theatre critic, and that his words had been taken out of context.

“We had a long chat about the arts and about theatre. I talked about the theatre that I do like, the theatre that I don’t like and I also made a couple of jokes.

“I said things about the state of theatre, but they didn’t record them because mainstream media isn’t that interested in the arts, and it’s a hard job to get things across,” he said.

Coren went on to say he was surprised by the theatre community’s reaction to his comments.

“I was attacked heavily by actors, by directors, by all sorts of people who read two jokes out of context and went nuts.”

He claimed the reactions were symptomatic of a theatrical establishment that imposes “the idea that there’s only one kind of thing that you ought to like and here’s how you ought to like it”.

He added that Front Row, which is broadcast for the first time on September 23, would also explore issues such as ticket prices and access to theatre, as well as discussions on an artistic level.

Listen to the Front Row episode here [2].