Bidding farewell to yet another theatre critic
It may be difficult to credit nowadays, but tabloid newspapers were once home to serious and important critics.
Kenneth Tynan cut his teeth on the Evening Standard before going to The Observer, Bernard Levin was theatre critic first of the Daily Express for three years before going to the Daily Mail for eight, and Herbert Kretzmer who took over from Levin at the Express and held the post for some 18 years, though he’s now more famous (and considerably wealthier) for having penned the English lyrics for Les Miserables.
For those that still work in the trenches of papers like those, it is now, at best, a part-time job, among a portfolio of other jobs and responsibilities, whether it be as writer (Henry Hitchings on the London Evening Standard), parliamentary correspondent, author and inveterate diarist (Quentin Letts on the Daily Mail) or features writer (Simon Edge and Julie Carpenter on the Daily Express).
Now, my friend Simon Edge tells me he is formally departing the Daily Express next month, having volunteered to accept redundancy from his day job on the paper as a senior features writer.
He wrote his first review for the Daily Express some 15 years ago, as deputy to Robert Gore-Langton, whom he describes as “a good role model as a critic who wrote with brilliant insight in a tabloid way, as well as a kind mentor.” He continued to deputise in the same way for Sheridan Morley, who left the paper shortly before his death.
According to Simon:
In most of the years since then we’ve run it as a job-share, variously involving Paul Callan, Julie Carpenter, Neil Norman and myself, which has no doubt been confusing for the poor PRs but has been a largely agreeable way of doing it for us, and we have battled to keep theatre present in a paper where the arts is frequently under threat.”
“There are pressures on a daily critic that readers never see: fighting for space; racing out of the theatre to file for an 11pm deadline only to find the next morning you got bumped by a news story; battling one particular night sub who cut copy by taking all the negative stuff out and leaving the positive. I’ve also been very much a part-time critic, bolting it onto a full-time day job. But that doesn’t mean you don’t give it your full attention while you’re doing it. It has always been a privilege and it’s often been a thrill.
Simon and I go back a long way – long before we were critics on sister newspapers, all the way back to our student days.
I’ve previously written how I once even reviewed him in a production of Sleuth, in which he co-starred with another of our now colleagues Ian Shuttleworth, and I apparently gave the central plot device away. (This was in the days before we knew of spoiler alerts!) After university, Simon became editor of a weekly free gay newspaper called Capital Gay, for which I used to review, too, so he obviously didn’t hold that Sleuth review against me!
I will miss him in the stalls, despite the fact that we often disagreed about shows. I remember giving him a lift home after the first night of A Chorus Line at the London Palladium, which I’d rank as one of the greatest shows of my entire life, and him complaining that it was two hours of his life he’d never get back.