Sir: The interview with Antonio Pappano was splendid for those of us who admire him in Australia but he made one big mistake. He said that one comes to classical music and opera later in life. Surely it depends whether young people can hear such music in their earlier years. I attended a school in Brisbane during the war years where music was as much a matter for battles as the war was. The most furious battles were over the recordings of Furtwaengler and Toscanini which no one ever won of course. We searched second hand shops for opera recordings and I remember my triumph when I found parts of a Ring cycle with great voices like Florence Austral. They foreshadowed visits to Bayreuth in later life. Among the boys was Charles Osborne who left us for London and became a music and literature critic there. Roger Covell became a music critic and after much reviewing I became Chairman of Brisbane’s splendid new Concert Hall and Lyric Theatre. And we were all very young, Mr Pappano!
Donald Munro AM
Flight of fancy
Sir: While precautionary advice regarding the coronavirus should be followed, Ross Clark is right (‘Feverish imaginations’, 29 February) to urge an open mind on the doomsday predictions which areple in the UK. There is no public record of a single death. In July 2009 he told the NHS to plan for 19,000 to 65,000 deaths from ‘swine flu’ during that winter. The actual number of deaths was 457, and the government was left with 60 million doses of Tamiflu vaccine, which are said to have cost taxpayers around £500 million.
Maylands, Western Australia
Sir: While precautionary advice regarding the coronavirus should be followed, Ross Clark is right (‘Feverish imaginations’, 29 February) to urge an open mind on the doomsday predictions which are edging us towards panic. In 1996 the then government’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Kenneth Calman, predicted that 500,000 people could die within a few years from the human form of BSE. Another official adviser, Professor Richard Lacey, described the disease as ‘the time bomb of the 20th century, equivalent to the bubonic plague’. In the event, the reported death toll was 177, while the scare cost the UK an estimated £7 billion.
In 2005 the then government’s chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, warned that avian flu could kill 50,000 people in the UK. There is no public record of a single death. In July 2009 he told the NHS to plan for 19,000 to 65,000 deaths from ‘swine flu’ during that winter. The actual number of deaths was 457, and the government was left with 60 million doses of Tamiflu vaccine, which are said to have cost taxpayers around £500 million.
Licence to gripe
Sir: I am afraid Rory Sutherland misses the point in defending the licence fee (Wiki Man, 7 March). It has nothing to do with BBC content that we may or may not want. It is the fact that to watch any programmes on a TV, we have to pay for the BBC in its entirety, even if we watch none of it. In no other media is this the case. It is an anachronism — and sending people to prison for not paying Gary Lineker’s obscene salary is a disgrace.
Crowborough, East Sussex
Sir: An independent report by the former high-court judge Sir Richard Henriques into the Metropolitan Police documents in horrifying detail the malpractices which meant that ‘the names of Leon Brittan, Lord Bramall and others were dragged through the mud’(‘Trial and error’, 29 February). Though Sir Edward Heath was also cruelly traduced, the government has rejected the calls I have made in the Lords, in association with Lord Armstrong of Ilminster and Lord Butler of Brockwell, former cabinet secretaries who were his close confidants, with unanimous support across the House for an independent review of Operation Conifer, the widely criticised investigation by the Wiltshire police into the allegations against him. The biased chief constable, Mike Veale, who was ‘120 per cent’ certain of Heath’s guilt, was only mildly censured by internal review before moving to Cleveland Police, from which he was forced to resign a few months later. The Home Office, which paid most of the £1.5 million cost of Operation Conifer, has the power to establish an inquiry. That is needed to scrutinise the seven allegations left open at the end of the investigation, almost certainly to save the face of the police. The taint has been removed from the reputations of other leading public figures. Sir Edward Heath KG should not be left under any lingering suspicion.
House of Lords
Sir: The contents of Rod Liddle’s prepping store (7 March) are eerily like that of my own. However, I take issue with him on the inclusion of four bottles of Jack Daniel’s. Firstly, four bottles is surely insufficient for two weeks of self-isolation. Secondly, given the esoteric cooking ingredients and practices to which he ascribes the rise of Covid-19, one wonders if it is wise to imbibe a stiffener produced in an area of the world where roadkill fricassee is still popular? It would be better to partake of the superior alcoholic distillation from Scotland, where food hygiene standards are so high that they deep-fry Mars bars before eating them.
Cleanliness and godliness
Sir: Charles Moore is taking the National Anthem at a hell of a lick in order to cram it into a 20-second hand-washing session (Notes, 7 March). I find managing this requires a tempo in excess of 120 crotchet beats per minute — that is, comparable to ‘Mars, the Bringer of War’ (Gustav Holst) or ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ (Cyndi Lauper). Singing it like this is stressful, not to mention irreligious.
Nevertheless, employing the National Anthem as a guide in hygiene practices is a tremendous idea and is healthy for the body and soul alike. Thank you, Charles.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Sir: Nicholas Farrell (Italian Notebook, 7 March) writes that Mussolini banned the handshake, believing it to be unhygienic and bourgeois, encouraging instead the Roman salute. As Farrell undoubtedly knows, Mussolini also tried to ban use of the word Lei, the formal and polite form of ‘you’ singular, and replace it with Voi, a capitalised version of ‘you’ plural. He believed Lei to be a barbarism of Spanish origin.
Seeking to make Italy self-sufficient, he unsuccessfully tried to ban pasta, thinking Italians should eat homegrown rice instead. He had huge support from the Futurists, who thought pasta made people lethargic.
Sir: Regarding Dot Wordsworth’s ‘Behaviours’ (7 March), my husband and I were discussing Brexit with our teenage grandchildren, one of whom — knowing that we had voted to leave the EU — accused us of ‘ruining our futures’. I was as appalled by her addition of ‘s’ to a collective noun as she was by our decision to leave.
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