An Invitation to A A Gill
Dateline: 24th June, 2007
On Sunday 24th June, 2007, Sunday Times writer A A Gill attacked theatre critics in a cover article in the paper's Culture Magazine. Philip Fisher (with tongue ever so slightly in cheek) was prompted to invite him to join the BTG.
Dear A A Gill,
Your cry for help in the Sunday Times Culture section could not have been more welcome. Currently, as a result of illness, injury, holidays and general lassitude, the British Theatre Guide is short of London critics.
We should therefore like to invite you to join our ranks for the next few weeks, and, if you meet our critical criteria during your probation, on a more permanent basis. We are desperate for a representative of "the voices that ring out as being aesthetically intelligent, passionate, current and, most important, entertaining". Attention to grammar will be a bonus but is not demanded from someone who lives in the real world and promises "a lexicon of adjectives" that is both adventurous and extensive.
Taking your long article as a CV, you appear to offer almost everything that we require when vetting a potential critic and the last thing that we should wish to do is miss out on the next Kenneth Tynan, Bernard Levin or even George Bernard Shaw.
It goes without saying that as a self-confessed, pre-eminent stylist, your writing will always be a thing of beauty to be admired by our many devoted readers. As an online publication, we can offer you unlimited word count, although experience shows that if you use too many, nobody will actually read them. To a talent such as yours though, this should prove no problem.
You promise us the breadth of knowledge of a polymath with a specialism in TV, rather than any particular interest in or knowledge of the theatre, and that will be refreshing. To date, we have made the mistake of recruiting critics who are steeped in theatre, either as practitioners who enjoy writing or as experienced critics who often spend far too much of their lives watching plays and musicals. You will be delighted to learn that your article has shown us the error of our ways and we should not fall foul of such a misapprehension in future.
We can also help you in other ways. You are concerned that, as a theatre critic, you would be forced to attend first nights with their inconveniently early starts and worse, sit in an aisle seat obliged to leave the theatre before members of the public. While the British Theatre Guide is very highly regarded, as often as not, we can guarantee you a seat in the centre of a row but still allow you to review overnight for instant publication. Would an 11pm deadline be acceptable?
Clearly, you would not be to attend the theatre on any kind of a regular basis, partly because you suggest that this would make you a weaker critic but also since we can understand that with your many other interests and desire to spend your life at dinner parties, theatre would only get in the way.
Your patent enthusiasm would more than make up for any irregularity in submitting reviews. Like all of our critics and those from the national papers, we would not attempt to restrict you to the West End and the South Bank. Indeed, we would positively prefer you to fill in our gaps in and around South East London and its Northern reaches. There, you will not face any risk of seeing performances from those films celebrities and TV stars for whom you so clearly have an antipathy.
This will also prevent you from sinking too many glasses of cheap wine or free meals that might affect your judgment or independence, as the last thing we would want is some lackey who plays up to press officers or producers. It is also assumed that if you continue to moonlight as a writer on restaurants and alehouses, you will be able to get more than enough expensive food and drink on your nights off, courtesy of the restaurateurs or your other editors.
If it is helpful to your independence, we would also ensure that you would not be insulted by the offer of payment and to make you more comfortable, we should be delighted if you chose to purchase your own tickets.
There are a few inconsequential conditions that we would ask you to meet. In particular, with the knowledge that you are a food critic, please do not do a Toby Young on us. Even if you have agreed to write about culinary delights and £1,000 wine bottles for a much more august publication, we would expect your attendance at both halves of each play that you review.
We have no dress code and while we would much prefer the traditional T-shirt and jeans, will be tickled pink to have a critic in a tailor-made Savile Row suit. However, there is a risk that you might get mugged before filing your copy and we should therefore recommend the use of a dirty mac to cover up any ostentatious demonstrations of wealth.
Our other concern is with regard to your critical faculties when it comes to theatre, which we would not want muddied by experience. At the moment, in contrast to what Nick Hytner described as the "dead white men" there is a vogue among certain newspapers for appointing theatre critics who know nothing of theatre. They are beautiful stylists and write like a dream but in at least one case, the inability to spot a flop at thirty paces or a hit when it grabs them by the throat might be seen by some as an embarrassment.
This is something that we believe you might offer us and would prove a welcome contrast to our existing team. However, if you actually proved that you knew about contemporary theatre, this might almost be a bonus.
If you are still interested in taking up the post of theatre critic with British Theatre Guide, please can you send through a detailed CV, showing your experience for the job (if any) together with copies of reviews of both West End and Fringe plays. This is merely a technicality but despite your high reputation, we cannot be too careful.
This could be a marriage made in heaven and if you wish to get in touch immediately, we will have you published by the weekend. I for one can't wait.
Very best wishes,