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The culture ministers who really are culture vultures

28 November 2021

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

Your roving correspondent is rather cheered by the announcement that Claudia Roth of the Green party is to be the new German culture minister in the SPD-led coalition. Not that Rakewell has much to complain of in her predecessor, Monika Grütters. Rather, it’s hard not to be pleased by the detail that Roth, who started out working in theatre in Dortmund, managed the band Ton Steine Scherben between 1982 and 1985. Roth is a veteran of German politics, having served in the European Parliament, been chair of the Green Party (twice) and she has been vice-president of the Bundestag since 2013. However, the hints that more federal funding should be directed to the independent scene, most likely meaning clubs and live music, suggests that Roth hasn’t forgotten her roots.

A demonstrable interest in culture is hardly a requirement of holding high office – and no culture minister can have much of an impact in a government that doesn’t value the brief in the first place. However, Rakewell can’t help feeling that it adds to the gaiety of the nation – any nation – when the relevant minister knows whereof they speak… Perhaps the highest-profile culture minister of recent times was Melina Mercouri of Greece. After a distinguished career on stage and screen, whether starring in Greek tragedies or working with the best film directors of the day, including her husband Jules Dassin, the actor had no trouble getting an audience for her campaign to get the Parthenon marbles back. And perhaps there was even a frisson of enjoyment to see someone whose most popular success was the comedy-heist movie Topkapi (1964) arguing for cultural restitution.

Melina Mercouri as Elizabeth Lipp in Topkapi (1964).

Melina Mercouri as Elizabeth Lipp in Topkapi (1964). Photo: Entertainment Pictures/Alamy Stock Photo

Back in the present day, the Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini is not only the longest holder of that post (in different governments), but continues to write well regarded (if perhaps not much-read?) fiction that in France is published by the august house of Gallimard. While closer to home, let us not forget the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. In 2013, the MP and I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here Contestant Nadine Dorries signed a six-figure deal with the publisher Head of Zeus for a series of novels set in a ‘tight-knit Irish Catholic community’ in the 1950s. Head of Zeus says that the books have so far sold 2.5m copies, including 1.8m as eBooks so Dorries, is by now, as critic-proof as she seems impervious to political criticism.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.