Two letters in the Guardian this week past caught my attention. The first concerns the pauses in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Murray Marshall of Salisbury writes:
- The obituary for Timothy Bateson (Obituary, 8 November) mentioned the difficulties that original cast had with grasping the meaning of Waiting for Godot. The author himself was apparently not a lot of help. A friend of mine was assistant stage manager on the first production, and the cast and crew eagerly awaited Beckett’s visit to a rehearsal. They assembled after performing to be enlightened by the great man. After a suitably Beckettian interval, he said: “The pauses were not long enough.”
I also have a story about this, which comes from the horse’s mouth, or anyway, Peter Hall, who directed that first production in 1955. Many years ago, when I was taken to visit him at his house near Wallingford, he told us what happened when they played in Blackpool before coming to London, and the audience was mystified and bored. Someone noticed that the last train back to London on a Saturday night left before their scheduled finish, so in order to catch it, they decided to eliminate the pauses. The play went by like a flash, the audience found it very funny and laughed a lot, and they got their train!
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The second letter is an altogether more serious matter. This is from almost 200 student union officers warning MPs that unless they sign a pledge to vote against an increase in fees, they will be named and shamed. As student leaders, they say, they are appalled by the parliamentarians’ attempts ‘to duck difficult questions on student fees and finance at the next general election (Report, 10 November). We are in no doubt that a review panel dominated by business and university leaders is designed to stitch up students with yet another inflation-busting hike in tuition fees.’
This has happened before—in 1997, when higher education was taken out of the election campaign by the appointment of the Dearing Committee, whose convoluted report the new government implemented hastily and selectively, using the summer recess to avoid any proper public discussion. It was the incoming secretary of state for higher education, David Blunkett, who proceeded to scrap grants and introduce means-tested fees in a form that Dearing had not recommended.
This was surely the first sign of New Labour’s consistently cavalier attitude to opinion both within the sector concerned and in the wider public on all matters of policy, culminating, of course, in Tony Blair’s disdainful disregard for opposition to the invasion of Iraq. (Well, not culminating, since it still goes on under Gordon Brown’s pathetic, lame-duck premiership.) According to the student leaders, opinion polls consistently show that the overwhelming majority of the public are opposed to higher fees. They also remind MPs that the student vote can make a significant difference to election results, and conclude that the message is clear: ‘candidates must vote with us, or students won’t vote for them’. But then the question remains: who will they vote for?