Exclusive: Major UK newspaper abolishes classical critics

Exclusive: Major UK newspaper abolishes classical critics


norman lebrecht

December 04, 2017

We hear that the Birmingham Post is scrapping its classical music review budget. The economy measure will take effect after Christmas.

A proud tradition going back 150 years is being extinguished by executive decree.

The only glimmer of light is that chief critic Christopher Morley and his team will carry on reviewing selected events for the paper, but without payment.

Birmingham, with the best hall in the country and possibly the best orchestra, was about to be wiped off the map by its heartless newspaper.



  • C Porumbescu says:

    The Birmingham Post was the paper where Ernest Newman cut his teeth; it carried the first reviews of Elgar’s big premieres in the Town Hall and was a huge cheerleader for the Rattle revolution. It’s a miracle in many ways that it was still paying for reviews at all (by all accounts it’s more than one or two of the nationals currently do, as well as the two leading review websites); but given the (tiny) size of its arts budget it punched well above its weight for years – regularly carrying up to a dozen live reviews per edition, and covering music-making (amateur and semi-pro as well as all the major professional gigs in Brum) in the West Midlands as far afield as Longborough, Cheltenham and Presteigne.

    That’s largely – possibly solely – down to the untiring efforts of Christopher Morley, who recruited, trained and organised a network of critics across the region, largely on his own initiative and with little financial support from the paper’s owners, Trinity Mirror. Several of Chris’s “discoveries” have gone on to writer for national publications. I suppose it’s heartening that they’re willing to carry on for free – but this means that in order to generate a microscopic increase in Trinity Mirror’s bottom line, corporate accountants (it won’t have been an editorial decision) have left the UK’s second city (an urban area the size of Amsterdam or Vienna) without any regular paid music criticism. Since Metro axed its 13 regional arts desks overnight in 2009 (a blow which deprived most UK cities of regular professional arts coverage, and which went largely unreported by the London-based arts media), the Post has been holding the line alone in Birmingham. Perhaps it’s surprising it lasted as long as it did – and again, that’s down to one man, Christopher Morley; in his own way, a hero of the profession.

    • Guy Dammann says:

      Hear Hear, re Christopher Morley

    • Christopher Morley says:

      What can I say, apart from “thank you”?

      • Derek says:

        Thank you Christopher!

        We are very appreciative of your work over the years and hope to hear more from you.

        Birmingham has a great orchestra that enriches the whole region but it is often let down by the city and bean counters who don’t realise what a brilliant ambassador it is.

        • Derek says:

          Trinity Mirror has its own bean counters They don’t wish to promote the arts in the provinces and now they aren’t willing to support the good people that provide the reviews. A sign of the times!

    • Nigel Braithwaite says:

      I’d like to add my own hear hear re Christopher Morley. One recent review that sticks in my mind is his of the CBSO youth orchestra’s Alpine Symphony. The young players’ joy at seeing it was palpable.
      Mine, as an off stage horn, wasn’t much less!!

  • Dennis says:

    While saddened by this development and the decline of classical music coverage in newspapers (which are in massive decline anyway these days) and major media in general, is it not a bit over-the-top to claim that “Birmingham…was about to be wiped off the map…”? Get a grip Norman.

  • Christopher Clift says:

    In terms of arts coverage Birmingham IS about to be wiped off the map by this decision.
    I have been supporting the CBSO for many years (since 1986 in fact when I came here and began my freelance playing career).
    Where will I read about the exploits of Mirga and company? The London media only occasionally come to ‘the sticks’ to review performances.

    • Christopher Morley says:

      Chris, thanks to the generosity of my magnificent team of colleagues, important musical events will continue to be reviewed (unpaid), including every CBSO subscription series concert. Shame on the Trinity Mirror suits, but the Birmingham Post will be keeping its proud classical flag flying — at the expense of me and my team…

  • Christopher Clift says:

    We need to have a glass to celebrate then.

  • Slugger says:

    The great unwashed who buy rags like the BP do not do classical.

  • Christopher Morley says:

    I’ve been writing for this rag for nearly 50 years. What a long mistake to make.