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"Write something worth reading or do something worth writing" A blog by Amy Willis, a multimedia journalist based in London

Are there too many celebrity statues?

Apr 20 2009 by Amy Willis, Western Mail

THE growing fashion for celebrity statues has come under fire, amid claims they are becoming all too common.

Every week new bronzes seem to spring up in another town to celebrate a famous face with local links.

In Wales comedian Tommy Cooper is one of the most recent additions to the list of statues which also includes a bronze of “matchstick-man” boxer Johnny Owen, and former rugby scrum-half Gareth Edwards.

The statue of Cooper, which was officially unveiled by Sir Anthony Hopkins, has a prominent position just across from the town’s famous castle.


But as an ever-increasing number of such statues appear, critics have lashed out at the artworks’ predictability and lack of artist intelligence, claiming it has got to the stage where every town and city has to have its own local bronze celebrity statue.

Bronze of Tommy Cooper

Bronze of Tommy Cooper

Richard Shone, editor of the arts journal the Burlington Magazine, said: “Every town has now got to have the local celebrity.

“They’re not artistic – occasionally competent is about all you can say. We used to do it with blue plaques, but now you’ve got to have a bronze.

“There should be a society for the demolition of statues now – it’s getting full.”

Dan Llywelyn Hall, an artist from Cardiff, agrees with Mr Shone that many of the statues lack imagination. But he points out that bronze is an excellent material for public art because it is so resistant to the weather.

He said: “Bronze is often chosen as it has such longevity. Also, it gets better with age and is nicer than some of the modern materials artists use which don’t last long outdoors.

“But it would be nice to see some more artistic imagination with the subject matter of these statues. Wales is bad at sympathising with its surrounds and really needs to think outside the box a little.

“We need to think, in 20 or 30 years time will that celebrity person still be revered?

“Wales needs something which isn’t just about the praise of an individual, but is about the atmosphere and environment of our cities. We need to tap into our national identity more as at the moment it is a bit too predictable.”

Jonathan Banks, chief executive of the public art think tank Ixia, believes the reason that so many statues are appearing in cities around the UK is because politicians find it hard to say no.

Bronze statues are normally funded by local public interest groups, which are not always representative of the local people, he said.

“The money is raised for them, and it’s difficult for the local politicians to say no,” he said.

But not everyone is opposed to the bronze figures.

Councillor Allan Pritchard, deputy leader of Caerphilly council, defended the town’s Tommy Cooper statue, arguing it helped to raise awareness of the area’s heritage.

He said: “I think it is very important to have statues like this. It is certainly a talking point.

“People do not realise Tommy Cooper was from Caerphilly, but when they see the statue they realise.”

And the Cooper statue is not the last bronze being planned in the borough.

“We are currently looking at doing a two metre high head and shoulders statue of a former mine worker in Oakdale and possibly something commemorative for the Calzaghe family,” said Mr Pritchard.

Welsh comedian Rhod Gilbert is happy to see the likes of Cooper and other comedians being immortalised in bronze.

“I don’t think there’s any problem with celebrating people who have done well,” he said.

“It’s not like I walk down the street having to side step around them, maybe when it gets to that stage I’ll have a problem with them.

“Actually, I am really quite glad Welsh comedians like Tommy Cooper are being recognised and it bumps up our profile. I don’t have a problem with them at all.”
Immortalised in bronze:

Apr 20 2009 by Amy Willis, Western Mail

Tommy Cooper (1921-84)
The magician and comedian is best known for his catchphrases and red fez hat. His bronze statue is near the castle in Caerphilly town centre.

Johnny Owen (1956-80)
The champion boxer was known for his skinny frame, which earned him the nickname “matchstick man”. His amateur career took in 124 fights, with 106 victories. He represented his country 17 times, winning 15 of the bouts. A bronze statue of him is in Merthyr Tydfil.

Gareth Edwards (1947- )
Wales’ youngest rugby captain earned 53 caps for his country during his career. He is best known for his famous try against New Zealand in 1973, which is commonly described as the greatest ever scored. There is a bronze statue of him in St David’s Shopping Centre, Cardiff.

Stan Laurel (1890-1965) and Oliver Hardy (1892-1957)
The comic duo were unveiled in bronze this weekend in Ulverston, Cumbria. Stan Laurel, born Arthur Stanley Jefferson, was born in Ulverston but moved to America at a young age.

Eric Morecambe (1926-84)
Born John Eric Bartholomew, the comedian formed part of double act Morecambe and Wise. Eric Morecambe took his stage name from his hometown of Morecambe in Lancashire, where a bronze statue of him now stands.

Removed:
A bronze statue of former Southampton footballer and manager Ted Bates was redone after fans complained he looked like “Wee Jimmy Krankie”.

To be cast:
Benny Hill in Southampton, umpire Dickie Bird in Barnsley, rambler Alfred Wainwright in Kendal, cricketer Fred Trueman in Skipton, Ernie Wise in Morley, West Yorkshire, and possibly Jade Goody in Bermondsey, London.

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One Response

  1. unitary says:

    I love this blog!

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