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When prime ministers were proud to be cultured

Many indispensable publications find their way on to the arts desk at Herald Towers.

However, the journal of the Historic Houses Association, a glossy magazine entitled, obviously, Historic House, is perhaps most tangential to our core work.

Nonetheless, it does occasionally vouchsafe some fascinating information about the painstaking restoration of one of Scotland's fine country homes or draw attention to an otherwise unnoticed chamber music concert or outdoor Shakespeare performance in its listings section.

As an aspirational adjunct to The Herald's Scotland's Homes property guide, Historic House is pretty classy, and among the display advertisements in the current issue is one for Arundells, a house in Salisbury, Wiltshire, which will reopen to the public for the summer on March 24.

Arundells might ring a vague bell to readers with longer memories. It is a classic Georgian House linked to Salisbury Cathedral, which served as a school in the 19th century and was rescued from demolition in the 1960s before the finishing touches of its refurbishment were made in the 1980s by former Premier Sir Edward Heath.

It sounds well worth a visit, because Heath was a man whose interests famously encompassed music (he played the organ, conducted some of the UK's top orchestras, counted Isaac Stern, Yehudi Menuhin and Clifford Curzon among his friends, and Oxford University Press published his collection of carols) and sailing.

In addition, the artefacts he collected reflect his educated taste, with paintings by Singer Sarget. Sickert, Lowry and Augustus John and collections of Japanese and Chinese art, as well as including fascinating memorabilia connected with his two main hobbies.

When he died in 2005 he left the bulk of his estate to a trust to look after the house, which is still in the care of the chap who redesigned the property's extensive beautiful gardens.

That is less than a decade ago, but how far away it seems from the politicians who are now at the top of the tree. While arts and culture have undoubtedly won a more prominent place on the political agenda, our political leaders are the personification of "dumbing down".

Heath's bete noir, Mrs Thatcher, was notable for having virtually no identifiable interests outside of politics at all, and the current Prime Minister, while hardly shy in inviting the public into his private life, treats his electorate to pictures of him "chillaxing" with a game of tennis of snooker, or listening to The Smiths or Pink Floyd, without seeming to know much about any of these things.

His deputy managed to cobble together an only slightly hipper list for Desert Island Discs, while the Leader Of The Opposition finds his cultural controversy in being more interested in the playing of the Boston Red Sox than any English football team.

When Tony Blair passes on, will people be taking a summer drive to stop by his former residence to admire his beloved Fender Stratocaster? We are all a little poorer for the cultural poverty of our politicians.

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