Benched: Council still can’t get borough’s greats’ names right

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: or, if you are Croydon Council, Samuel Taylor-Coleridge

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: or, if you are Croydon Council, Samuel Taylor-Coleridge

It is almost a year since Inside Croydon highlighted another botched PR effort by our council, the staging of a “public vote” on leading figures from Croydon’s past (and present), to provide three subjects for a “portrait bench” on a walking and cycling path near the centre of the town.

This week, Croydon Council finally, if somewhat reluctantly, named who has been chosen to be the subjects for the portrait bench – and revealed that they managed to pick a Scotsman among Croydon’s greats, while getting the name of one of the borough’s most famous sons wrong.

Last May, Croydon’s Ministry of (Un)Truth generated what appeared to be a politically engineered shortlist of 10 names. The council’s list was either appallingly ill-informed or was a deliberate attempt to steer voters away from some truly excellent candidates.

Missing from Croydon Council’s list were people like cellist Jacqueline du Pre, authors Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and DH Lawrence, supermodel Kate Moss, the singer Kirsty McColl and the borough’s Oscar-winning film director Sir David Lean.

The council’s original shortlist even managed to misspell the name of one of its suggested Croydon greats.

Above: the work of Croydon High pupil Jacqueline du Pre was not given top marks by Croydon Council

In an example of going from the sublime to the ridiculous, according to Croydon Council, the borough’s Top 10 all-time residents instead included the Green Cross Man, a former Tory MP and … cue drum roll … Ronnie Corbett. Inside Croydon likes, admires or respects Dave Prowse, Bernard Weatherill and proud Scotsman Ronnie, but was that really the best that our council could come up with?

Once more, our council’s absence of good judgement and PR skills had managed to make Croydon appear ridiculous.  Or was this achieved through political interference from council leader Mike Fisher’s “top team”?

At the time, Inside Croydon suggested that the council seemed very keen to whitewash Sir David Lean out of the borough’s collective memory. After all, to have a life-sized portrait of the director of Lawrence of Arabia and Dr Zhivago just a brisk stroll away from the cinema which carries his name, but which Fisher’s Philistines on the Tory-run council have closed, would be hugely embarrassing.

Above: Croydon-born movie director Sir David Lean could not whistle up support from Croydon Council

The public vote ended last June. Since when, the council has gone into lockdown over the outcome of its online ballot. Were they hoping that we’d forget, and it would all go away?

Enquiries from Inside Croydon Towers and other civic-minded residents were first greeted by dumb insolence from the Taberner House’s seventh floor. Later, the council line was to pass the buck: the portrait bench was a project by Sustrans, an organisation that looks to provide safe routes for pedestrians and cyclists, we were told, and understandably enough, they wanted to keep the chosen portraits a secret until the big unveiling in May this year.

Well that plan’s gone out of the window, too, after Kenley resident Paul Williams put up a question to the Town Hall ahead of this week’s full meeting of the council, in which he said, “I should like to know the results of the competition”.

Under any usual understanding, the result of a poll usually involves providing the number of votes cast for all candidates. It is also worth noting that public resource was used in compiling the shortlist, posting the article on to the official Croydon Council website and, presumably, when someone sat down and counted up the votes.

Peggy Ashcroft: Croydon's most popular figure. According to Croydon Council

Peggy Ashcroft: Croydon’s most popular figure. According to Croydon Council

Step forward Jason Perry, the Conservative-led council’s “cabinet member for planning, regeneration and transport”. Perry’s written answer is typical of many provided by the council: poorly drafted and with errors. Pointedly, it also failed to address Williams’ request: for “the results of the competition”.

Perry’s reply is reproduced here:

“This is a Sustrans competition who have been working with Croydon Council on cycle and walking trails across the borough.

“Sustrans wanted to tie in the announcement of the winners of the portrait bench with the actual unveiling of the bench itself.

“The results are due to be announced formally in May 2013 with the unveiling of the portrait bench which following a public vote will have feature:-” [sic]

“1) Dame Peggy Ashcroft

“2) Samuel Taylor-Coleridge” [sic]

“3) Ronnie Corbett”.

So there you have it. One woman, someone from an ethnic minority who they can’t even be bothered to get his name right, and a (generally inoffensive) figure from popular culture. It’s almost as if someone has hand-picked them.

Inside Croydon provided extensive coverage of the Croydon-born Coleridge-Taylor’s centenary in 2012. It is a pedantic point, perhaps, but Samuel Taylor Coleridge (note to Croydon Council, there’s no hyphen) is someone else entirely, and is in fact a noted early 18th century poet and a chum of William Wordsworth, who is not known to have any connection with Croydon. Let’s hope the portrait bench painters have got the right bloke. Unlike Croham’s Councillor Perry.

You do wonder why the council bothered going through the pretence of the vote at all, with dear old Peggy on the list to remind us all of the tens of millions of public money that Croydon Council is using to subsidise the Fairfield Halls, including the Ashcroft Theatre, on the other side of the town centre from the portrait bench.

Until Croydon Council reveals the full voting results for its poll, and can show that it was independently scrutinised, the suspicion will remain that it was all a fix from the start.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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