When in Rome...?

Richard Hodges looks at the Pompeii controversy and asks if Britain does any better.

In November 1992, shortly after taking over as Chairman of English Heritage, Mr Jocelyn Stevens set about the now familiar restructuring of a British organisation. Inevitably, monuments would have to be dropped by English Heritage, and jobs would go. Mr Stevens' plans, possibly to his surprise, generated a ferocious reaction. He fought back. In an interview with The Guardian (November 6th, 1992) he described how he had accepted the charge of restructuring English Heritage from Mr David Mellor, then Secretary of State for Heritage. The public debate fizzled out. But the problem remains.

Amazingly, in The Guardian's second front section on January 13th,1993, the same David Mellor published an essay entitled ‘Up Yours, Pompeii’. One paragraph of this provocative piece merits citing at length:

We so often think in Britain that they do things so much better than we do overseas. And maybe they often do. But however much the heritage world sometimes resents the busy-bodying and nannying of English Heritage of the National Trust, the plain truth is that if we had a site as glorious as Pompeii, there is no way it would be allowed to fall into this state. And if the authorities did allow it to do so, then there would be a public outcry.

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