The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 16 February

Dear Thomas

Recently my wife and I were privileged to hear the remarkably gifted Henning Kraggerud play the solo in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. After his performance, there was rapturous and richly deserved applause.

Standing ovations are not uncommon in St David’s Hall, yet in this instance, while many were clapping enthusiastically above their heads, no one stood. The performance was outstanding and I’m certain that had one audience member risen to their feet, we’d all have done likewise.

So, what is the etiquette? If we believe a performance merits it, how do we know who should be the first to stand? What should we do if we take the lead and find we are the only one standing? And is it acceptable or a bit naff to shout, ‘Bravo?’

Ian Williams, Usk

Dear Ian V

ery good to hear from you again, one of my most loyal correspondents. Your enquiry is timely with theatregoing being the thing of the moment. So many hit shows, current and forthcoming – out of London, a tour of Miss Saigon is announced and, of course, in London, it’s Hamilton, the bizarre rap show about one of the Founding Fathers of America, good fortune and the kindness of friends, a ticket dropped into my lap last week. It was an instant standing ovation at the end, I can assure you.

The British are not given to standing ovations – or so it was always said. When Maria Callas made her farewell appearance at the Royal Festival Hall in 1973, there was wild, sustained applause before she began singing, and afterwards even more so, despite her ruin of a voice. But the audience did not stand. When all is said and done, the audience did not stand at the concert you attended.

The standing ovation should be reserved for unique occasions – Charlie Chaplin receiving an honorary award at the Oscars in 1972, or at the conclusion of the greatest tennis match of all time, the 2008 Wimbledon men’s singles final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

There’s a danger of the gesture becoming debased. I imagine every performance of Hamilton will receive an ovation. It becomes routine with certain shows. Is it because of the rising cost of tickets or the difficulty in getting them? People are determined to prove to themselves that they’ve had a good time.

Whatever the case, a standing ovation is spontaneous and instant, with no one leading. Audiences act as one. The individual is subsumed in the whole. That’s the glory of live shows. In Cardiff, the collective will of the audience was not to stand. I don’t like it when a few do, as quite often happens these days. They should sit down again straight away. But it’s fine to shout, ‘Bravo!’

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


Lord Bates, a Government minister, stunned the House of Lords recently. He resigned on the spot because he was late coming to the chamber, missing a question from an opposition peer. Well, he didn’t need to go that far, and the PM told him so. His resignation was not accepted. But full marks in every other respect. If only certain others would shove off so readily for worse crimes. But I do like punctuality and hate to be late myself. According to the BBC, in Japan you must be 10 minutes early, in Germany bang on time, but in Rwanda or Nicaragua, anything up to two hours after the appointed time will do. In Sri Lanka, the traffic is terrible and it’s impossible to be on time. Punctuality, like queuing, is cultural. I suppose there’s a risk that one will be accused of racism for looking down on those nations who are late, but it works both ways if you sneer at the Germans for being horribly on time. Call me limited and blinkered, but what about practicalities? How can anyone be more than 20 minutes late for anything – at the absolute most?