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SOCIAL CLIMES / TIME OUT : A Busy Briton, Indeed : UK / LA Festival has Merrick Baker-Bates hopping. But the diplomat isn't complaining.

October 30, 1994|JEANNINE STEIN | TIMES SOCIETY WRITER

With 54 days gone and 14 more to go for the UK/LA Festival, Merrick Baker-Bates, British consul general for Southern California, doesn't look any the worse for wear.

At 9 o'clock on a recent morning, the tall, slender Baker-Bates is looking natty in a dark blue suit, an official festival pin on his lapel. He happily shows guests around the 1920s-era Hancock Park home that serves as consulate guest house, meeting place and party venue.

His wife, Chrystal, appears briefly, but only to quickly introduce herself and say, "He's the one you want to talk to."

Over coffee in the book-lined study, Baker-Bates, consul general since 1992, laments that he hasn't been able to attend as many events as he would have liked during this "celebration of British arts" festival.

"It's been quite hectic," he says. "I did go to see 'Alfie,' which was wonderful. We've also had something going on in Arizona as well--an international trade symposium--and I've been there five times in three weeks."

Baker-Bates says part of his role in the festival was to "persuade the (British) government that this was something it should support. It was a serious enterprise, which people here wanted.

"There's no getting away from it," he adds. "Los Angeles has been struggling in the water, and what we're trying to do through the festival and all the different aspects of it, is to extend a hand and try to show people that we're not fair-weather friends. And I hope that when the good times come back to L.A., as they certainly will, then people will remember that we were there, we were trying to do our best."

The festival will end up stretching out over more than two months and encompassing 79 events--everything from the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields to the women's vocal group Black Voices to a retrospective of artist R.B. Kitaj to a 25th-anniversary celebration of Monty Python.

"We tried to give it the widest possible scope," Baker-Bates says, "because we wanted to show people that there were new things happening in the arts in Britain besides the well-known Royal National Theatre.

"There is a promotional aspect to this, but on top of that is the general projection of Britain as a creative place."

One huge boost for the festival is the appearance of the Prince of Wales, who arrives Monday for a five-day visit.

Is the consul general worried about the scrutiny Prince Charles might have to endure while he's here, considering the recent spate of royal scandals?

"I think he's probably pretty used to it," Baker-Bates says. "Any other extraneous bits and pieces won't bother him because he's got his visit, his program and the people he's going to meet very much in mind."

Before moving to Los Angeles a little more than two years ago, Baker-Bates had a varied diplomatic service career that took him from Tokyo to Washington, D.C., to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Despite his travels, he's become a fierce defender of Los Angeles.

"When I go to other cities, people say, 'You're from Los Angeles, are you? Bad luck.' And I say it's not bad luck at all. Los Angeles is a place with serious character and it's a great city. Those other places, whilst being very interesting, are not, in that sense, in that very rounded sense."

Because of his various moves Baker-Bates doesn't come down with homesickness often, although he admits a penchant for reading British newspapers and magazines.

"I do go to the King's Head (a Santa Monica pub and restaurant) from time to time because I like a pint of Guinness.

"And we do eat a lot of British food. I love British marmalade. Last night I had a total self-indulgence. It was totally disgraceful. I ate a steamed ginger pudding with custard, which I love."

On the eve of the Prince's arrival, Baker-Bates is gearing up for two more weeks of festival events.

He says he's looking forward to seeing the Royal Shakespeare Co.'s "Henry VI, The Battle for the Throne" because "It's one of Shakespeare's lesser-known plays. I've been reading it and I have to confess, it gives me nightmares. I have to put it down because it's tremendously bloody."

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