And the timing is highly coincidental — a week earlier Michael Billington chaired a discussion between critics and arts editors during which the issue of whether reviews should use star ratings was hotly debated. Hare wrote an article, published on Jan. 20, in which he decried the use of star ratings. "It is hard to understand," fumed Hare, "why (Billington), of all people, conspires in the Guardian's militantly philistine policy of allocating stars out of five to music, theatre and film. Apart from anything else, why does a self-respecting critic agree to a system of grading that renders his or her detailed reaction superfluous?"
"David Hare certainly knows how to stir it up," mused Billington in a reply the following day. Pointing out that "this is a subject of fierce internal debate" — and referring to that Critics’ Circle meeting — Billington warmed to his argument.
"The problem," wrote the critic, "is there are two sides to the case. As a critic, I often curse star ratings. Yet I know that a four- or five-star review can cause a stampede at the box office for a show that might easily be overlooked. As an occasional moviegoer and CD buyer, I also find the star system helpful in sorting wheat from chaff.
"Where Hare errs is in assuming that individual critics can buck the trend. If I obstinately refused to put star ratings on my reviews, I would either be transferred to the gardening page or, more likely, find that the sub-editors were allocating the stars for me. But this is a subject that transcends debates between artists and critics. Stars exist because we live in a consumerist culture. And because editors feel readers need guidance in making practical choices." Billington ended his rebuttal by calling on readers to write and say what they’d like. "It is their opinion," he concluded, "more than David Hare’s or mine, that really counts."