It’s mad not to have a single books programme on mainstream TV – The Independent
When the estimable James Naughtie gave his last broadcast on Radio 4â€™s Today programme just before Christmas, he ended by saying he would still be interviewing authors on Radio 4 and the BBC News Channel. And I immediately thought how telling that was.
Look for a book programme on the BBC and you will find one on the Radio. You will find author interviews on the News Channel. Indeed, I have also discovered, entirely by accident, some good author interview on the BBC Parliament channel, where MPs with books out have a chance to talk about them. BBC Parliament and BBC News Channel are both places where by accident you might get people talking about literature. What you wonâ€™t find is a book programme on any of the main BBC channels. Indeed you wonâ€™t find one on terrestrial TV at all.
Not that Sky is any less reprehensible on this score. It had a very fine books programme, indeed it was one of the mainstays of Sky Arts. The Book Show hosted by Mariella Frostrup was on every week, and there were special relays from the Hay Festival, where Sky was also one of the sponsors. Now it has dropped the sponsorship, dropped the relays, and more puzzlingly long since dropped its book programme.Â
Should a channel with the word Arts in its title not have a book programme? Should BBC television not have a book programme. The BBC tells me: â€œBooks and authors are at the heart of the BBC’s output, from TV Seasons on Poetry and Theatre and BBC Oneâ€™s recent adaptation of Tolstoyâ€™s War and Peace to forthcoming pan-BBC programming celebrating Shakespeare and Childrenâ€™s literature, in addition to regular strands such as Simon Mayoâ€™s Book Club on Radio 2, Mariella Frostrupâ€™s Open Book on Radio 4, Harriett Gilbertâ€™s World BookÂ Club and the Radio 4 Book Club. â€œ Er yes, but sorry I donâ€™t really count a dramatisation of War and Peace as a book programme. And I ask again, why no dedicated book programme?
What on earth is wrong with a proper, fully fledged book programme? Skyâ€™s much missed show interviewed authors with books just out, but also had added extras such as looks at where they write, bestseller charts etc. It helped literature to come alive.
I can only think that TV controllers and producers have decided, in curious unison, that book programmes arenâ€™t â€˜sexyâ€™, arenâ€™t visual, arenâ€™t viewer-friendly. How pathetically wrong they are. Viewers have never shared TV executivesâ€™ distaste for talking heads, never shared TV executivesâ€™ fear of upmarket arts coverage, never shared what seems to be TV executivesâ€™ fear of books.
When Frostrupâ€™s book programme was axed by Sky back in 2013, she tweeted: â€œNot a single book show on British TV now â€” sad day for UK arts programming.â€ That was two years ago, and thereâ€™s still not a single book show on TV. Sky Arts should also take a long, hard look at itself and restore what was actually one of its best offerings.Â
I look forward to James Naughtieâ€™s expertise on literature on Radio 4 and the News Channel, but canâ€™t for the life of me see why we wonâ€™t be able to watch it on mainstream television. I also canâ€™t for the life of me begin to understand why TV executives have such an antipathy towards book programmes.
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Former Beckenham resident Mary Finnigan has a diverting tale to tell of her affair with her former lodger in the London suburb in 1969. An extract from her memoir told of her fling with the young David Bowie in the year that he released “Space Oddity”. She would seem to be one of the very few, though, who feels that he lost his way after his Beckenham period. She said this week: â€œAfter Ziggy Stardust I really didnâ€™t like his music very much. I loved the scruffy, folky rockâ€™nâ€™roll stuff, but when he started doing this glam stuff…I found it all a bit pretentious.â€ At least she didnâ€™t add: â€œYou should have stuck with me, kid.â€
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