Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Up the wrong tree

Author Robert Harris (ex Selwyn, Cambridge, Newsnight and Panorama) may still be watching some form of analogue tv in his Berkshire vicarage. He's complained that there's no dedicated book programme on BBC tv - when there used be two in the 1970s.

He's referring to The Book Programme, which ran intermittently on BBC2 from 1973 to 1980, presented by Robert Robinson, and produced by broadcasting titan Will Wyatt; and Read All About It ('The paperback programme'), which ran late night on BBC1, presented and edited by Melvyn Bragg from 1976 to 1977, then fronted by Ronald Harwood through to 1979.

Announcing the Costa Book Of The Year last night, Bobby said "It is an absolute disgrace that the BBC, a publicly-funded organisation, shouldn’t do a bit more to help our books business. Come on, Tony Hall, if you’re watching this on BBC News: do a little bit more for the book trade, please."

Yes, the event was carried live on the BBC News channel, where Nick Higham has a weekly "Meet The Author" slot. It has an archive of over 200 interviews.

Over on Radio 4, A Good Read has been running since 1977, and, between that, and The World Service Book Club, there's a back catalogue of 279 podcasts. On the BBC Parliament Channel, BOOKtalk has been running for over four years.

But the real point is that many other BBC programmes sustain themselves with free interviews plugging books. Daddy of them all, Start The Week on Radio 4, in all its various re-inventions since 1970, couldn't survive without them - and carries book credits by episode on its website. Authors sit for hours in London as they are switched to various BBC local radio daytime shows. Radio 5 Live still has the odd daytime opportunity, slightly reduced since the departure of Richard Bacon. Books are waved around on screen in The One Show, Graham Norton, Andrew Marr. Newsnight loves American authors. (Un) Original British Drama is currently built on books - Wolf Hall, Mapp and Lucia, Call The Midwife, re-runs of Death Comes To Pemberley, with Poldark, The Secret Agent and SS-GB still to come.

And then there are the writers sustained by BBC salaries and contracts - Jeremy Paxman, Lord Barg, James Naughtie, Andrew Marr, Kirsty Wark, Anita Anand, Huw Edwards, Lucy Worsley, Janice Hadlow and more - touring the literary festivals, in the hope of being Yentob-ed at Hay.

Books ARE the BBC.

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