Television on Books

There was an article in yesterdays Daily Telegraph entitled: “BBC must have a show about books”.

The article went on: “The BBC’s lack of books coverage is  ‘an absolute disgrace’ according to Robert Harris, the novelist and chairman of the Costa Book Awards judging panel.



Robert Harris

Announcing Helen Macdonald’s memoir H is for Hawk as the £30,000 Costa Book of the Year, Harris used his speech to criticise the corporation.  He pointed out that in the 1970’s, when the prize was launched, the BBC had two dedicated book programmes on its main channel.  Now it has none.  ‘It is an absolute disgrace that the BBC, a publicly funded organisation shouldn’t do a bit more to help our books business’, he said, to cheers from authors and publishing industry figures.  ‘Come on, Tony Hall, if you’re watching this on BBC news.  Do a little bit more for the books trade, please.’  He added, ‘In the 1970’s there were two book programmes: The Book Programme with Robert Robertson and Read All About It with Melvyn Bragg.  Both were running at the same time when we only had three channels.  We now have 300 channels, but we don’t have any dedicated book programmes.’

The Book Programme was dedicated to ‘books, authors and the literary life’.  From what I can tell it ran on several BBC regional radio stations, as well as on TV.  My search on Google failed to find a reference to Read All About It as a BBC programme or as a reference under Melvyn Bragg.  Perhaps the BBC’s archive does not go back far enough.  The BBC does, however, give full coverage to Robert Harris’ remarks.

As I think about media coverage of books, I tend to agree that more coverage of books and the literary world would be desirable – provided that the coverage is targeted at the right audience, through the right medium.  It seems to me that television is most effective when it presents changing or moving images.  If the programme were to feature books, the images would mostly be of authors talking, presenters commenting or book covers.  Radio could be nearly as effective as TV in presenting literary subjects.  To justify its cost as a medium, television needs to attract a mass audience, but is there a mass audience for literature? Given the many genres, styles, authors, and critics, it seems to me that attracting a large audience to books, in general, would be difficult.

My conclusion is that a weekly radio show of, say half an hour, in the early afternoon, could be quite interesting.  It would feature trends and developments in literature (including writing, publishing, marketing and distribution) as well as brief, stimulating interviews with authors, publishers and critics.  And, of course, the presenter would have to be both knowledgeable and a good entertainer.

What is your view?

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