Saturday, August 21, 2010

The 20th Century Writer

BBC4's new 3-parter "In their own words" shows the best of the BBC (and BBC4). A whistlestop tour of twentieth century British novelists, the first show, last Monday, covers the interwar years - 1919-1939. The series, in conjunction with the OU, uses archive footage of writers, often - in this early episode - later in their lives, from the BBC's vaults. This is without exception wonderful stuff, an off-camera Graham Greene (he refused to be filmed), Christopher Isherwood in the US reflecting on his time in Berlin in the 30s, a beautiful few seconds of Virginia Woolf's considered thoughts on the English language, E.M. Forster, Evelyn Waugh and others. There's no George Orwell, as in a slightly Orwellian move, the BBC wiped every word of their most famous employee, and rather too much Barbara Cartland. The existence of footage clearly being the main driver for the choices, and much of it is wonderful, worth watching and re-watching for this alone. As an educational programme, it lacks any coherent narrative, and many of its assertions are questionable to say the least, but there's something visceral about seeing and hearing the voices of so many true greats. The 2nd episode is on Monday night, and it's also available on the iPlayer, and more information is available here, and, even better, you can watch the full interviews on the BBC's archive.


The 20th century novel was on a few minds this week with the death of the critic Frank Kermode. I know the name well, but I'm not sure I've got any of his books, or even read much of his work. Yet John Sutherland's great piece on him in today's Guardian makes me think I ought to.

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