Visions Before Midnight
TV Criticism from the Observer 1972-76
"This is the first selection from the column hundreds of thousands of devoted fans turn to first on Sunday morning, by the man who has made TV criticism an entertainment in its own right.
"All the favourites are here, from the 1972 Olympics (But your paradigm no-no commentary can't be made up of fluffs alone. It needs flannel in lengthy widths, and it's here that Harry and Alan come through like a whole warehouse full of pyjamas) to the 1976 Olympics ('Jenkins has a lot to do' was a new way of saying that our man, of whom we had such high hopes, was not going to pull out the big one).
"In between we have 'War and Peace' (Tolstoy makes television history), the Royal Wedding (Dimbling suavely, Tom Fleming introduced the scene), the Winter Olympics (Unintelligibühl), the Eurovision Song Contest (The hook of their song lasted a long time in the mind, like a kick in the knee. You could practically hear the Koreans singing it. 'Watelroo...'), and much more - Exit Tricky Dick, Chopin Snuffs It, Schmlittering Prizes, The Turkey in Winter, Why Viola, Thou Art Updated..."
"Clive James's television reviews are sufficiently potent to turn the pale glimmers on the set into something like a gaudily lit portable theatre of clacking wooden puppets speaking a splintered language which is instantly, and hilariously, recognizable. His stunning pieces re-adjust horizontal and vertical holds almost before there is time to blink away the images that were actually transmitted" - Dennis Potter
First Paragraph from the Preface
This book is the incidental result of my first four years as the Observer's television critic. I say 'incidental' because when I began writing the column I had only fleeting notions of preserving any of it for posterity. Before coming to the Observer I had been one of a quartet of writers who did the occasional stint - each of us contributing one piece per month, turn and turn about - for the Listener, whose then editor, Karl Miller, was gratifyingly insistent that literary journalism ought to be written from deep personal commitment and to the highest standards of cogency the writer could attain. Quite apart from the eternal debt I owe him for allowing me to review television after having failed so conspciuously to become interested in reviewing radio, I shall always be grateful that his belief in the importance of what we were all up to took the tangible form of a severe discipline when it came to editing copy - which he preferred to do with the author present, so that obscurities could be explained to him by their perpetrators. The obscurities usually turned out to be solecisms.
From the Picador paperback edition, 1981.
This page and its contents are copyright © 1999-2002 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.Return to Clive James page.
Last modified: January 2, 2001.