From the editor
EVERY now and again I reread Clive James’s TV criticism for London’s Observer, collected in three volumes: Visions Before Midnight, The Crystal Bucket and Glued to the Box. Obviously it’s not to get viewing tips, as the work published here was done in the decade between 1972 and 1982; it is to enjoy the work of a master writing with wit and deep knowledge about the medium. Its inanities sparked some of James’s most delicious and felicitous phrase-making, but equally he was awed by TV’s reach and power. Mentioning David Attenborough’s series Life on Earth, James commented: ‘‘I watched enthralled, distracted only by envy of my own children, for whom knowledge was being brought alive in a way that never happened for my generation or indeed for any previous generation.’’ Many of James’s perceptions are still quoted and have been unequalled, so it’s strangely comforting to know he wasn’t always right. In his 1981 introduction to The Crystal Bucket he refers to the BBC’s wiping tapes of plays by Harold Pinter and other writers of note, but then suggests it doesn’t really matter. He thought it would be difficult for networks to sort out payments for repeats, ‘‘and if a channel won’t organise it then the individual viewer is unlikely to either, even if all the past material were available from an instantaneous and inexpensive form of date-retrieval. There is barely time to view the present. To view the past as well would take all the time in the world.’’ He acknowledged later: ‘‘Some of my confident pronouncements sound a bit dated now.’’ Thirty years later the viewer wants to be in control of past, present and future, a phenomenon we examine in today’s cover story. Meanwhile, I commend James’s reviews to you.