From the ed­i­tor

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Deb­o­rah Jones

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.

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