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Saturday, August 28, 2010

TV tie-ins: Reading the Decades

Reading the Decades by John Sutherland (BBC ISBN 0-563-48810-7, 2002)

As we've been talking about TV tie-in books this past week, I thought I'd bring you one that I was actually involved in. Not the book, although I do get an entry in the index and I'm briefly quoted, but the TV show.

Reading the Decades was a BBC2 series, billed as “forty years of books that changed the world,” broadcast in April 2002. Each of the four shows featured segments on different authors popular in the 1950s to the 1980s. The first show, broadcast on April 6th, 2002, featured a five-minute piece on Hank Janson.

Roger Parsons, the producer, had phoned in December 2001 about the possibility of doing an interview, which I agreed to do (slowly achieving my fifteen minutes of fame by increments). On January 23rd Roger and a small crew (one cameraman, one sound technician) arrived at my home. I’d tidied up the living room so there was somewhere neat and tidy to do the filming and, whilst the others set up, decided to show Roger my office—a fatal mistake! Spotting the teetering piles of books he immediately decided that this was where he must film. No argument allowed. So we set up in my office, the camera in one corner shooting across the table that had my printer on it and I was stood in the gap between two shelves with piles of books (especially piled for the occasion) either side of me.

Twenty minutes of interview later, I then spent another twenty minutes opening small plastic bags and slowly pulling out books and holding them before the camera. As it turned out, my hands ended up with more screen time than the rest of me as they revealed glorious Heade covers to the strains of Anne Shelton singing The Hank Janson Blues as the segment opened. Overall, the Janson piece was nicely done and tried to capture some of the atmosphere of HJ with a Fedora-wearing actor in silhouette watching a girl unsnapping her suspender belt and unrolling her stocking as Adam Faith read an extract from Don’t Mourn Me, Toots—one of the Janson novels he remembered reading as a boy (and I believe Roger let him keep the rather battered copy he read from). George Melly complained that he wanted his pornography posh (so he read Henry Miller), Ken Follett thought they were terrific after being recommended Hank at school by a classmate, and Faith admitted that his first sexual experience (with a prostitute in a park at the age of 15) was probably inspired by Hank!

There's a brief P.S. to all this: I was watching a BBC documentary on Spivs a couple of years later and there they were again. My hands opening a plastic sleeve and sliding out a Hank Janson book!

Never did get my repeat fee...

(* Apologies about the quality of the screengrabs. Reading the Decades © BBC.)

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