Essays: The Telegraph Column |
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The Telegraph Column

Early in 2011 I reached agreement with the editors of the Daily Telegraph's Saturday Review section about returning to the weekly reviewing of television, i.e. to be a TV critic again, near the end of my career, as I had once been a TV critic near the beginning. Ever since I gave up my weekly column in 1982 there had been flattering attempts by various newspapers and magazines to get me to resume it, but the Telegraph were carrying much heavier artillery than most of their rivals. And they had caught me, I confess, at the right time. I'm never comfortable when living on my pension; and more than a year of various illnesses had finally persuaded me that it might not be such a good idea to go back on stage with my solo talking act and go touring forever. With an Oxygen Saturation Rate of never more than ninety, you don't get to tour anything much bigger than your own back garden. But if I was going to be weekly columnist again it would have to be done right, with a serious partner. 

One of the reasons that the Telegraph does so well financially is that they pay attention to the wishes of their audience, and they came equipped with reader surveys and focus group figures that would prove to me, should I feel inclined to doubt it, that not only were some of my original readership still alive, but that there was another generation coming up who liked the idea of appreciation being pitched high, quick and multiple. Even better, from my angle – the Telegraph emissaries maintained throughout our several sessions of negotiation the delightful fiction that I needed to be talked back into the job against my will – was that the editorial staff were right with me on the possibility of writing a column that didn't only cover the big programmes of the week, but went off into side issues such as boxed sets and off-world channels. In fact we coined the term "off-world channel" during those very discussions, with the result that I can now never recall them without being assailed by an image of Roy the Replicant breathing his last in Blade Runner

Finally we signed contracts to cover six months: not a year, because I might not have that long, and had already been quite ill three times in the previous year. As things happened, the first run of columns was soon broken by another illness, induced by the steroids that were helping me to discourage the illness before last. After my brain stopped racing, however, I was soon fit again, and by now I had empirical evidence that the modern media student's mind is essentially a machine for recollecting absolutely everything. God help us all if it runs wild, but it does have an abundance of linking energy. The critical trick is to spot genuine relevance in a sea of possibilities, and it seems to me, as an old hand at this genre, that even if I'm not as quick as I used to be I'm still quite comprehensive, because finally it all depends on judgement, and judgement is something you get more of the longer you last. Anyway, feel welcome to wander in the Telegraph's meticulously kept archive of my column, and never doubt that I enjoy writing it. I always have. It's just that for the last thirty years or so I've been writing it in my head, and dispatching it to the outside world in forms other than the thousand word column. But nobody who has ever written that way ever really ceases to think that way. It's kind of neat.

The link below leads directly to the Telegraph's meticulously kept running archive of my column, which necessarily includes, along with the variously sane opinions of write-in commentators, the ravings of blog-trolls who are not neat at all. But it doesn't hurt to have a whole scan of what the pundits call a "culture", even of an out-of-date culture like television. The photograph dates from a time when I was still dressing up to appear on the box. I never dressed up to watch it, and still don't: an anecdotal datum from the pyjamas culture.

The Telegraph's new page (November 2019) of Clive James TV column highlights.

Our own listing of surviving Telegraph content, compiled August 2019, before the above Telegraph page was created.

[ Much more vintage TV criticism from Clive — his hugely influential column for THE OBSERVER now in its complete, unabridged form: The Observer Column. We also have Clive's column for the Guardian. — Archive Ed. ]