Of the four different sections on the website, this Video section is the nearest to being Clive's Excellent Adventure. Its main feature is a set of three different series of interviews collected under the title Talking in the Library. All these programmes were made with digital minicams in my London living room. So the production values were bound to be low. The same, thankfully, can't be said for the quality of the guests, who didn't seem to mind that there was no basket of fruit in the dressing room, or even that there was no dressing room. Cate Blanchett turned up without a hairdresser, and so did P.J. O'Rourke. They believed in the idea. Whether the idea has a real future I just don't know, but it's certainly a more laid-back business than ordinary television. The only real problem - and perhaps the problem is insuperable - is that nobody yet knows how to make the thing pay for itself. So far, it works on generosity, and I have a lot of people to thank, quite apart from all the interviewees who appeared for no fee except a Chinese meal. Simon Larcey and Nicholas Watts of Welcome Stranger made the project technically possible, along with keen young helpers too numerous to mention. I should, however, mention Barry Cox, who bumped into me on Waterloo Bridge and forked out a thousand quid at the critical moment, possibly so that he could hear less about yet another broadcasting revolution.
Addendum as of February, 2006: The Talking in the Library programmes were picked up by the Artsworld cable channel in the UK and the Optus Ovation cable channel in Australia: an imaginative follow-on purchase on their part which helped to defray some of our initial costs. Both channels were frank about their desire for more, but I didn't leave the frenzied pressure of mainstream television in order to find more of the same pressure on the web, so I had to park the idea for a while until I could get my breath back, build up the text part of the site, and figure out what to do next. At this point I can say that we have a new plan of inconceivable ingenuity, and that we should be back in production by the end of the year. Meanwhile we have rebuilt this part of the site so that the option is open to add fresh home-pages for other video features that might not be interviews and need not necessarily include me.
The basic idea of Talking in the Library is a convergence of two main elements. One element is a vow I made during my last years in mainstream television that if I ever got the chance I would interview people who weren't necessarily regarded as ratings bait by a network that wanted to sell more crisps. The network executives weren't necessarily wrong. If you interview Geri Halliwell instead of Deborah Bull, the viewing figures really do go up by a million people. But I found that my spirits went down correspondingly. (Not that I ever interviewed Geri Halliwell, except as a component of the Spice Girls, whom I interviewed as a collectivity. But I never interviewed Deborah Bull either, because I wasn't allowed to, lest too many viewers be made to feel inadequate.) There had to be another way. The second element, acquired during the course of lucrative but steadily more frustrating years in studios that squandered the gross national product of a small nation on the doomed attempt to make a small picture look stunning, was a deep distrust of what were called "production values" in mainstream television. Almost always, in my view, they were entirely irrelevant, and the whole idea might have been designed to make an interview programme as stiff as a dead cat. (If you want someone like Julian Barnes to switch off at the eyes, keep him waiting for twenty minutes while you fiddle with the lighting.) I could write a whole essay on why it is a waste of time trying to make this branch of television spectacular, when its true driving force is the talking head. But perhaps it would be better to discuss the matter on air, in this format. Our production facilities, incidentally, consist of a couple of digicams hired for the night and an editing suite that fits under a bed. Guests are paid with a takeaway Chinese meal.
Addendum and partial climb-down as of December 2006: After a protracted hiatus during which the costs of transmission became an increasing worry (on the web, the more who watch, the more you pay) there had to be a new development that made economic sense without asking the viewer to fork out. In answer to this requirement, a new, fourth series of programmes has now been completed. Made in alliance with Artsworld, the series has production values to suit their transmission standards (three cameras, high definition, etc.) but there is still no studio orchestra or chorus line. In brief, the shows are still taped in my living room. One critic who saw the cable-channel transmission of the first show insisted that it must have been made in a studio, but that's a tribute to how well Artsworld coped with the restricted space, not to mention with the Chinese meal. The five guests in this new series are Stephen Bayley, Richard E. Grant, Ronald Harwood, Michael Frayn and Posy Simmonds. After Artsworld transmits the complete set of shows they will all appear on this site in their due order, and I will count myself very lucky for the help, which I welcome as a recognition of a new medium's possibilities, and not just as an established medium's exercise of economic power. Really it is an instance of a mutual readiness for adventure, and I salute the whole bunch of young Artsworld executives for having got the point with such thoroughness, and pitched in with such enthusiasm. Except for the ducks that got shredded, all concerned had a fine week. The first show in the series will be here soon.
Revision, March 2007: Gateway to the Video Section
Of the four different sections on the website, this video section is the nearest to being Clive's Excellent Adventure. Its main feature is a set of interviews transmitted on the web by Slate online magazine under the flatteringly direct title The Clive James Show. These conversations started life in 2002 under the title Talking in the Library, a grand way of describing my London living room. The nineteen thirty-minutes-long interviews of Series 1-3 were all made with minicams, so the production values were bound to be low. A new series, recorded in September 2006 in the less exiguous circumstances of a production alliance with Sky Arts, looks technically more adroit, mainly because Sky Arts understandably wanted the image to look better than the bottom of a bucket when they transmitted it on their channel.
But apart from the radiant glamour of the guest, what's in the frame is still pretty Spartan stuff by the usual over-lavish mainstream television standards, especially when it comes to the interviewer's clothing allowance. Luckily Slate, in the person of its editor Jacob Weisberg, approved of this austerity. By courtesy of Slate, as of March 2007, a first batch of six programmes from the first three series is now available through a state-of-the-art, cutting-edge, whizz-bang media player, featuring: Cate Blanchett, Piers Paul Read and Julian Barnes (from Series 2), Terry Gilliam, Howard Jacobson and Sir Jeremy Isaacs (from Series 3), and Olly & Suzi and Ruby Wax (from Series 1).
As part of our grand new international launch, the first programme in Series 4 is also now on line, featuring Michael Frayn. Five more from this new series will follow at monthly intervals. They will feature Stephen Bayley, Richard E. Grant, Ronald Harwood, Ian McEwan, and Posy Simmonds. In the next couple of months, the other thirteen programmes from Series 1-3 will come on line. If any programme you select isn't yet available, rest assured it will appear eventually.
The decisive step forward in the matter of transmission, however, has come from Slate's visionary decision to take on a Gyro Gearloose project and transfer it from the garage to an international airport. (As a result, the previous text that stood on this page, and which so eloquently evoked the deprivations of the pioneers, has been relegated to the On Site sub-section marked Homepage History, where scholars may consult it to find out how, in the early days of this branch of webcasting, the personnel sustained existence by means of takeaway Chinese food. It was all true, but now we have moved from the stage of staying alive to the stage of having something to live up to.)
To access the above-mentioned videos, click on the link to Slate directly on the right of this page. The videos are also accessible from each Series presentation page: from there, a click on 'Watch now' will take you directly to the media player, which will enable you to select the interview you want to watch.
Apart from the Talking in the Library programmes, other programmes, with or without me, can be accessed through this page, beginning, in March 2007, with fragments of old shows strangely preserved on YouTube, like junk in space. Among those featuring are: Stephen Fry, the Spice Girls, Peter Cook, Billy Connolly, Joanna Lumley, and Kylie Minogue.
— London, March 2007
(Image from the Cockatoo Island Project, 2007, by Genevieve Blanchett)