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September 13, 2004

Glued to the box

Think of Clive James for a moment. For most people now he was that slightly rotund and balding Aussie who appeared on our screens every New Year's Eve to laugh at Japanese people doing painful things to one another on Japanese TV. After a while the format seemed to tire and James seemed bored. In recent years he has been absent from our screens.

Of late, though, I've been reading Glued to the box, the third volume of James' television criticism in The Observer from the late 70s and early 80s - the writing that made him famous. And well worth it it is too.

You might think television criticism the most ephemeral of literary collections and for the most part you would be right. In James' hands, however, it matters less what he was reviewing (The White Bird Passes anyone?) and more the how and the why. Like all really good writing, it tells you something, but not necessarily about the subject. Only AA Gill and the woefully unsung Nancy Banks-Smith have the bravura to bring off such enjoyable scribblings on the gogglebox.

My favourite passage, so far, has to be quoted at length and covers the Embassy World Snooker Championship in 1980. Welshman, Terry Griffiths has gone out of the competition:

The result was a disaster for him and for the cigarette firm sponsoring the tournament, since the Welsh maestro is a formidable consumer of their product. While his opponents were plying the cue, Griffiths was always to be seen sucking an Embassy. He puffed and dragged. He ashed and stubbed.
...Hurricane Higgins is another great consumer of free fags. He smokes the way he plays – as though there is not only no tomorrow, but hardly anything left of today either. With adrenelin instead of blood and dynamite instead of adrenelin, he sprints around the table... he stood revealed as a truly great smoker, capable of reducing an Embassy to ashes in a few seconds.
Meanwhile, back in London, a bunch of Iranians were threatening to do the same.

September 13, 2004 in Humour, Literature, Television | Permalink


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