Lord Hall will be glad that he didn’t attend last night’s Costa Book Awards. Robert Harris, who chaired this year’s judges, took the opportunity to criticise the corporation’s book coverage when announcing the winner.
Harris says that it is ‘an absolute disgrace’ that there is ‘no dedicated book programme’ on television. The 57-year-old author urged Tony Hall to do more given that the BBC is a ‘monetary funded organisation’.
‘The Costa Prize attracts people into the trade and it has being doing that for 44 years ever since 1971 and one thing I would just like to say is that in the 1970s books had it a bit easier,’ he told guests at the champagne bash at Quaglino’s, Mayfair, which saw Helen Macdonald win the gong for H is for Hawk. ‘Books pages in newspapers were larger, books seemed more central to the culture, there were only three television channels in the 1970s but amazingly there were two dedicated books programmes, The Book Programme with Robert Robinson and Read All About it with Melvyn Bragg.’
‘Today we have 300 television channels and no dedicated book programme and it does seem to me that that is an absolute disgrace,’ he told the audience, who cheered in response. ‘The BBC, a monetary funded organisation, should do a bit more to help business. Whether we write fiction or non fiction, we provide the basis for movies, for documentaries and I do think Tony Hall if you’re watching this on the BBC news do a little bit more for the book trade please.’ When Steerpike caught up with the An Officer and a Spy author after his speech, his message was clear. ‘What we need is a books programme, I think there is a demand for it,’ he said.
Mr S was doubtful that Tony Hall would have the chance to hear Harris’s comments on BBC news so he called the press office himself. Steerpike is still waiting to hear whether Hall plans to help Harris out.
Update: The BBC have responded to Steerpike’s request for comment with the statement below.
‘No broadcaster does more than the BBC to promote reading: books and authors are at the heart of the BBC, from dedicated strands like Meet The Author and Talking Books on the News Channel to Radio 4’s Open Book and Radio 2’s Simon Mayo’s Book Club. We show documentaries throughout the year like Imagine: Colm Toibin on BBC One and BBC Four’s Secret Life of Books and have recently launched our new online service, Books at the BBC. We also run the BBC National Short Story Award and children’s writing competition 500 Words on Radio 2 and cover major literary prizes such as Costa, Man Booker and the Samuel Johnson Prize; our coverage of the Hay Festival last year reached 20 million people in the UK and we introduce millions to new books through adaptations like Wolf Hall, the Casual Vacancy and Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime.’