Thinking about the Kingsley Amis novel, ‘The Alteration’, reminded me of how I found out about it back in the time before the internet and access to large book shops. I was a keen reader as a boy. School provided most of my reading material but, as I grew older, I came to see school books as school work and I wanted reading material from elsewhere. This is where a television programme called ‘Read All About It’ came in. I discovered it by myself on a black and white television set we had left over when the family colour one came in.
On my own in a room, I watched it every other Sunday night. (As I recall, it was alternated with the BBC’s film programme hosted by Barry Norman, which I also enjoyed.) Each week Melvyn Bragg presented a show with three guests. Each guest recommended a book and everyone discussed each other’s choices. That was the simplicity and the strength of the programme. The gift to me was that these were all paperbacks so affordable. Also, the books were not always new to bookshops so I could find old copies or even locate them in the local library. This was not the marketing machine at work but a celebration of books and readers- it worked.
Melvyn Bragg went to ITV to present the major arts programme in 1978 and I don’t remember ‘Read All About It’ surviving his departure. Instead, it remains as a happy memory of a time when I was eager to find books for myself and not rely on school any more.