How nice to find myself at the front of The Spectator rather than the back, where I make occasional appearances, albeit under a pseudonym, next to the crossword. I love these quirky, waste-of-time competitions, which at £25 for 150 words must make the contributors pro rata among the highest paid in the magazine. It’s a shame, though, that the same four or five people seem to win all the time. What else do they do with their lives apart from construct haikus about literary figures or short stories without using the letter ‘e’? Who are Basil Ransome-Davis, Noel Petty and Bill Greenwell? I have a feeling I was reading their entries in Punch when I was about eight years old. ‘Not by hatred are they led, their problem is a dearth of thread…’ Almost 50 years later, I can’t get that line out of my head. It’s a poem one of them contributed — made up of anagrams.
Off to ITV to discuss a new series which will hopefully be transmitted in 2013. ITV now make most of the best drama on television — but the advertising breaks are going mad. After 12 minutes of action, I’m forced to bring matters to a sudden full stop. Then there’s a reminder of the programme’s sponsor, Aviva or whoever, a half a dozen ads (with the volume turned up) and a brief visit to Coronation Street or whatever else is coming soon. Aviva pops back again with a miniature drama about ‘life’s little accidents’ and a reminder that they sponsored the show. What sort of emotional involvement, what suspense, what vague connection with the story can possibly have survived all this? I remember when ITV moved News at Ten, politicians got very angry and excited. But when extra advertising breaks were brought in, turning us overnight into American TV, there wasn’t a whimper.
Lamentably, there seems to be no hope for me on the BBC, where even getting a phone call returned is a triumph. Writers who suggest what a horrible and mean-spirited organisation this is always end up belittling themselves, so I offer instead a small but poignant anecdote. I did get a meeting about a year ago and pitched an idea to a very senior person at the BBC. I wanted to dramatise the role of the SOE, the Special Operations Executive — a sort of sister programme to Foyle’s War. The executive looked at me blankly. ‘The SOE?’ he quavered. ‘What was that?’ I’m still waiting for a yes or no.
Mind you, I could always move to America. I’ve often wondered why so much British talent ends up trickling w i l t o n s since 1742 Noted f or the f inest oysters,
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Every time I use them, I thank the London Mayor for his introduction of Boris Bikes. I love them. They’re solid and sturdy and take me from my home in Clerkenwell to almost anywhere I want to go in less than ten minutes. I’m afraid I’m a terrible cyclist. I have no road sense and breeze around with no real awareness of red traffic lights, other road users, oneway streets. My sons assure me I’ll be dead in a year but I find the lawlessness is half the fun. There are problems, though. The software supporting the system is hopeless. My keys hardly ever work. Finding a bike is hard enough but it’s even more annoying when you can’t find a docking station to drop it off. I’ve often circled for 20 minutes, meeting other frustrated users playing an urban version of musical chairs. If Boris really is going to become PM, he should try to have more of a grip on the details.
Soon I’ll be leaving for Germany, France, Ireland and America on a book tour. A dozen flights, nine hotels, readings and discussions, public signings, interviews and TV appearances. I’m not complaining but I do sometimes wonder when writers became such showbiz animals. What happens if you have a lisp? Or if you’re ugly? The Spectator told me not to plug the book in this diary — and quite right too — but I couldn’t resist slipping a clue into the body of the text. Just like the competitions at the back… only with rather more words.
Anthony Horowitz is author, among other things, of Foyle’s War and the Alex Rider series. For his latest book, see Contents.
the spectator | 5 November 2011 | www.spectator.co.uk