Books on the Box by Allan Massie

Allan Massie

Books on the Box

 

Between 1975 and 1990 the French television station Antenne 2 broadcast a regular Friday evening books programme called Apostrophes. Hosted throughout the period of its existence by one man, Bernard Pivot, it became very influential: an appearance on Apostrophes did wonders for an author and for the sale of his books. Each programme lasted 75 minutes. The usual format consisted of a studio discussion between six authors. Each in turn responded to Pivot’s questioning before being subjected to the comments and questions of the other authors. Some editions were devoted to a single writer. The level of discussion was generally high, and the programme gave writers of serious literary fiction the opportunity to present their work before a mass audience. Some bookshops began to have an Apostrophes table, displaying books featured on that week’s programme. It worked principally because of the enthusiasm and intelligence of Pivot himself; he also founded, as an offshoot, the monthly literary magazine, Lire.

Of course it also provoked opposition, from publishers and authors who felt, often correctly, that their books had been unfairly ignored by Pivot. But in general writers and the book trade owed a good deal to the programme. Some English-speaking authors were featured – if their French was good enough

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