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.

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