Monday, November 30, 2009

TV or not TV

"We Have Books About TV" -- Sign outside Springfield Library, The Simpsons

Televison gets a bad rep for encouraging illiteracy and turning anyone who watches a programme for more than thirty seconds into a braindead, dribbling moron but I'm not sure that's entirely deserved. Yeah, there's lot of rubbish programmes that people watch when they could be reading but there's lots of TV adaptations of books and also lots of TV programmes that get novelised.

Personally a lot of my early reading came from finding out about books and characters from TV. Paddington Bear, Just William, Swallows and Amazons, Sherlock Holmes, Dr Who and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Not to mention Jackonary which led to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Wind in the Willows and The Otterbury Incident (written by a future Poet Laureate no less). While you could argue the literary merit of some of these stories they helped develop my love of reading.

Even as an adult I find myself sampling authors due to the influence of TV adaptations. Books such as Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe novels, P.G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie's Miss Marple. Even the Simon Nye novel which he later developed into his hit sitcom Men Behaving Badly (fortunately when he adapted it for TV he decided it might be an idea to include some jokes.)

And it's not just me. One of my friends happily admits that he's not a big reader but thanks to TV he's had a crack at C.S. Forester's Hornblower novels, Jeff Lindsay's Dexter novels and P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories.

Now I appreciate it's not just the influence of television that brought me to read some of these books. Stacy Keach's Mike Hammer isn't really a factor in me wanting to try Mickey Spillane and I don't remember Spenser: For Hire well enough for it to sway me one way or another when it comes to reading Robert B Parker. And I'll admit that even when I thoroughly enjoy a TV adaptation it won't necessarily spur me on to read the source material. At least not straight away. Decades passed between my seeing Joan Hickson portraying Miss Marple and my deciding that perhaps I should give the books a go. And although I tried a P.G. Wodehouse novel at the time of Fry and Laurie's Jeeves and Wooster it took many years and several nudges from various quarters (including repeats of the TV series) to remind me that it was high time to read some more of his stuff.

Sometimes the TV connection can be quite unexpected. A while back Garth Ennis mentioned that he enjoyed the novels of Derek Robinson, an author with whom I was totally unfamiliar. Recently I stumbled upon one of Mr Robinson's books only to discover it was the basis for a TV series I saw as a child.

UK TV has a long history of adapting books to screen and otherwise appropriating literary characters. Rumpole of the Bailey, The Darling Buds of May, Bodies, Tales of the Unexpected, A Bit of a Do. Crime novels seem to be particularly popular TV fodder -- Wire in the Blood, A Touch of Frost, Dalziel and Pascoe, Inspector Morse, Sharman, Jemima Shore Investigates, An Unsuitable Job For A Woman. Not to mention period dramas. British TV does like to dress up actors in frockcoats and breeches and actresses in bonnets and corsets. Although to be fair quite a few of these programmes seem equally keen to get the actors and actresses out of these costumes at the earliest opportunity.

Judging by the imports we get over here US TV isn't quite so keen on adapting books but in the last few years there seems to have been an upswing -- Homicide: Life on the Street, True Blood, The Wire, Generation Kill, Dexter and FlashForward.

So it's not all bad news as far as TV is concerned. It can actually inspire people to read more than just those annoying messages that flash up on the screen to tell you what the next programme will be, totally ruining the ending of the programme that you're currently watching. Occasionally, just occasionally, television can inspire viewers to seek out the wonders of literature.

Now excuse me, I'm off to watch I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.