Just after I had taken the photos above and below of these aged newspaper clippings I tossed them into a recycling sack. They followed hundreds – thousands – of others that had lain in piles in my bedsits and studies across the past forty years. Some of them anchored significant memories – one recalled my visit as a sixteen year old to the Tate Gallery’s William Blake show. But now they’ve gone, and I’m pleased that they have. Indulge me, however, as I explain about how I came to have these clippings and why I felt able finally to throw them away.
When I was fourteen or fifteen I thought it highly unlikely that anyone would find me sufficiently interesting to talk to. By “anyone” I didn’t mean my friends at school, but rather grown-ups, adults, real people who lived in the world beyond the classroom. So I set out to learn about the things that these people – or at least the ones I admired – were engaged by. Films, they liked films. I liked films too, but a Saturday afternoon trip to the Canterbury Odeon didn’t seem to be quite the thing. And art, too, since they often seemed to visit exhibitions and museums. As did I, but probably not in the same way as they did.
So I very self-consciously set out to teach myself how grown-ups thought and talked about films and art, and about the theatre and books as well. Television was hugely important in this process, and that partly explains my fascination with the arts in that medium over the years. But at least as significant were the weekly columns by critics in the Sunday Times and the Observer. John Russell and Harold Hobson and George Melly (then writing regular film reviews) were commentators who knew how real people thought and talked about culture, and so it was important to learn from them. Then, perhaps, I would be able to think and talk in ways that might just be interesting enough to hold the attention of one of those people.
In those days long before PCs and the internet, the best way to have a library of ideas and opinions on which I could draw seemed to be to make one from clippings. So a habit began around 1970 of snipping out relevant reviews and marking them neatly with their publication date – and I continued to do just that right through until a couple of years ago. That was when easy online access to past issues of the Guardian and other papers seemed somehow to make the practice redundant.
Over the years, I filed away those clippings that for various reasons seemed the most interesting or the most useful – and I am definitely holding on to my three crammed cabinets of folders. Certain of the clippings were useful in putting together proposals for television programmes, and others were invaluable when I came to write books or occasional journalism of my own. But many of these newspaper extracts simply sat in piles, unread and unloved – and it is these that over the past few months have been relegated to the recycling sacks.
Not that the divesting of these clippings has been indiscriminate. Each one has been reviewed and a small percentage has been transferred to the filing cabinets. A good number of them have prompted a flash of recognition, a trace of why a piece originally attracted my attention. Some brought back a Sunday afternoon at the V&A which had been prompted by a review or a trip to the Cambridge Arts Theatre in pursuit of a particular arthouse release. So I have enjoyed the process, but at the same time I have recognised its inevitability, at least for me, as my life moves – in part, and only in part – from the analogue to the digital.
I still have far too many books, shelves of magazines, dozens and dozens and dozens of DVDs. Many of these also have memories attached to them, so it is not as if I will be short of madeleines. And what they all bear witness to collectively is the pleasure and the knowledge and the challenges and the stimulation and the satisfaction from forty years and more of experiences that initially were prompted and shaped by those clippings. Although whether I am interesting enough now to engage any of the grown-ups around me is still something that I often doubt.