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Face to Face.

Face to Face, DVD (6 discs). BBC Worldwide/2 Entertain Video, 2009.

31.97 [pounds sterling].

In the early 1960s Evelyn Waugh appeared in two interviews on the BBC, which at that time had only a single TV broadcasting network. The first, in June 1960, was conducted by John Freeman on Face to Face. This series ran from 1959 to 1962 and was revived in 1989. Freeman was a Labour MP elected in 1945 and associated with the left-wing Bevanite faction. He later edited the New Statesman and later still served as Britain's ambassador to India and then the USA. Waugh asked his friend Tom Driberg, also active in Labour politics, for information about Freeman to use if the interview got rough. It is unclear if Driberg responded: there is no letter from him regarding Freeman among Waugh's incoming correspondence at the British Library.

The second interview was conducted in 1964, also by the BBC, and the interviewer was Elizabeth Jane Howard (later to spend a few years as the second Mrs. Kingsley Amis). It was broadcast on 16 February 1964 as part of the Monitor series, a TV arts "magazine" conceived and produced by Huw Wheldon and broadcast from 1958 to 1965. In its final years, Wheldon took a less active role, perhaps why Howard identifies Christopher Burstall as producer of this installment.

Anyone who has seen both interviews will agree that the first is better. Freeman is aggressive at times, but Waugh gives as good as he gets in equally aggressive and articulate responses. In the second interview, Waugh appears to have aged by more than three years. Moreover, the interviewer consistently threw softballs. Waugh himself insisted upon making up most of the questions. Other insights into this interview are recounted by Howard in her memoirs, Slipstream (London, 2002), 350-52.

Waugh's first interview has been included in a collection of thirty-four interviews from Face to Face. The only one left out is Albert Finney, who apparently withheld rights. Waugh's interview is certainly among the best. In a 1989 interview produced for rebroadcast of the series, also included in the DVD set, John Freeman commented on the session with Waugh. He found Waugh's attitude "antagonistic" and was disappointed that he "didn't succeed in getting more out of him, because of all the people on the list of Face to Faces, he is the one I think I hold in the most honour." But Waugh's attitude makes the interview enjoyable to watch. Freeman questioned his low esteem for the BBC and asked why he had agreed to be interviewed. Waugh answered without a moment's hesitation: "Poverty." His timing could not have been better if the line had been rehearsed dozens of times.

In a 48-page booklet that accompanies the DVDs, the series producer, Hugh Burnett, expands on BBC contact with Waugh before and after the interview. Burnett, who died at age 84 in January 2012, recalls a 1953 BBC radio interview recorded at Waugh's home in Gloucestershire and how that led to the paranoia Waugh describes in Pinfold.[1] In confirmation of Waugh's answer in the 1960 TV interview, Burnett notes that Waugh "requested a ridiculously high fee, and we drew up a contract to include every conceivable right. He accepted."[2] Artist Feliks Topolski, who drew the portraits for Face to Face, accompanied Burnett to Waugh's house at Combe Florey in advance of the recording that took place in London. Burnett describes Waugh's playful teasing at that session. Waugh asked why Topolski didn't have an easel and whether the heat in the TV studio would require him to wear a tropical suit.

After the broadcast, Waugh's teasing continued. He sent a postcard to the BBC asking if they had missed a cigar cutter which he had found in his pocket. In another card, he noted that, while he had not "seen the exhibition," someone had told him that it had ended rather abruptly. He concluded, "I assure you that I don't care." According to Burnett, the BBC removed Waugh's remark about J. B. Priestley, which was potentially libelous. He regrets that the remark was edited, "because Priestley versus Waugh on the question of whether Priestley was an ass would have been worth every penny of a legal action." With both potential litigants safely dead, the DVD has restored the remark about Priestley.

Other interviews are of varying degrees of interest. Those of other artists, writers, musicians, and philosophers retain vitality. These include Cecil Beaton (who indicates that he still considered Waugh an enemy), Bertrand Russell, Carl Jung, Augustus John, Henry Moore, Compton Mackenzie, Otto Klemperer, and John Osborne. Edith Sitwell was also interviewed but revealed little more than her name. Actors, filmmakers, reporters, and publishers are also still worth listening to. These include John Huston, Tony Hancock, Victor Gollancz, and Gilbert Harding, a TV presenter reduced to tears by Freeman's badgering about his mother's death. On the other hand, athletes, movie stars, and pop singers (such as Adam Faith, Stirling Moss, and Simone Signoret) have little to say. Most of the remainder are politicians. They were tedious at the time, crashing bores today.

The collection consists of six discs in an attractively designed case and cover. A 48-page introduction contains an entry by Hugh Burnett about each interview. The final disc includes John Freeman's reminiscences in 1989, more than twenty years after broadcast. The menu makes it easy to select interviews of interest and skip others. The DVDs are encoded in Region 2 and 4 formats and will not play on most DVD players purchased in North America. They can probably be played on computers with DVD programming or on players reprogrammed to override region coding, which can be managed with help from the internet. But be prepared for a problem if your computer or player is region-restricted. The DVDs are recorded in PAL TV format, which may cause additional problems for North American viewers if played on older TV sets.

Waugh's 1964 interview is not available on DVD yet, although I once bought a copy on eBay. The BBC has recently posted on the internet interviews of writers from their archives. Many are of the same vintage as those in which Waugh appeared. In response to a query as to why the Waugh interviews had not been posted, BBC Archives said that they intended to do so but were negotiating with the Waugh family over terms. A good plan would put both interviews on one DVD (with no region restrictions) comparable to the CD of radio broadcasts released in 2008 in the BBC/British Library Spoken Word series.


[1] The 1953 radio interview was part of the Personal Call series. It was recorded at Piers Court on 18 August 1953 and broadcast on 2 October 1953 on the BBC's Overseas Service.

[2] Martin Stannard says the fee for the Face to Face interview was 250 [pounds sterling], and for the Monitor interview 300 [pounds sterling]. See Later Years, 430 and 477. That would total about 7000 [pounds sterling] today.

Reviewed by Jeffrey A. Manley
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Author:Manley, Jeffrey A.
Publication:Evelyn Waugh Studies
Article Type:Video recording review
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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