Tuesday 20 November 2007

Big Read

oes anyone remember the BBC’s Big Read? It was in 2003, and is sadly also the last bookish programme they’ve shown on terrestrial, so far as I’m aware. I’ve just about got used to the fact that popular television will be far, far removed from literary matters – mostly being devoted to reality shows or cheap drama or sport. I like the odd bits of the first two of these, but the humdrum of terrestrial television became unfathomably lightened up by The Big Read. A lot of people have scoffed at it, or thought the Beeb were dumbing down in their presentation of great literature – nothing is more likely, but it is so rare for books to make primetime that I took everything else as a bonus.

For people who missed it, or live in a country which doesn’t show BBC, I’ll give you an intro. Incidentally, though, the US channel which has the word ‘BBC’ in it – BBC UK or something, maybe? – is so much better than our version! You get the classic sitcoms and so forth that they haven’t shown here for decades, or are used when snooker matches don’t last as long as anticipated. Tshaw.

Grumble over. The Big Read asked people across the country to nominate their favourite fictional book ever (favourite, mind, rather than the one they believed to be the best – a huge difference. My family are my favourite people, but I am not so blind as to suggest they are the best people. Sorry folks!) A list of 100 was compiled, and revealed, with the top 21 given only in alphabetical order. The ensuing seven weeks saw programmes devoted to three of these books at a time, and an eventual final, which saw Lord of the Rings being voted the best book ever. Ahem. Well, if the word ‘convention’ is not congruous with a book, then the fans are likely to be the type to ‘phone in… ooo, catty!

I loved the programme from beginning to end, even when Pride and Prejudice was advertised as being “all about sex!” – all? Really? – and got my first taste of literary e-conversation in the Big Read Forum. The eventual list was a pleasing combination of classics and potential discoveries, and not overrun with modern things which would be forgotten by 2004, thank goodness. The whole list can be found here, but I’m going to offer a rather more subjective view… of the top 100, here are the ones I’ve read, in the order that I like them. Like, not evaluate, you understand. Though the same one comes bottom on both, believe me. A lot of nostalgia on this list… You can thus work out which ones I’ve not read, and gasp at the order in which I put them…

-Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
-Emma (Jane Austen)
-Winnie the Pooh (AA Milne)

-Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier)
-I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith)
-The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (CS Lewis)

’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)
-Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons)
-1984 (George Orwell)

-Wuthering Heights
(Emily Bronte)
-Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
-The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)
-The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)

-Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (JK Rowling)

-Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (JK Rowling)
-Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (JK Rowling)
-Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (JK Rowling)
-Little Women (Louisa M. Alcott)

-David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)
-Persuasion (Jane Austen)
-Tess of the D’Urbervilles (Thomas Hardy)
-Animal Farm (George Orwell)

-Goodnight Mister Tom (Michelle Magorian)
-The Magic Faraway Tree (Enid Blyton)
-Double Act (Jacqueline Wilson)
-The Great Gatsby (F Scott Fitzgerald)
-The Story of Tracy Beaker (Jacqueline Wilson)
-Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck)
-Matilda (Roald Dahl)
-Bridget Jones’s Diary (Helen Fielding)
-Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl)
-The Catcher in the Rye (JD Salinger)
-The BFG (Roald Dahl)
-Ulysses (James Joyce)
-Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (Louis de Bernieres)


  1. I loved The Big Read, and I have the companion book too. I thought it was a great idea (even if Lord of the flippin' Rings did win it).

    There has been one book prog on terrestrial since then - 2004's Page Turners, which was on for one series, at 9.30 in the morning on BBC1. Terrible time slot, which probably accounts for it not being re-commissioned.

  2. Your mention of the BBC having book programs (seldom, that is) reminds me that our small town/local area was written up in The New York Times recently around the subject of books, readers, writers. I'll give the urls - for there was a second article the same day about used books in particular. If you do call these up there is one picture in beginning that links to a slide show of more pictures of a number of different bookstore interiors. Hope you take a look and enjoy them.

    "In the Valley of the Literate"

    "Well-Marked Trails for Bibliophiles"

  3. You must mean BBC America - which is a great channel, I agree. I wish they would bring back what we call House Hunters (hosted by Phil and ???). How wonderful that there was an ongoing program about books - if only for a short while. I cannot imagine anything of the sort here, except maybe on a women's channel. I can just imagine what would make the list....Stephen King, Diana Gabaldon, The Da Vinci Code.

  4. I'm feeling sorry for Of Mice and Men and Goodnight Mister Tom :o(

  5. I did enjoy both of those, Mel! In fact, the only two I didn't like are the bottom two - everything else just fell behind things I'd liked more...

  6. Oh yes, that particular year I thought I was in book heaven. I also, mistakenly as it turned out, thought that was just the beginning of much more from Auntie about books and reading. Wrong! The only people on TV who actively encourage reading are the much maligned Richard and Judy it seems. They did a lovely programme on children's books a couple of weeks back. I just wish there was *more*.

  7. I haven't heard of that list before, but I will be adding some of the books to my list of TBR.

    Here in Australia we have a good book TV programme called The First Tuesday Book Club. Each month they review one recent release and one classic picked by a panel member. When Richard E Grant visited as panelist, the classic he picked was Alice in Wonderland.

    The website for the programme is http://www.abc.net.au/tv/firsttuesday/


I've now moved to www.stuckinabook.com, and all my old posts are over there too - do come and say hello :)

I probably won't see your comment here, I'm afraid, but all my archive posts can also be found at www.stuckinabook.com.