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The Funniest Pages

International Perspectives on Humor in Journalism

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Edited By David Swick and Richard Lance Keeble

Charles Dickens, celebrated novelist and journalist, believed that his greatest ability as a writer was to make people laugh. Yet, to date, humor has been strangely marginalized in journalism, communication and media studies.
This innovative book draws together the work of seventeen writers to show that, starting in the 1640s during the English Civil War, and continuing through to the present time, humor has indeed been an important ingredient of journalism. Countries studied include Australia, Britain, Canada, Chile and the United States. The Funniest Pages is divided into four sections: «Seriously Funny, From Past to Present,» «Unsolemn Columnists,» «This Sporting Life» and a final section, «Have Mouse, Will Laugh,» which looks at humor in online journalism. Chapters examine Joseph Addison, Richard Steele and the birth of social and political satire; Allen Ginsberg, Mad magazine, and the culture wars of the 1950s; John Clarke and the power of satire in journalism, and more.
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Chapter Ten: ‘Common sense dancing’: Clive James’s Invention of the Television Column as a Comic Genre

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← 138 | 139 →CHAPTER TEN

Clive James’s Invention of the Television Column as a Comic Genre

JAMES WALLER-DAVIES

When in 1972 Clive James began what would become a ten-year stint as the Observer’s television critic, few could have predicted the impact and influence the column would have on television criticism as a form of literary journalism, or on the discourse of television criticism more widely. Moreover, for a career-minded writer who was already developing a reputation as a serious literary reviewer and essayist, this foray into the culturally less-regarded medium of television was a brave, and ultimately astute, move. As Melvyn Bragg noted in a 2014 interview with Howard Jacobson:

A television column in those days, it’s what you did when you retired. He got hold of a television column and turned it into something that everyone had to read. He made it his power-base in terms of literary London. Nobody had done that before (Bragg 2014).

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