A project dear to my heart, the eight-part television series Fame in the 20th Century, produced by Richard Drewett and Beatrice Ballard, was videotaped in 1992, screened in Britain, the United States and Australia, and later vanished beyond hope of recovery, since every inch of footage in the gigantic compilation belonged to some agency legally equipped to charge the Earth. But there was an accompanying book, published both in Britain and the US, which contained the text almost exactly as I read it out on screen. The text was primarily meant to work along with the visuals in the kind of combination that music and lyrics achieve when the Gods feel generous, but I took care even at the time to write it as if it might have to survive on its own. This indeed proved to be the case, and perhaps it was owing to a judgment by those same Gods that the book went out of print in short order. But I remained proud of some of the things I said in it; there were critics —Neil Kinnock was one of them — who said that the book treated an important theme; and in the next generation there were writers who kindly said that I had described the Celebrity Culture before it had a name.
It hardly needs saying that I would not be grasping at these straws of approval if I felt that my book, along with the show that gave birth to it, had been properly remembered. Instead, it had disappeared. But not long after I started building this site, it occurred to me that here was the proper place for the text to be preserved, perhaps even with some of its illustrations. Henriette Guthauser has undertaken the immense task of preparing the text for transfer to the web, and Dawn Mancer will push the buttons. My task, as of October 2010, is to assure any reader who stumbles into the building site in the next few months that eventually there will be something worth looking at. I myself look forward to illustrating the complete text with pictures drawn from the web. Normally I would have waited until the whole thing was ready before announcing it, but I have been quite ill this year, and it seems wise to make a public beginning on such a project, so as to provide myself with a stronger motive for finishing it. When the full text is in place I promise to take down this perhaps somewhat melodramatic paragraph and replace it with an introduction of fitting dignity. After all, I still think I never wrote anything better, even if some of the necessarily short sentences come perilously close to giving the impression that they might have been intended as sound-bites. As I have said elsewhere, and perhaps too often, the sound-bite is a sub-literary form that I am inclined to distrust, if only because it is a staple of the Celebrity Culture at its most mindless. But sometimes,when laying out a subject in a linear historical format, it doesn’t hurt to be forced to cleave close to the patterns and rhythms of ordinary speech.