What do TV presenters and narrators of novels have in common?[*] Both are to some extent fictional, both need to be not only convincing but liked if they are to be successful. (There are of course good novels with hateful narrators, but one of the pleasures of fiction is that it lets us like people we wouldn't in real life.) A difference between them is that TV presenters more often than not share names and, ostensibly, 'personalities' with their creators. The alleged confusion this can cause in impressionable viewers is one of the themes of Mark Lawson's new novel, Going out Live, or Are They the Same at Home? (Picador, £15.99). The narrator is a TV presenter, as, of course, is Mark Lawson. Richard Fleming is not the presenter of BBC2's Review, however; not even in the way that Lawrence Castle, the Prime Minister in the novel, 'is' Tony Blair, and President Riley 'is' Bill Clinton (the novel's set in 1999). In Lawson's imaginings, the President's priapism extends far beyond Monicagate: Riley has been accused of sexually assaulting the wife of the President of Nigeria. The royal family get to be themselves, though, and so does Billy Connolly, alone among broadcasting talent (unless you count Alistair Cooke and Clive James, who provide epigraphs). This may be because Lawson overlooked Connolly when it came to changing the names, or it may be because he forgot Connolly isn't a member of the royal family. 'I think you get into such an alternative Britain, once you start having a Prince Julian,' Lawson said in a recent interview, shrouding the royals in a mystique his satire is meant to disperse from around other kinds of celebrity. Anyway, Fleming Faces is not Review. It's on BBC1 for a start; and it's a chat show, a platform for singers/actors/writers/politicians to plug their new albums/ films/books/policies.
LRB 15 November 2001 | PDF Download