Greatest Books Ever? No, It Was Just Terrible TV; BBC Literature Shortlist 'Dull and Puerile'
Byline: ROY HATTERSLEY
A BBC shortlist of Britain's 21 favourite books has been attacked as 'dull' and 'puerile'.
Critics suggest several of the novels were chosen not because people read them, but because they enjoyed the screen versions.
The list, from a poll of 140,000 BBC viewers, includes Harry Potter and Winnie the Pooh. Most of the novels have been adapted for cinema or television.
Last night, poet and critic Michael Horovitz said: 'I thought the choices were predictable and reflect the way commerce and television affect our reading habits. I suppose it's inevitable.' Lloyd Evans, poetry editor of the Spectator, said he was very surprised to see Gone with the Wind on the list.
'I don't think I have met anyone who has ever read that book,' he said.
The 21 were whittled down from 100 for BBC2's The Big Read contest. Each author was allowed only one title in the Top 21 - otherwise four of JK Rowling's books would have made it to the list.
The format for the series, which begins on Saturday, will follow that of last year's Great Britons contest, won by Sir Winston Churchill.
Each book will be championed by a celebrity in seven weekly shows before a dramatic final vote.
I SHOULD have known better than to watch. Having played a small part in the BBC Restoration programme - the contest to decide which British ruin most deserved rescuing - I ought to have realised that the celebrity discussion of a television opinion poll is never suitable viewing for adults.
But I retain the sentimental hope that book programmes, no matter how banal, encourage viewers to switch off their sets and start to read.
So I sat, disbelieving, as the BBC's The Big Read revealed the viewing public's choice of the 21 'greatest works ever written'.
The studio discussion was not as bad as I feared but the list! Inevitably, and rightly, it only contained novels. Some of them give fiction a bad name.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell are the pulp equivalent of television soap operas. Their inclusion among the 21 best novels was simply ridiculous.
The same must be said of A A Milne's Winnie The Pooh - a great book for under-fives but hardly the stuff of which Nobel Prizes are made.
Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca and Louis de Bernieres' Captain Corelli's Mandolin are what used to be called 'women's novels'. Then, quite rightly, women refused to accept the insult. …