Sylvia Clayton

Sylvia Clayton who from 1967-1983 reviewed television for the Daily Telegraph, is working on her sixth novel. Her screen credits include Preview, a play about television critics.


Sylvia Clayton, 5 April 1984

Nadine Gordimer continues to send sane, humane reports from the edge of darkness. In her finest stories she fixes authoritatively the experience of her South African characters, who exist in the shadow of a gun. They are menaced by repressive laws, unpredictable violence and a cruel historical process; their small domestic treacheries can carry a fatal undertow of danger. In this latest collection her tone remains cool, diagnostic, her brilliant camera eye unfazed. Even in a few pages she produces not a tentative sketch but a finished drawing. She places her figures exactly in the landscape, and the contrast between their precarious lives and her own controlled poise yields a high imaginative tension.

Rainy Nights

Sylvia Clayton, 1 March 1984

‘If ever there was a Christ-like man in human form, it was Marcus Lowe,’ said Louis B. Mayer, head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, in tribute to a colleague. Graham Greene was listening at the time and impaled the phrase in an essay which traps precisely the earnest fulsomeness of Hollywood speech. ‘I understand Britishers,’ Mayer went on, ‘I understand what’s required of a man they respect and get under their hearts.’ The occasion was a pre-war film-promotion lunch at the Savoy, but still today the show-business style of sentimental hyperbole lingers on. You can hear it in the banquet banalities with which people in the entertainment industry present awards to each other; it seeps into passages of Caroline Moorehead’s biography of Sidney Bernstein. ‘In every field, whether art, medicine, the sciences or technology,’ she begins, ‘there are a few figures who stand out, not only for their personal achievements, but for the way they always seem a little in advance of what is about to happen. It is at limes as if they were possessed of a kind of prescience, a prophetic understanding of what should come next.’ Since Sidney Bernstein’s prophetic understanding has consisted chiefly in a canny, highly profitable judgment of popular taste, in knowing when to pull out of music hall and invest in films or television, or turn super-cinemas into bingo halls, the fanfare seems overblown. As the publishers claim, he has played a significant part in almost every development of the British entertainment industry this century. He has never, however, been an innovator, like his friends Alfred Hitchcock and Noel Coward; he has helped-creative talent to flourish, but always as a promoter, a showman. It was his idea to hang a picture of P. T. Barnum in every office in Granada Television. He is arguably the most successful of the television barons.

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