John Freeman, the TV interview and Evelyn Waugh


Writing about literature, I did make one significant omission, in part because his most famous novel, Brideshead Revisited, was published in 1945, in part because his instinctive conservatism hardly fitted the narrative of a leftward shift in ‘thirties literature. Waugh was not one of hose authors whose life and work can easily be separated. His first novel, the brilliantly funny and misanthropic Decline and Fall was published in 1928. It’s follow up, Waugh’s first big success, Vile Bodies, a vicious satire on the beautiful people of the ‘twenties. It came out at the same time as Waugh divorced, and that he was received into the Roman Catholic Church; shortly after this Henry Lamb portrait.


Brideshead Revisited echoes the themes in Waugh’s own life: Oxford, youthful dandyism and flamboyant homosexuality, a romantic and yet disillusioned Toryism, faith and the loss of an older and better England.


Today’s Guardian features the obituary of John Freeman, one time minister in Attlee’s government, editor of the New Statesman and diplomat. Between 1959 and 1962, Freeman was the pioneer of the in depth television interview. It is something of a myth that TV took over from radio in the ‘fifties, following on the coronation in 1953. However, by the end of the decade it was becoming the most important medium. Freeman’s interviews, in part because he was given the time to interview at length, in part because of the clever device of not showing the interviewer’s face, instead allowing the camera to focus on the subject. Freeman famously probed the emotional insecurities of the comedian Tony Hancock and The TV personality Gilbert Harding was moved to tears when thinking about his mother’s death.

Read Freeman’s obituary here.

One of Freeman’s subjects was Evelyn Waugh. Waugh was by then famous, if strapped for cash; he did the interviewfor the money, and played a very straight bat, and played up to his public persona. This programme looks back at that interview, talking to Freeman himself.

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