Is there really intelligent life beyond the M25?

When people are well-known in London they are assumed to be well- known everywhere
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The Independent Culture
RUNNING MY eye through the BBC radio programmes scheduled for this week, I see that this new London literary festival called "the Word" has done rather well out of Radio 4. On Monday alone we got Start the Week: Radio 4 at the Word, followed by Serial: Radio 4 at the Word, and, late at night, Book at Bedtime: Radio 4 at the Word. Front Row is scarcely unable to stay away from it all week, and Melvyn Bragg has also been unable to resist the temptation in his weirdly titled Thursday chat show, Melvyn Bragg - in Our Time, except that this week it's got the even more cumbersome title, Melvyn Bragg - in Our Time: Radio 4 at the Word.

A couple of puzzling things about this. One is why it's called "the Word" and not "The Word". The other is why it's getting such saturated coverage on Radio 4. After all, this is an untested aeroplane they're taking up for a spin. It is billed, surprisingly, as London's first literary festival, so you'd think they'd give it a year or two to let it get into its stride before giving Radio 4 over to it.

I don't remember such coverage being given to the Cheltenham Book Festival, or Hay-on-Wye, or the Edinburgh Book Festival or even the just-finished book festival at Bath, certainly never in their first year.

So why does a London book festival get all this amazing free coverage? Because it's in London, dum-dum. Everything that happens in London gets greater coverage than things that happen elsewhere in the country.

Why? Because the people who give it coverage also live in London, and the people they work for also live and work in London, and the people who run the BBC and edit the papers live in London, and they would be less than human if they didn't think that everything that happened in London was more interesting than anything that happened elsewhere.

You or I, living outside London, might think it would be more interesting to have a programme about why London is so uncultured that it has never had a book festival before, but you won't get many people in London thinking that's at all interesting. Nobody in London ever imagines London ever being without anything.

Also, it's so very convenient having it all happening in London. You can imagine someone at Radio 4 saying: "Hot diggity, we're going to have all these famous writers like Margaret Atwood, and, um, other very famous people all coming into London at the same time and we can pop them into a taxi one by one and get them into the studios at Broadcasting House, if we've got any studios left at Broadcasting House, that is, to record them cheaply and fill the airwaves with writers talking and reading their stuff, and we'll look as if we're doing our cultural duty, and we won't have to pay travelling or overnight expenses for any of them!"

I am not anti-London. I lived in Notting Hill for 20 years and loved it. It's just that having moved out of London 10 years ago I have gradually come to see how London-centric the press and media are.

It's a thing you remain virtually unaware of when you're London-locked. Women often tell me how much more male-oriented the world looks if you happen to be female. I remember going to Harlem for the first time and suddenly realising what a white view of the world I had.

It's the same with being a Londoner. Having a London view of the world isn't quite as drastic or radical as being conditioned by your gender or colour, of course, but it's still fairly potent and unconscious.

Take last week's guest on Desert Island Discs. Sue Lawley presented Fay Maschler as a very famous and award-winning and distinguished and well- known food writer, which may be true in London, but outside London is a load of curly kale.

How can anyone outside London know who Fay Maschler is? Fay Maschler writes on food for the Evening Standard, which is a local evening paper in the London area. She has no national presence that I am aware of at all. Can you imagine the food critic of the Edinburgh Evening News being asked on to Desert Island Discs?

No, the plain truth is, when people are well-known in London they are assumed to be well-known everywhere, and that anything that is important to Londoners is important to all, which must be a very warming feeling if you live in London, but tends to piss off the very large majority of people who don't and won't live in London.

On the other hand, lots of other interesting things do happen 100 miles from London that never get mentioned in the London papers. I'll take a risk and promise to mention some of them tomorrow.