Television Review

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
"IF YOU REALLY want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."

The opening sentence of The Catcher in the Rye, and therefore the first thing by J D Salinger that anybody is likely to read, is a poke at biography. And as if to show that he meant what he wrote, after the book was published, in 1951, Salinger slipped out of public view and made his own life a no-go area for fans, journalists and would- be biographers.

Since 1965, the last time he published anything, Salinger has maintained an unbroken silence in public, and is now almost as famous for being America's greatest literary recluse as for writing The Catcher in the Rye. The trouble with last night's Close Up (BBC2) - entitled, appropriately enough, "J D Salinger Doesn't Want to Talk" - was that it got more interested in the phenomenon of celebrity than in the work.

No writer's life is completely separate from his work, and Salinger's less than most - in his last interview for the press, conducted by a schoolgirl journalist and then picked up by papers across America, he admitted that Holden Caulfield, narrator of Catcher, was largely based on himself. This programme did add to the relatively scanty store of public information about his life. A cousin, Jay Goldberg, came forward to say that he thought Salinger's parents were very jolly and nice. A schoolfriend, Alfred Sanelli, talked of how they had both rebelled against the regimented life of Valley Forge Military Academy (though since he was now General Sanelli, you guessed his rebellion was less deep-rooted). Most importantly, Joyce Maynard, who at 19 became the much older author's lover, spoke of their austere life together in rural New Hampshire, where breakfast might consist of frozen peas run under a warm tap.

But when it came to the work, the programme had little to say - of The Catcher in the Rye, it blandly stated that it had created "a new vocabulary for teen rebels everywhere"; the rest of his work was barely mentioned. On this showing, the most important fact about The Catcher in the Rye was that Mark Chapman was carrying a copy when he shot John Lennon; while the most important thing about Salinger was that he didn't give interviews. You could see from this exactly why J D Salinger doesn't want to talk.

Hoddle and the Healer (C4), by contrast, looked at a man whose problem has been knowing when to shut up - not that you would guess it from this shoddily uncritical piece of propaganda for spiritual healing and Glenn Hoddle personally. At one point, Hoddle said that if Eileen Drewery had accompanied the England squad to France last year, she would have been able to help David Beckham with the pressures and even stop him getting sent off. The people who made this nonsense really ought to be punished, but I suppose we'll have to wait for the next life to see that happen.