You ask the questions: Melvyn Bragg

(Such as: Melvyn Bragg, which waterproof fabric do you recommend for outdoor sex?)

Doyen of arts broadcasting, Labour peer and presenter of The South Bank Show, Melvyn Bragg, 58, was born in Wigton, Cumbria. He went to Oxford in 1957 and then joined the BBC as a general trainee. He published his first novel at the age of 26. Married with three children, Melvyn lives in London and Cumbria.

How do you now `start the week'?

John O'Byrne, Dublin.

Relaxed.

Did it embarrass you winning the `Literary Review's' Bad Sex in Fiction Prize? If sex is a stumbling block for many fiction writers, which author's descriptions do you think are the most convincing?

Jonathan Fowler, Peterborough.

Yes, even though Auberon Waugh confessed that he had given it to me just for publicity.

I think I came quite near writing well about sex in A Time To Dance. I think I can improve on that but do not know whether the opportunity will arise. It is ridiculously difficult. Updike does it very well but he seems to leave out love. DH Lawrence, given his context, is still marvellous. The problem is pornography. It is utterly reductionist but, like all propaganda, very sure of itself. The love-in-sex experience is poetry to pornography and much more difficult.

a)Who's been your most interesting interviewee?

b)Who's been the most difficult to interview?

Jayne Grant, Brighton.

a)Too many. Mailer, Bacon, Bellow, Heaney, Bergman, Lean...

b)Dennis Potter, Nureyev.

As a Labour sympathiser, how can you justify an institution like the House of Lords?

Tim Nelson, Colchester.

I can't. That is why I have taken the job to help change it radically. I hope.

Do you believe in God?

Henry R Peterson, Camden.

I believe there is an originating intelligence and pattern, maybe with a purpose.

Given the choice of anyone in history, who would you most like to appear on the `South Bank Show'?

Simon Marks, Walsall.

Socrates.

Which was the last restaurant you visited and what did you eat?

Catherine Poole, Ipswich.

San Daniele, which is next to the Arsenal ground. Italian Salad and then John Dory.

What hair products do you use?

Suzanne Brooks, Elton.

Very little. Occasionally I use a bit of transparent goo to stamp it down.

How would you introduce yourself if you were the subject of a `South Bank' retrospective?

Damien Lewis, Nottingham.

A clear noose so here's the head. Best known as Editor/Presenter of Arts programmes. Wide spectrum. Tells story about artists through their works and well-made films as lucidly as possible. Novelist, mainly regional. Then set out one or two themes with which to kick the programme off.

Do you regret not having devoted yourself solely to writing?

Lesley Price, Manchester.

Sometimes. But I did not earn enough money to keep myself and my family as a writer until my mid-40s, by which time I was heavily involved in, and enjoying, being an arts editor. The two do not clash, although time can be a problem.

Which author do you admire most?

Dan Hamilton, Streatham.

Shakespeare.

What's the biggest advantage of having a title - is it on your cheque book?

Jeremy Ross, Stevenage.

I have discovered no advantages of it so far. My cheque book will stay unaltered and some day, I hope, will again be accurate.

Goretex, Barbour or cagoule - what do you recommend for lying out on for sex in the afternoon?

Leo Daniels, Epsom.

I don't do adverts.

What do you think about Carlton Television taking over Arsenal?

S Penrice, Highgate.

I am surprised these takeovers have been so long in coming. The clubs have a duty to defend the fans and I hope they take that seriously.

What's your biggest weakness?

What's your biggest strength?

Michelle Patterson, Richmond.

I'll keep that to myself.

No idea.

What do you count as your proudest achievement?

Katy O'Donnell, Isle of Wight.

The children (sorry for the embarrassment).

If you had a day of leisure tomorrow, where and how would you spend it, and who with?

Sara Archer, Ross-on-Wye.

I'd like to be totally alone in my favourite part of Cumbria walking throughout the day, reading, listening to music and having a couple of glasses in the evening.

What single thing would you most like to change about cultural life in Britain?

Isabel Parry, Whitstable.

The seemingly ineradicable snobbery. Not elitism but snobbery.

What's your favourite television programme at the moment, excluding the `South Bank Show'?

Tony Gourley, Fulham.

Any drama by our best British writers - McGovern, Bennett, Bleasdale, Curtis/Elton/Weldon, La Plante, Wood, Mellor... and Frasier.

What would you most like to see in the Millennium Dome?

Jennifer Healy, East Dulwich.

A dome-sized replica of the human brain.

Does giving a bit of money to the Labour Party salvage your conscience about being a wealthy socialist?

Rory Ainsworth, Norfolk.

I have no conscience about being a wealthy socialist. I supported the Labour Party when I was broke and I still support it. I have earned my money in the competitive worlds of commercial TV and books. I must say I think the questioner here is a rather sad case. We should all be wealthy socialists.

What advice would you give to aspiring broadcasters and writers: how has the business changed since you started?

Julian Druker, Northampton.

Broadcasters: Try for any on -air work you can get - student radio, cable TV. Anything that reaches an audience.

Writers: Write until you think something is good enough to send off to an agent and publisher. Working on a good newspaper/magazine helps in many ways.

In broadcasting and publishing, there is much more pressure but there are still more opportunities. Broadcasting is expanding and will continue to do so. It is much more of a business than when I started.

What will be your epitaph?

John O'Byrne, Dublin.

Why did You only give us one shot at this?

You Ask The

Questions

Next Week: Bjork, Then Following, Camille Paglia

Please send any questions you would like to put to singer Bjork and feminist author Camille Paglia to: You Ask The Questions, Features Dept, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL; by fax on 0171-293 2182; or e-mail them to: yourquestions@ independent.co.uk by lunch time on Friday, 2 October

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