Melvyn Bragg: You ask the questions

(Such as what do you think UK television will be like in 10 years? And will you ever change The South Bank Show's theme tune?)
Click to follow

The writer and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg was born in 1939 in Cumbria, where his parents ran a pub. After reading Modern History at Oxford he joined the BBC as a trainee, and wrote his first novel, For Want of a Nail, four years later. He has written some 20 other books - the past three of which are loosely based on his early life. In 1978, he started ITV's flagship arts programme, The South Bank Show. In 1998, Bragg was made a Labour peer. He is married with three children and divides his time between London and Cumbria.

Do you ever wish that you had decided to work in the family pub instead of going to university?
Eleanor Kirby, London

No. Working in a pub is bloody hard work. If I hadn't gone to university, I'm sure I would have found a way to get into teaching and been every bit as happy as I am now.

There have been claims in the press that you are a member of that new social group, the metrosexuals (heterosexual men who are in touch with their feminine side). Are you?
Janis Lusby, Liverpool

Oh God. All I can say is that, having had it explained what a metrosexual is, I have no problem with the description!

What do you think UK television will be like 10 years from now? Will reality TV have strangled everything else?
Katy Lowe, London

I don't think it will be that different. Reality TV is having its heyday, but it's a question of the pendulum. People will get tired of it. What will be constant in British television is well-written drama about everyday lives. That's what the British public have wanted since television began and there's no reason why they'll stop wanting it.

What's your favourite regional English word?
Hannah Smith, by e-mail

I quite like the word "laik", which means "to play", and "gangen", which means "to go". They're both Scandinavian words used in Cumbria where I grew up. I spoke a very strong Cumbrian dialect until I was 13 or 14 and I still can, but I never do because I'd feel very self-conscious. It's a little embalmed thing somewhere in the back of my mind, moldering away.

Which South Bank Show interview do you consider the most revealing?
Charlotte Smith, Peterborough

Francis Bacon. I'd known him for over 20 years and when he eventually agreed to do the interview, he was prepared to give everything. Both of us got what can only be described as rather drunk, and he revealed himself in a way that was wonderful. I, emphatically, don't mean that he revealed his homosexual life - which was totally beside the point and taken for granted - but rather that he revealed himself as an "optimist about nothing", as he put it. He was a nihilist who despised almost every work of art in the world and who had a totally unyielding tunnel-vision about his painting.

Do you think our use of punctuation has gone down the tubes?
Harry Richards, London

Not really. The thing about punctuation - and our language as a whole - is that we know it will change. Text messaging will change language - when enough people know what these abbreviated words mean, they will start to infiltrate the language and enter dictionaries. However, I am a bit of an apostrophe person myself. I'm not going to go to any party that says, "Farewell to the apostrophe."

Do you have any heroes?
Ron McCarthy, New Mexico

Heroes are for children, I think, and mine were the cricketer and footballer, Dennis Compton, and Alf Tupper, a comic book character. Tupper was a runner who wore a mouldy vest with a wolf's head on it, but ran the first four-minute mile. He was a working-class lad who just got on with it, and he was obviously written well enough for his adventures to stay in my head.

How useful is alcohol as an aid to the interviewer?
Jemima Green, Manchester

Very useful in the case of Francis Bacon, but basically I'm an alcohol-free interviewer. You need all your wits about you.

To what extent are your past three novels an autobiography in disguise?
Paula Nethersell, Birmingham

I think they are best described as fiction disguised as autobiography. There's no doubt that the line of life of the main characters - Joe and his father and mother - follows my line of life and that of my parents. I was born just before the Second World War; my father was away in the war for several years; I went to a grammar school; I had an intense relationship with a girl when I was between 16 and 18 years old and so on. Yet everything about these books is fiction. Joe becomes increasingly unlike me as the books progress. Two or three things are the same - I had very painful troubles with out-of-body experiences in my early adolescence. They lasted for two years or more so I share that with him. But I think I was a lot cockier than Joe is. I can see things in Joe that are slightly nicer than me.

Joe is a fictional creation because whenever I try to remember accurately what happened to me in those years I seem to get it wrong more than I get it right. For instance, the girl who I talk about in Crossing the Lines rang up recently, and said about one of the scenes: "You got that wrong. It wasn't like that at all." I thought, "Good - thank God for that. I made it up!"

You have said that you regret having published The Silken Net, which you wrote following the suicide of your first wife. Do you now keep a greater distance between your life and your writings?
Jon Norton, Uckfield

It's an interesting question, but a very difficult one to answer. I think there's a bit more distance now, but whether that's a good thing, I don't know. Everything you write comes out of yourself, but your experiences are only one strand. Other things happen to you: imagination, other people's experiences, the lives you didn't live...

Do you agree that the House of Lords should be entirely appointed? Will it have any credibility unless they are, to some extent, democratically elected?
Benjamin Rodriguez, Southampton

The House of Lords should be 100 per cent elected. Of course it is contradictory to accept a life peerage, yet wish for an elected chamber, but the fact is that the constitution we have just wouldn't work without the second house. We work harder than the Commons, even though we're unpaid. With the Communications Bill, about a dozen of us amended 133 clauses, changing the Bill radically and in great detail. It would have been a far, far worse Bill otherwise. This happens again and again.

Would you consider changing the theme tune for the South Bank Show? The current one, by Andrew Lloyd-Webber, has been used for years!
Lola Harris, Barking

No, I think it's a damn good tune: it's a late 20th-century re-working of a classical theme by Paganini. It does its job extremely well and holds up 20 years on. Why change it? You're not going to change the name of The Independent, are you?

'The Adventure of English 500AD-2000AD', by Melvyn Bragg, is published by Hodder & Stoughton (£20)