An article about a programme about a book about Hemingway, papa of post-modernism

I HAD TO go up to London the other day and who should I bump into but my old friend Adrian Wardour-Street? Adrian, as you may know, is the doyen of British PR.

"What are you up to," I cried.

"I?" said Adrian, steering me expertly into a passing coffee house. "I am in the business of buying you a coffee. Espresso? Cappuccino? Latte?"

"Latte isn't coffee," I said. "It's the Italian word for milk."

"They are so behind the times in your part of the world," said Adrian. "You'll be telling me next that post-modernism hasn't reached you in the provinces yet."

"I'm not sure if it has or not," I said. "What exactly is it when it's at home?"

"Well, it's the stage that culture reaches when it does more borrowing than creating. At least, I think it is. Pop records created from other records... novels that revisit other novels... films which interpret one period in terms of another... lives of people which might be biographies and might be novels..."

"Was the film Time Bandits post- modernist then?"

"I expect so," said Adrian, vaguely. "This new project of Michael Palin's is sort of post-modernist."

"Palin?" I said. "Lord, what's he up to now? Walking round the world diagonally?"

"No, no - apparently he's retracing Ernest Hemingway's steps through Spain, Cuba, Africa, everywhere. The point is that Michael Palin wrote a novel called Hemingway's Chair, which was about a bloke who is obsessed with Hemingway. Now Palin is making a film in which he himself is obsessed with Hemingway. So the programme will pose lots of post-modernist questions. Like: is it about Palin or about Hemingway? Or is it even about the character in Palin's book? Would Palin make a programme about an author who hadn't gone to such nice places? Is it about the real Hemingway or the mythical Hemingway? See?"


"Well, here's another example. The programme series I'm working on at the moment, which I'm presenting..."

"Which YOU'RE presenting?"

" actually based on lots of other programmes in a very post-modernist way," said Adrian, ignoring me as usual. "I don't know if you ever saw Coast to Coast with Janet Street-Porter?"

"Some of it," I said. "Wasn't it all about Janet Street-Porter bumping into some of her London friends who had been specially driven out into the country for the purpose?"

"Exactly," said Adrian. "Now, this series I'm making is all about MY encounters with people making other programmes. As I journey across Britain I bump into Janet Street-Porter... I encounter the Antiques Road Show and get something valued... I come round a corner and there is Lucinda Lambton inspecting the last Georgian public loo in Rutland... Another corner, and there are Darcus Howe and Peregrine Worsthorne, being terribly interracial on their travels."

"So your programme is a programme which is entirely made up of extracts from other programmes?"

"Yes. But it's cleverer than that."


"Because these bits have never appeared in the other programmes. My encounter with Janet Street-Porter appears in MY programme but not in hers. I get a Victorian pot valued by the Antiques Road Show people - but not for the Antiques Road Show. Only for my programme. So although in a way my programme is all off-cuts from other programmes, and couldn't exist without their existence, yet also what you see is peculiar to my programme."

My head swam.

"And what are you going to call the programme, or the series, rather?"

"The Ultimate Post-Modernist Show."

"Will people know what that means?"

"No. So instead we're going to call it Hello, Mr Palin."

"But is Michael Palin in it ?"

"Not necessarily. But was Hemingway in Hemingway's Chair? Was the Pope in The Pope's Rhinoceros? Was Stalin in Stalin's Nose? Was..."

"When is the series going out?" I said, trying to stem the flood.

"That's the clever thing," said Adrian. "That's the really post-modernist thing about it. It's never going out. We're not doing it for transmission. Must dash. See you - ciao!"

I later found out he had made up the whole idea and it was just a leg- pull. Trouble is, I keep thinking it's actually quite a good idea....