Friday, August 08, 2014

Duncan Fallowell: Why he's given up on star interviews

Duncan Fallowell: The modern
approach to flogging books
In Duncan Fallowell's latest book, The Rise and Fall of the Celebrity Interview: A Personal Account - a long essay best read in one gulp - Tina Brown is blamed for... oh, let's start again. I'm getting ahead of myself.

I've had some personal experience of Mr F. In another age I feature edited the late IPC glossy Woman's Journal. In my first week in the post, following years as a jittery freelancer, I had to deliver on promises made (aka wishes expressed) to the grand editor-in-chief Laurie Purden MBE and produce big-name interviews by writers. Now. Not just hacks, not just "professionals", but prose naturals of the stylised kind. Of the sort likely to take Laurie by surprise. Because nothing bored her more than an expectation confirmed. She wanted to be taken unawares by an expert in seduction. Only people with a voice and a gift for animating their perverse reflexes in the written word would do. Byron Rogers could do it. I did not know DF but he'd already made an impact (on me and innumerable publications). He really did take one's breath away. He'd pissed off Gore Vidal big time. "He's lazy," bitter, angry Gore growled when I mentioned DF in an interview. "He said that I said writers are like cows - I am not a cow." I liked the way DF started his slebby pieces, as if idly picking up on a conversation begun sometime earlier or out of earshot. By some magic he seduced one into thinking that it was worth listening in on, to see what happened next. All an illusion, of course. All artifice. But this is what he calls a celebrity interview. An unfamiliar voyage into the familiar.

So, I made contact with DF from one of the top floors of IPC Towers and before I could say "lunch" he'd delivered the nightclub queen Regine to me from the sunny south coast of France. The piece enraptured Laurie, not normally given to orgasmic display, such was her intimacy with disappointment. I knew I was safe for a while. Yes, DF: you played your part in my survival.

So, let's start again. In his latest book, DF holds Tina Brown responsible (not solely, but majorly) for the destruction of his brand of celebrity journalism in newspapers and glossy magazines. She's to blame for his decision to give up on interviewing the stars. You'll have to read the book to find out how precisely, but the word "corporatism" is repeated. No matter Tina's glory at Tatler/Vanity Fair/New Yorker/Whatever she did not get DF at all. "She became a control freak," writes DF, of her immunity to his interviews that she'd commissioned. Her editorial expectations were narrow; she favoured the "girlie and conventional": she animated the corporate move against "authorial independence" (ie DF's). Her Vanity Fair became a "watertight plastic product which no writer was allowed to upstage with a personal voice." Tina B unleashed the infection of professionalism on a generation of underling and inferior editors anxious to copycat her success in their own name. Bitch.

That aside there's much yummy goss and much reflection on the pleasing by-product of celebrity meet-ups. I won't repeat the Germaine Greer sexual position that was novel even to DF. The John Osborne letters crackle with acid intelligence and guile. Wily Mick Jagger (probably) positioned a certain druggie book title on a table as a nod to DF's chemical treks. Oh, there's much to savour. And there's no malice. Of Tina B, DF remains fond. It's just she's put paid to his career as a celebrity interviewer. Bitch.

Of course, the celebrity interview is still alive and kicking, as cat litter trays everywhere testify. DF does not credit Hello! as another foe, with its seminally inane Q&As and PR-driven drivel, draped around pendants of posy pics of orange skin. The celebrity interviewer (epitomised by the ever self-regarding Piers Morgan) is now favoured, one half of a recorded collision of a double-barrelled marketing campaign to other media, pegged to book/film/whatever releases (as identified in italics at the end).

During my time at Woman's Journal, by far the most successful interview we ran - as measured by headlines generated all over the world - was DF's discourse with Germaine Greer in which she ended up rating lovers by nationality. British men - all homosexual! You can imagine the impact. All achieved by allowing two people of learning to do battle in and on their own terms. Laurie (bless her) felt no need to interfere though she did order me to strike out a "fucking" or two. We were a smart ABC1 glossy after all.

Student hacks (among others) should read this book to script the next retro-revolution in journalism. The online extravaganza of global readerships has scarcely begun - and these billions of the jaded and the seen-it-all will be seeking tit-hardening surprises. Q&As won't do. Mark my words, poppets.

DF's book can be downloaded here now at 99p

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is he the guy who held hands with Quentin Crisp and Arnold Schwarzenegger AT THE SAME TIME?

Anonymous said...

Love love xxxx

Anonymous said...

Tina Brown sells copies. That's Fallowell's problem.

Madame Arcati said...

Yes, deary. And Arnie had his eye on the Kennedys even then. So Quent stood no chance.

Anonymous said...

Sells copies? Magazine sales are way way down

Anonymous said...

Why is Fallowell never mentioned in Can's history? Did he make it up?

Dec/Winter said...

Tragic how Madame tries to write herself into people's histories. The white coats can't be far off.

Anonymous said...

Madam - you're back ! xx

Anonymous said...

Guido Fawkes thinks you're a cunt

Catherine de Bourgh said...

A book for a tablet? What do you think I am: a Sumerian?! Amazon CreateSpace will publish it in print, where I can peruse it properly. With gloves.

Anonymous said...

Madame still here. Good grief. And still not married to Molly Parkin

Mme Hachette said...

What is an "Amazon Single"? Is Amazon now commissioning books? So, not only do they wish to fix the market but create it also. Amazing.

Anonymous said...

I've read this essay of Fallowell's and it's marvellous - but isn't it lost on Kindle? It's not only gossip but also intellectual and is crying out for hard or at least soft covers

Madame Arcati said...

The words shimmer regardless. I'm disposing of several hundred books this week and a wall of shelves thanks to my Kindle.

An 'inferior' editor said...

I have read Duncan's book and must take issue with his sexist views on female editors. He claims they are 'risk-averse' because many of them did not care for his brand of interview. I would say they are more focused. Tina's signature is a more coherent publication with a sense of news and purpose. Duncan's work, though brilliant in many ways, is really just about him. I don't say there's no place for his literary profiles and interviews but could he not at least conform to a certain style and not assume that everything he knows everyone else knows. It's as if he got swallowed up by the Paris Review at some point. Sorry!