The making of… Criterion’s 1984 DVD

It’s eight months since my book George Orwell on Screen came out in America, and I’m still not rich. Far from it, actually. But being a published author has opened doors for me, I must admit.

The very talented AL Kennedy wrote an effusive foreword for it, which pleased me no end, as did the fact that Orwell biographer DJ Taylor named it as one of his books of the year in the Times Literary Supplement. One day in the distant future, I hope, the celebrant will mention this at my funeral.

While Googling myself (don’t knock it, it’s perfectly healthy), I realised that my work was on the shelves of Stanford University. Digging a little deeper, I found that it’s in Harvard and Yale as well. Yes, I know those libraries have millions of books in them. That’s not going to stop me milking the fact that mine’s one of them.

Asked about my ambitions at a job interview 20 years ago, I mused in the manner of the poet Rupert Brooke – bear in mind that I was applying to be a local newspaper hack – that one day, “there’ll be some corner of the British Library that is forever me”. Well, that’s finally happened. The United States Library of Congress too.

Oh, and I did an author talk and signing at the People’s Bookshop, a kind of attic room and Corbynista hangout in Durham. My hosts were very pleasant and welcoming, but of the ten or so people who turned up, no one deigned to buy a copy, let alone ask for my autograph. Good practice for thinking on my feet and babbling on, though.

The best fringe benefit, however, was being filmed in early March by New York-based cineastes the Criterion Collection, who are bringing out a special edition DVD and Blu-ray of Nineteen Eighty-Four in July: that’s the John Hurt/Richard Burton one, released in 1984. I’m the star of a 15-minute featurette, which is as big a thrill as being published in the first place. I’ve always wanted to be a DVD extra.

I recorded this in the library of a boutique hotel in London, before the writer-director Michael Radford turned up and did likewise. This took maybe an hour and 45 minutes, with the Criterion guy asking about previous adaptations and what made Radford’s film stand out. He warned me in advance that it would be heavily edited, with clips to break up my spiel, so now I’m curious about the finished product.

Until Criterion announced the release officially, I kept schtum as best I could. My Google alert for “George Orwell on Screen”, which had been deathly silent since its creation last summer, sprang into life at that point as various movie sites (including one in Japan) reproduced their press release.

If and when DVD enthusiasts start Googling me, I hope this book trailer entertains them. I made it with them in mind.

And when I turned up at the Orwell Society AGM in April, who should be there but David Taylor, who’d been so nice about my book in the TLS. If you watch any of this talk, make sure you watch the first minute, in which he praises it to the skies and implores members to buy a copy.

I’m still not rich, by the way.

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