We are coming to the end of another bumper season of literary festivals. From Hay to Edinburgh to Saffron Walden, it sometimes seems that every town and city in the land is getting out the French regional white wine to welcome writers.
At Cheltenham recently, where I was giving a session on travel writing, they told me that overall this year they had sold more than 100, 000 tickets before the festival had even begun – a staggering amount, and far more than they have in the past.
When VS Naipaul gave a talk there a few years ago, just after winning the Nobel Prize, he suggested that the growing success of such events is not accidental; it is because the appetite for such highbrow literary debate is no longer being fed by the BBC. And the Beeb could do well to pay more attention to the phenomenon. There is talk of cutting Newsnight Review on BBC2, the last remnant of The Late Show enterprise that once lit up the channel. Given that it only runs once a week, and after 11.00 at that, this hardly seems a sacrifice that is necessary to make. And nor is the egregious Culture Show any substitute – a much more lightweight magazine format, without the same sort of sustained debate that could make Newsnight Review – or indeed a literary festival – such fun.