To mark the launch of his new memoir Britain’s beloved cultural broadcaster reveals the books that have entertained and enthralled him over the years
As told to: Will Moffitt
The Ultimate Wodehouse Collection by P.G Wodehouse
Wodehouse is some sort of genius, and more importantly, he always makes me laugh. My father loved Wodehouse and we would chat about him. We didn't chat about many books. My dad was a working class man who worked in a factory. You'd think that Wodehouse would’ve been a long way from him, but he found him funny in the same way that I thought he was funny. He makes me laugh and he reminds me of my father.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina is the greatest doomed love story ever told. Tolstoy was at the height of his powers [when he wrote it] in terms of the detail of what went on in the lives of these people. It is so powerful and accurate that you almost can't believe it. This idea of passion and treachery is something that we all feel as human beings. Every time you're just drawn into it. He's made a world on these pages that I would be happy to read again and again.
The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse by Philip Larkin
It's a wonderful collection and it's a bit of a cheat because inside is at least half a dozen poets. There's Thomas Hardy, TS Eliot, and Yeats, so I’d be taking a lot away with me for the price of one. I like poetry and I like having this around to read and dip into. I must have read some of them two or three dozen times, but I never fail to enjoy them.
Just William Box Set by Richmal Crompton
When I was a child I couldn't get enough of these books and I re-read them about two months ago and they were just as funny and well written. There’s this magnificent character, William, with his sister and her boyfriend, and this totally exasperated father.. It’s a wonderful world that she's created. You remember these sentences for the rest of your life. For instance: ’William only knew two sorts of trees, those he could climb and those he couldn’t'.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
I think you can treat Hamlet as a book and I think Shakespeare is the greatest writer. The American art critic Harold Bloom says that Shakespeare's mind is the greatest mind we will ever know and Hamlet is his greatest work. I need to have the greatest work by the greatest mind, and put it between hardcovers and call it a book and I hope I can get away with that. There's so much in it, you read it again and again.