Quite early on in the history of this website, I was struck by the daunting notion that it would have to finance itself without any capital, because there was no way of accepting investment, or even sponsorship, without yielding the initiative. This decision about foregoing any outside money was made easier by the fact that I have a minus talent for business. Rather than draw up a business plan, I would be pleased to draw up a plan for my own hanging. But the consideration was made irrelevant from the jump by the fact that I somehow knew this website would never be a commercial venture in the conventional sense. This particular intuition of mine proved to be a source of some disturbance to Simon Larcey and Nicholas Watts, my young colleagues on WELCOME STRANGER who designed for me the spin-off platform that would eventually become the site you are looking at now. You couldn't blame them for thinking the Video section I asked them to build might be a potentially lucrative new type of independent television production company. That's exactly what I saw it as, except that I didn't see it as lucrative. The problem thus arose of how to get them to collaborate on a project that would have no immediately foreseeable financial returns. It was at this point, at some terrible pub near Welcome Stranger's office in the depths of Fulham, that I conceived the notion of an alliance.
Basically an alliance is a trade-off by which I supply my name and putative abilities in return for an organization's willingness to pay my expenses, so that they get something they can use while I get something I can keep. The alliance with Welcome Stranger worked out like that. I continued to lend my name and publicity value to IN LONDON, the company that owned Welcome Stranger, while they built the platform that eventually became www.clivejames.com, and also shot and processed the first three series of little Talking in the Library programmes for its Video section. This initial alliance is still going at the time of writing, although I should say, as a declaration of interest, that part of the explanation for the enduring relationship is that I am still among the lucky shareholders of In London, whom I am sure will all one day bless their own initial wisdom, while the company's young directors turn their BMWs into Ferraris by a method other than the one I recommended — i.e. painting them red. So it's in my interest as well as theirs to keep saying, as the site gets bigger and better, that the technicians of the In London subsidiary Welcome Stranger built the platform for this site, as well as for the truly advanced site now operating under their name, and that they are definitely in the business of doing the same for other people.
A second alliance grew out of the first, when the cable channel Artsworld (now called SKY ARTS) saw the video interviews on the site and made an offer to lease them as a package. The resulting revenue helped to defray Welcome Stranger's production and transmission costs. A couple of years later, after I took over the site in my own name and Artsworld was taken over by Sky, the alliance was renewed on more ambitious terms, with Sky Arts undertaking to record and edit the programmes while I undertook to allow a much bigger production team into my apartment. But once again, the twin aims were for Sky Arts to get a series it could transmit on air, and for me to keep the same series for the web. All the young executives at Sky Arts deserve commendation for their foresight in this enterprise, but I should particularly mention the channel's CEO John Cassy and its programme controller Adrian Zak, both of whom understood from the beginning that if I were to maintain the balance of a see-saw with News International looming at the other end of it, I would have to sit a long way from the fulcrum. With the proviso that I keep my distance, however, I couldn't wish for a more productive creative relationship.
Following on immediately from that second alliance, a third was formed with OVATION, the Australian cable arts channel, which also took on all three of the original series of Talking in the Library for repeated transmissions. I need hardly say that for me it was a huge personal patriotic boost to have this happen. Like Sky Arts, Ovation has since gone through a change of ownership, but it still, under the guidance of its key executive Paddy Conroy, generously maintains the connection with this website.
A fourth alliance solved the always threatening problem of webcasting expenses. Because a surge in viewers can put the monthly transmission bill through the roof, it is highly desirable to lay off the risk, and providence intervened in the form of SLATE online magazine in the United States. Owned by the Washington Post, Slate is yet another giant bed-partner by whom it would be fatal to be rolled on during a restless night, but its editor, Jacob Weisberg, not only understood my alliance principle, he pretty well invented it before I did. He was the one who flatteringly said that the first three series of little programmes shot by Welcome Stranger were a reservoir of content that nobody else was doing, and that the best way Slate could continue with its own comparable video arm would be to transmit everything already running on ours, on the understanding that we would go on making more for the future. The arrangement was mapped out during a lunch at the Cantina beside the Thames on a spring day, after which it took about a year to put into effect. It involved a lot of coordinated work by Sky Arts production manager Kate Lovett and my entourage Cécile Menon, but finally a system was nutted out by which the finished programmes, after transmission via satellite by Sky, could be switched to Slate's server and sent out on the web, under the blush-making collective title of the Clive James Show. The transfer to Slate entailed taking down everything that was running already in the video section and bringing it back a batch at a time, a painstaking technological feat of which I am in no position to expound the details, except to say that one of the many advantages of the alliance system is that you can hook up with other people's expertise, rather in the way that computers do to form the web.
A fifth alliance determined the course of the Audio section from its beginnings. After an on-stage dialogue featuring Peter Porter and myself at the Melbourne Festival in the year 2000, Jill Kitson of the ABC RADIO Booktalk programme asked us to develop the occasion into a series of six programmes for the air, to be recorded in the ABC's London studio while she directed the proceedings down the line from Melbourne. Thinking ahead for once in my life, I asked if I could keep the rights to preserve the broadcasts on the web. The ABC generously cooperated, and the result so far has been six complete series of dialogues with Peter Porter, plus several other interviews and solo events recorded either in Britain or in Australia, but always transmitted on the ABC. As the most patriotic of expatriates, I found this, from the beginning, a very satisfactory arrangement. Only when the catalogue of individual programmes had reached well into double figures, however, did it occur to me that the BBC might be persuaded to allow the same latitude.
The sixth alliance is with BBC RADIO 4, whose controller Mark Damazer asked me to write and present a set of programmes under the time-honoured title "A Point of View". Since I retired from mainstream television my schedule had for some reason become more unmanageable than ever, so it was more than a year before I could take Mark Damazer up on his kind offer, which gave him plenty of time to consider my absurd request that I should be able to webcast the programmes for keeps after the BBC had finished with them on the air and on their website. With an imaginative sympathy seldom heard of among broadcasting executives at his level, he gave me the green light. The biggest media giant of the lot had relaxed its giant hand, on whose open palm I danced like a liberated pixie.
A seventh alliance was there from the beginning, but I was slower to spot it than the ally was. Andrew Kidd, head of publishing at PICADOR, could have seen my wish to run pieces of my recent books, and virtually the whole of some of my older books, as an intrusion. Instead, he saw it as an opportunity. Perhaps his reasoning about my proposed venture was darker than that: if it failed, nobody would notice, and if it worked, it could only increase my marketability as an author. Anyway, the latter possibility now looks like being right. My late friend Mark Boxer once interrupted a drunken fit of rhetorical self-belittlement on my part by tartly insisting: "Fame pays." As usual, he was correct. Ideally it should be the right kind of fame, but either way, the awkward truth is that even in the world of the dedicated arts it always helps to have your name known. A device like this website is a way of doing so even in a state of ex-celebrity. You can take centre-stage without laying claim to any space. The trick is to make people find your personal theatre, which is just a pin-point in the void. It ought to be impossible. Strangely enough, however, word of mouth works in the web-wide world: works, in fact, like a trail of gunpowder. All you need is the means to keep going, and to make sure that whoever provides the means doesn't call the tune. The answer to that is to find a provider who wants your tune and not his. The answer is an ally.
Within a few short years after I conceived it out of sheer necessity, the alliance idea has proved itself in reality. All I can say at the moment is that I hope it can go on proving itself. In theory, all media organizations should benefit from independent producers of content. In practise, every media organization wants to control them from within its own house. But that, I believe, is a rap that can be beaten, as long as you don't mind not being as rich as your ally, and as long as he doesn't mind that you keep your freedom. It's a whole new chance. Watch this space for more.
— March, 2007