Orson Welles television vision never quite took off

When we think of Orson Welles and television, the impulse is often to smirk. The innumerable talk-show appearances, though reliably entertaining, couldn't help but seem sad in comparison to his earlier triumphs. And those ads for the likes of Findus frozen foods and Paul Masson wine were hard to take seriously even before viral video made us familiar with Welles's absurd on-set relationship with hack copy, which ranged from perfectionist quibbling to ostensibly drunken slurring.

Fair enough. Such undertakings could hardly be counted among the highlights of any career, let alone one that included Citizen Kane and Chimes at Midnight. But it's worth bearing two things in mind in between chuckles. First, the proceeds from these appearances were invariably funnelled toward one or other of the vibrant creative personal projects to which Welles remained doggedly committed until his dying day, even as they became harder and harder to realise; in this respect, they took the place of cameo movie appearances in his unorthodox personal economy. And second, there was a point at which Welles seemed on the brink of creatively revolutionising television as he had theatre, radio and film.

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