In these recent years when the famous and the meaningful seem to have been leaving us with a frequency that’s been painful, one of the few things to cheer me has been the unfailing regularity with which I have woken up every day to find that the death of Clive James has not been announced. But everything comes to an end and, after many years in which Clive has been expected to die of his leukeamia, that unbroken record has ended.
I first encountered Clive James, unknowing, in 1970. There was a single, ‘The Master of the Revels’, by Pete Atkin, an odd, jaunty little tune with unusual instruments, crisp lyrics and an indefinable air of melancholy that seemed odd in amongst all the professional jauntiness. The sing was much beloved by Kenny Everett, and played every Saturday morning until he was sacked from the BBC for an unfortunate joke that, in those years of greater deference, was not to be tolerated. I did not know then that the lyrics to the song were written by Clive James.
I was more aware of him in 1973, when he hosted Granada TV’s Cinema, but my real real introduction came in the Eighties, when I borrowed the second collection of his Observer TV column from the Library. From then on, I was hooked. And nearly ruptured one Friday night, reading one of these books in my bedroom whilst my sister in her bedroom was trying to sleep: have you ever tried to laugh hysterically in silence?
From then on, I have bought practically every book Clive James has published. A friend lent me the six albums by Pete Atkin, then long-deleted, and I taped and played them in the car, incesssantly, and slowly built up my own collection. And I joined Midnight Voices, then an internet mailing list for fans of Pete and Clive. I got to see Pete Atkin at Buxton Opera House, and unexpectedly Clive James had joined him.
But it all comes back to the words, to the things being said and the way in which they are being said, and whilst I am in awe of how they are being said, for I love words and the ways they can be put together, this would be meaningless without the content. Clive James always wrote about something, not merely for the sake of writing. And he wrote things that I recognised and understood and that I could, given a higher degree of ability, have written myself. I like that.
And it’s come on a day when the celebrity chef, Gary Rhodes, and Jonathan Miller have preceded him into that twilight. Goodnight, Clive, you made this life wonderful with your writings, your lyrics and your poems. Somewhere in the beyond, you will be sitting in an outdoor cafe overlooking Circular Quay, the typewriter full of shells, the sky full of sun and the blue water, your notebook open, forever.
Farewell a Friend.
Time has finally found the time.