Farewell a Friend: Clive James R.I.P.

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.

2 thoughts on “Farewell a Friend: Clive James R.I.P.

  1. Yes I agree with all of this – it is a sad day. My earliest memories of him are of his Sunday Observer column with his TV reviews – so brilliant and both funny and wise at the same time, I just used to read the Observer for them – phrases lodged in my head about downhill skiers appearing like condoms, about Abba’s rendition of Waterloo on Eurovision, I have the books still but the memory of the reviews is still a potent thing and summons up lazy summer Sundays with me fixing cars. Recently I loved his appearance on Look East when interviewed by Susie Fowler-Watt whom he clearly charmed the pants off – she was so obviously smitten by this lovable man with a brain the size of Australia and charm to match.
    Thanks for this, it seems in these days that those with this kind of decency, wit, and erudition worn lightly (as with Jonathan Miller) are becoming a rare breed indeed.

    1. I can only be thankful that I had chosen several weeks ago to take two hours leave off the end of my shift so that I was home when I found out and didn’t have to show my grief in front of everyone at work.

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