Entertainment People Tears and poetry for Clive James as stars pay tribute to writer and TV critic

Tears and poetry for Clive James as stars pay tribute to writer and TV critic

clive james dies
Clive James, an Australian journalist, joker and intellectual who had a long career as a writer and broadcaster, died in November. He was 80, and had fought blood cancer for a decade. Photo: Getty
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Australian writer and TV personality Clive James has died aged 80, after a long battle with blood cancer.

James died at the weekend, but his death was only announced officially on Wednesday (British time) after a private funeral.

The announcement came almost 10 years after the star of The Clive James Show was first diagnosed with leukaemia, kidney failure and lung disease.

After being told in 2012 that his cancer was terminal, James began preparing for his death.

After saying his goodbyes, he started writing his own obituary, which detailed his rise to literary prominence.

The charismatic author said it would “serve as a cheaper obituary than anything most newspapers are likely to have in the freezer”.

Clive James in Cambridge, in Britain, in 1990. Photo: Getty

On Thursday, fellow prominent Australians and international stars were remembering James as a hilarious, sharp “quintessential” Aussie. His death was announced on the same day as that of Beyond the Fringe satirist and stage director Jonathan Miller, who was 85.

Monty Python star Eric Idle tweeted: “Savage news this morning. To lose one friend is bad but to lose two reeks of carelessness. The beloved hilarious genius Jonathan Miller who dramatically changed my life three times, and dear Clive James my pal at Cambridge. Its a f—ing rainy day in LA appropriate for tears.”

Actor, comedian and writer Stephen Fry said on Twitter: “Clive James and Jonathan Miller – two heroes of mine growing up. Each so wildly and profusely gifted in so many directions.

“Very sorry to think they’re not in this world anymore. And I just heard that Gary Rhodes has been snatched from us too. How very sad.”

Former ITV and BBC boss, Lord Grade, told BBC Radio 4: “[Clive James] had a wonderful conflict within him which he readily admitted. He wanted to be popular and recognised in the street and when he was, he thought, ‘People are not taking me seriously, I’m quite a serious chap’.

“But he did it very lightly, he was not agonising about it, he was observational.

“But he was a very honest critic, a very honest critic and a very honest observer – and funny, funny, funny.”

James had used an experimental leukaemia drug called Ibrutinib to keep him alive.

However, in 2015, he admitted feeling “highly embarrassed” to still be living a year after predicting his imminent death.

The drug’s side effects were almost as dangerous as the cancer itself, he told Event Magazine at the time.

“I thought I was a goner two weekends ago when I woke up at 4.30 in the morning with a tongue bigger than my mouth,” he said.

“It was scary; you can’t believe you can breathe because you can’t swallow. I was nine hours at Addenbrooke’s Hospital getting antihistamines pumped into me through a vein.

“My legs are very weary. They’re heavy and I can’t walk far. So I’m that unwell … but on the other hand, I’m that well. I’m here, I’m talking to you. My brain is apparently working quite well. That’s a tricky one, though – how do you know?”
James arrives at the Royal Albert Hall for the 1997 BAFTA award ceremony. Photo: AAP

In 2012, James separated from his wife of 44 years, Prudence Shaw, after it was revealed he was having an affair with Australian socialite Leanne Edelsten, which lasted eight years.

“I’ve made every possible mistake, but I’m still here, still married, which is incredible. I know I’m lucky to be here,” he said.

He died on Sunday, November 24, at his home in Cambridge. Family and close friends attended his private funeral in the chapel at Pembroke College, Cambridge, on Wednesday.

“He endured his ever-multiplying illnesses with patience and good humour, knowing until the last moment that he had experienced more than his fair share of this ‘great, good world’,” a statement on behalf of his family read.

The announcement brought a huge outpouring of tributes from the worlds of arts and show business.

“Clive James you were unique” TV presenter Gaby Roslin said.

“You were incredibly kind to me and there will never be anyone quite like you. My love and thoughts to his family and friends. A very sad loss of a brilliant man.”

Clive James’ rise to literary prominence

James was born in Kogarah, in southern suburban Sydney, on October 7, 1939.

He was called Vivian, a name he dropped as a child because “after Vivien Leigh played Scarlett O’Hara the name became irrevocably a girl’s name”.

The “Kid from Kogarah” picked Clive from a Tyrone Power film.

He never knew his father, who enlisted when World War II started, was captured in Singapore and survived prisoner of war and labour camps only to be killed when the plane bringing him home crashed.

James studied psychology – erratically – at Sydney University, edited the student newspaper Honi Soit, directed the Union Revue and joined the boozy, libertarian Push. For a year after graduation, he worked on the features pages of The Sydney Morning Herald.

In 1961, James joined the exodus of bright young Australians to England.

James and Emma Thompson at the launch of BBC1’s 1988 program line-up. Photo: AAP

The next three years, if his memoirs are to be believed, mainly involved drinking, lusting and borrowing money, interspersed with brief and disastrous jobs.

In 1972, James began a 10-year stint as The Observer‘s television critic. He produced elegantly written pieces about popular entertainment to a highbrow readership. Many were later published in book form.

At the same time, he began making a name as a literary critic, starting with a 10,000 word valedictory appreciation of the critic Edmund Wilson for the Times Literary Supplement.

A year later came the first of four mock-heroic poems, the best known being Peregrine Prykke’s Pilgrimage Through the London Literary World, which were performed as plays.

In the 1980s, James turned to the novel. His first, Brilliant Creatures, was a best-seller that has been compared with Wodehouse and Waugh; and his fourth, The Silver Castle, is claimed to be the first about Bollywood.

James’ subjects ranged widely. His elegy to Princess Diana: “She was like the sun coming up; coming up giggling.”

On the 2007 Australian election: “Kevin Rudd was clever enough to spot that no other issue really mattered except the incumbent’s hubristic estimation of his own indispensability.”

Despite his multiple ailments, James still brought out a new volume of poetry – Nefertiti in the Flak Tower – in 2012.

By then, a frail, “technically dead” James was living in a Cambridge terrace a couple of blocks from Ms Shaw, who visited regularly.

In 2017 came what he saw as the end of his long goodbye, a final volume called Injury Time. It was followed in 2018 by The River in the Sky, a novella-length verse memoir.

-with AAP

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