It’s been one of those weeks when one death seems to follow another. Gary Rhodes, a well known and loved TV and Michelin starred chef died suddenly in Dubai. Jonathon Miller one of the stars of ‘Beyond the Fringe’ also passed away last week. Beyond the Fringe was a forerunner of the satire boom of the 1960s. The show was one of the first to debunk figures of the establishment and Miller performed a scathing impression of the then British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. He did this on one notable occasion with him in the audience. This episode was recreated for the Netflix series, The Crown. Alan Bennett another of my favourite writers is the only one of the original cast still with us.
Clive James arrived in the UK from Australia just as Beyond the Fringe was focusing its critical light on the British establishment. He died last Sunday and his death was announced on Wednesday this week. He quickly established himself as a wit, wordsmith and acute observer. For me, as a student in the 1970’s, his Observer newspaper television review was the highlight a Sunday morning. This may sound ridiculous now, but each Sunday, the kitchen tables were piled with all the papers. We spent the whole day drinking coffee eating toast and devouring the papers. He of course became much more renowned in popular culture for his TV shows, starting with Clive James on Television that introduced us all to the wonders of the Japanese game show, Endurance. He made many programmes but for me his skills, verbal dexterity and wit were best enjoyed in his writing. His first autobiography, Unreliable Memoirs, is a total delight. It is one of the few books that I have re-read.
Clive James on his talents – “All I can do is turn a phrase until it catches the light. There was a time when I got hot under the collar if the critics said I had nothing new to say. Now I realise that they had a point. My field is the self-evident. Everything I say is obvious, although I like to think that some of the obvious things I have said were not so obvious until I said them.”
He recorded a number of episodes of ‘A Point of View’ for BBC just over 10 years ago. They are replaying one on BBC Radio 4 today – ‘Clams are Happy’. Have a listen and smile at his verbal and philosophical gyrations. In this he describes a book as ‘a magnum opus that has all the characteristics of a sand dune without the sense of humour’ If you want to listen to more delights like this – there is a selection on his website and the transcripts are all part of his book ‘A Point of View‘.
So farewell to the boy from Kogarah in Sydney. You touched lots of hearts and this one in particular.