Australia's `Finest Export' in Greater Demand Than Ever; Chatting with an Aussie Icon Can Lift the Spirits as Lew Baxter Discovers over a Natter with Clive James

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), May 2, 2003 | Go to article overview

Australia's `Finest Export' in Greater Demand Than Ever; Chatting with an Aussie Icon Can Lift the Spirits as Lew Baxter Discovers over a Natter with Clive James


Byline: Lew Baxter

HE may well disarmingly cringe at the epithet that he's the thinking woman's crumpet, yet having wracked up more than 20 books to his name and sporting an inherent love of poetry, the truth is that Clive James is an extremely civilised sort of bloke. There's a reluctant mutter of acknowledgement that perhaps he's something of an intellectual bolted on to the barnstorming television celebrity humorist, who for years persuaded jaded viewers to switch on and wallow in his lyrical banditry.

Clive confesses he hates talking to journalists even though that's how he made a crust for years: he was the Observer TV critic for a chuckle making decade and first smote with the pen as a rewrite man on the Sydney Morning Herald after university. His editor was the cryptic Angus Maude, who Clive reveals also flew the Aussie coop, winding up as one of Mrs Thatcher's acolytes.

``It's probably because I am a lousy interviewee, giving out long rambling answers,''he says,but must grasp that this is a Godsend to hacks driven to despair by the monosyllabic grunts of boy and girl bands with less life experience than a Californian fig.

``As the years go by,I suppose I am always grateful for the attention,'' remarks Clive with that self-deprecatory tone that implies he's joshing.

It's a twee cliche,but James was a household name in Britain at one point in a career that has spanned over 30 years.He's our very own adopted Aussie mouthpiece: often brash but sprinkled with a rare antipodean sophistication.

He sprang onto the small screen like a breath of fresh Barrier Reef breeze in 1982 with an amiable manner that ensured his popularity and kept him in bread and fishes; his last television was a series entitled Monday Night Clive in 1999.

His three volumes of autobiography - Unreliable Memoirs,Falling Towards England and May Week Was In June - added to his literary gongs while his collected Observer weekly column - Visions Before Midnight and The Crystal Bucket - were bestsellers.

Just for the craic,he strode the stage in Barry McKenzie Holds His Own in the early 1970s and The Secret Policeman's Ball less than 10 years later.

So,as he canters gently,in his own inimitable fashion,into his sixth decade, some could wonder what he's up to banging around Britain's small theatres peddling poetry,music and affable chat in a relaxed partnership with his old mucker Pete Atkin.

Who's Pete Atkin, you are probably thinking, scratching your heads.``Yeah, well he's a genuinely highly regarded radio producer - his last job was as head of the BBC network radio for the South and West of England,'' says Clive in a verbal herogram to his pal.

But Atkin is also a much underrated and prolific singer and songwriter; another of those supremely talented individuals who just hover around the rim of the super-trouper spotlight while others are slammed in the glare.

The cream of Britain's rock and jazz session musicians hold him in high regard and a recording collaboration with Clive James in the formative years of the 1970s could have catapulted them to. ..well,fame and a treasure trove.

They'd met at Cambridge - where Clive picked up an English degree - and earned stripes with the celebrated Footlights Dramatic Club. As a duo they then had a bash at chart-busting some 30 years ago. Pete wrote the music, Clive James penned the words.

They produced six commercially focused - and critically lauded - albums of their admittedly eclectic range of songs,laced with ironic humour and acute observation. ``Problem was they were not commercial enough,''admits a lugubrious Clive with a chuckle as he chalks up another promotional tub thumping chat about the impressive thirty-date trawl around Britain that kicked off yesterday in Wales at Theatr Hafren in Newtown, with Chester and Swansea in their sights next week. …

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