Clive James


Clive James AO CBE FRSL, writer, poet and broadcaster. Born: 7 October 1939 in Kogarah, Australia. Died: 24 November 2019, Cambridge, aged 80 C live James, the Australian journalist, joker and intellectual who had a long career as a writer and broadcaster, has died. He was 80.

James' representatives, United Agents, said he died on Sunday at his home in Cambridge.

James been diagnosed with leukemia and emphysema, and he suffered kidney failure in 2010. "I am a man who is approaching his terminus," James said in 2012. He later assured well-wishers that he intended to live a few more years - and he did, continuing to write and broadcast until almost the end.

"Clive died almost ten years after his first terminal diagnosis, and one month after he laid down his pen for the last time," United Agents said. "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'."

The poet, essayist, author and entertainer had a gift for tickling the divergent sensibilities of the readers of highbrow literary magazines and the audiences of TV in the UK, his adopted home.

James was treasured for his comic gift, such as describing Arnold Schwarzenegger as looking like "a brown condom stuffed with walnuts".

In one of his best-remembered book reviews, James pronounced an official Soviet biography of President Leonid Brezhnev so dull that "if you were to recite even a single page in the open air, birds would fall out of the sky and dogs drop dead".

James, in his self-deprecating way, once imagined an acquaintance describing him as "the boy from the bush who could quote [Ludwig] Wittgenstein," the philosopher. He was born in 1939 in the Sydney suburb of Kogorah. He was an only child whose father survived a Japanese Second World War prison camp only to die on the flight home, when his son was six.

Though James said he had no memory of his father, he looked back on his father's death and his mother's despair as the defining moment of his life. "I understood nothing except that I could not help," he wrote in Unreliable Memoirs, the first of five autobiographical volumes. "Eventually in my mid-30s I got a grip on myself," he added. "But there can be no doubt that I had a tiresomely protracted adolescence, wasting a lot of other people's time, patience and love."

Christened Vivian after Australian tennis star Vivian McGrath, James won permission from his mother to choose an unequivocally masculine name. He picked Clive from the character played by Tyrone Power in the 1942 film This Above All.

A scholarship for war orphans paved his way to Sydney University, for which he claimed to be unprepared.

But he read hungrily, contributed to the school's literary journal and became its editor. …

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