For some time now, the world has been aware that Clive James – Australian author, columnist, television and book reviewer, lyricist and poet – is terminally ill.
I have been an admirer of his from the days long ago when he made his name in Britain as The Observer’s television critic and went on to anchor a huge range of chat, film review and documentary television shows.
About a year and a half ago I bought a paperback copy of his autobiography Unreliable Memoirs, which essentially covered his childhood in suburban Australia through to his arrival and early adventures in Britain, simply because I had enjoyed it so much when originally published in 1980 and wished to see if it still tickled my fancy.
Without doubt, it remains one of the most thought-provoking and amusing books I’ve ever come across.
When I first read it, thirty-plus years ago now, it was perhaps not the first book ever to cause me to laugh out loud, but it was certainly the first one with the ability to do so repeatedly. Sometimes, even days or months later, I would be reduced to hysterics whenever one of its memorable episodes came into my mind by chance.
I would defy anyone to read the passages where James, from his boyhood perspective, recounts the time an elderly relative (I think it was) suddenly ejects a piece of food from his mouth like a tracer bullet, or when James himself test-drove his self-built box-car down the hill on his home street, without being overtaken by involuntary mirth.
But that was then.
Featuring today on the website of The Guardian is a new interview with Clive James on the occasion of the publication of what may be the last poems to be published in his lifetime – see here – THE GUARDIAN