We remember Clive James (1939-2019)

by |November 28, 2019
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“Fiction is life with the dull bits left out.”

Clive James

Today, Australia mourns the death of Clive James, who passed away last Sunday at the age of 80 after a 9-year battle with leukaemia and emphysema.

Born Vivian Leopold James to former P.O.W. Albert Arthur James and factory worker Minora May on 7 October, 1939, the ‘Kid from Kogarah’ was a treasured Australian poet, critic, essayist, novelist, broadcaster, translator and memoirist.

A keenly intelligent child who reportedly scored 140 on an IQ test, Clive was awarded a bursary to Sydney Boys High School but chose to attend Sydney Technical High School instead. Later, he studied English and Psychology at the University of Sydney from 1957 to 1960, from which he graduated with honours, and was associated with the Sydney Push, a Sydney-based group of anti-authoritarian left-wing intellectuals that included Robert Hughes, Germaine Greer and Eva Cox. After moving to London in 1962 and pursuing further literary studies at Cambridge, Clive’s career as a prominent critic and author began in earnest.


The UK first edition of Cultural Amnesia

Clive James was the chief television critic for The Observer from 1972 to 1982, and was a regular contributor to publications such as The New York Review of Books, The Australian Book Review, The Atlantic Monthly and The Times Literary Supplement. He was also a popular television presence, hosting shows such as Clive James on Television, Saturday Night Clive and The Late Show, and he also produced the documentary series Fame in the 20th Century.

His work as a novelist, essayist and memoirist earned him admiration and acclaim in equal measure, particularly for his books Unreliable Memoirs (1980) and Cultural Amnesia (2007). Poetry remained a lifelong passion, and he published five volumes of his own work over the course of his lifetime, as well as lyrical collaborations with the musician Pete Atkin. He was also a talented translator who produced translations of a number of famous texts, most recently of Dante’s The Divine Comedy.

Clive James is remembered by those who met him as an engaging personality – a wonderful scholar and cultural critic, but also an icon of the working class with a larrikin sense of humour that was couched in brilliant wordsmithery.

I’ll leave you with the words of our very own Robert O’Hearn, who had the great privilege of meeting Clive on a few occasions:

“Clive used to love bookshops and happily frequented a store that I used to manage. On perhaps his last visit to Australia in 2007, I was lucky to have a long chat with Clive as he obligingly signed our copies of Cultural Amnesia. I remember being struck by how immediately comfortable he was to talk with. It was like chatting with an old friend. He carried on a conversation so effortlessly, you didn’t have to work at connecting. He had a prodigious intellect, with deep knowledge on so many things (a treasure trove he shared generously and without pretension). He always seemed upbeat and considerate, always humorous but with a sensitivity. We need more people like him. I miss him already.”

Visit Clive James’ Author Page

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About the Contributor

Olivia Fricot is the Editor of the Booktopian Blog. After finishing a soul-crushing law degree, she decided that life was much better with one's nose in a book and quickly defected to the world of Austen and Woolf. You can usually find her reading (obviously), baking, writing questionable tweets, and completing a Master's degree in English literature. Just don't ask about her thesis. Olivia is on Twitter and Instagram @livfricot - follow at your own risk.

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