November 30, 2019

RIP: Clive James, Writer, TV Host And Cultural Critic, Dies At 80.

His friend and fellow satirist P.J. O’Rourke marvels at James’ way with a phrase, no matter what he was writing.

“He was that rare person who could do any kind of writing,” O’Rourke said. “His memoirs … are wonderful and very un-self-indulgent, unlike the modern version of that genre. He was a good novelist. Brrm! Brrm! is lots of fun. He’s an excellent poet, one of the best living poets in the English language. And of course, he was a critic.”

O’Rourke — who is not a regular TV viewer — even delighted in James’ reviews of that medium.

“His television criticism was so good that I have read all of it, even though I haven’t the likeliest idea what he’s talking about, because I’ve never seen any of the shows,” jokes O’Rourke.

Among the flood of tributes to James, Veep creator and movie director Armando Iannucci tweeted: “I used to practically hug The Observer in spasms of laughter reading Clive James’ TV reviews; ‘The Crystal Bucket’ is one of the funniest books around. And ‘Cultural Amnesia’ is an amazing book for reminding you that thinking can be joyful. His influence is incalculable.”

James didn’t just observe from the sidelines. He spent plenty of time in front of the camera, hosting variety shows and interviewing fellow writers and other artists on Talking In The Library.

Related: Excerpts from Clive James in his own words:

“Among artists without talent Marxism will always be popular, since it enables them to blame society for the fact that nobody wants to hear what they have to say.” The Crystal Bucket, 1982

On Brezhnev – A Short Biography: “Here is a book so dull that a whirling dervish could read himself to sleep with it. If you were to recite even a single page in the open air, birds would fall out of the sky and dogs drop dead.” From the Land of Shadows, 1982

“In The Bob Hope Golf Classic (LWT) the participation of President Gerald Ford was more than enough to remind you that the nuclear button was at one stage at the disposal of a man who might have either pressed it by mistake or else pressed it deliberately in order to obtain room service.” Glued to the Box

“I still haven’t forgiven CS Lewis for going on all those long walks with JRR Tolkien and failing to strangle him, thus to save us from hundreds of pages dripping with the wizardly wisdom of Gandalf and from the kind of movie in which Orlando Bloom defiantly flexes his delicate jaw at thousands of computer-generated orcs. In fact it would have been ever better if CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien could have strangled each other, so that we could also have been saved from the Chronicles of Narnia.” BBC Radio 4: A Point of View

On a South Bank Show interview with Harold Pinter: “It was exactly like getting blood from a stone, except that stones do not smoke. Pinter smoked all the time. You could tell that the interview was edited down from hours of film because in every shot Pinter had a fresh Balkan Sobranie in his hand. In the tight head-shots there was so much smoke pouring up from the bottom of the screen that you began wondering if his trousers were on fire.” The Crystal Bucket

Heh, indeed. Read the whole thing.™

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