“Fiction is life with the dull bits left out,” said author, broadcaster, poet and memoirist, Clive James who was born on 7th October 1939 and sadly died on 24th November 2019, aged 80.
Clive James was born Vivian Leopold James in Sydney, Australia but, as a child, he was allowed to change his name after Vivien Leigh played Scarlett O’Hara because “the name became irrevocably a girl’s name no matter how you spelled it”. The Australian author, broadcaster, poet and memoirist chose the name Clive after the name of a character from the 1942 film This Above All.
In 1962, Clive James moved to England where he made his home and lived ever since. Later, the writer gained a place a Pembroke College, Cambridge where he read English Literature, contributed to undergraduate periodicals and was a member and later the President of the famous Cambridge Footlights. Following his graduation with a 2:1, Clive James began his Ph.D. thesis on the Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley.
In 1972, Clive James became the television critic for The Observer, a position he held until 1982. Selections from these ten years of columns were published in his books; Visions Before Midnight, The Crystal Bucket and Glued to the Box and later in a compendium entitled, On Television.
Clive James has literary criticism in countless newspapers, magazine and periodicals throughout his career and his first collection of literary criticism, The Metropolitan Critic was published in 1974. James’ most popular work, however, is probably his 2007 collection of miniature biographies of over 100 significant figures of modern culture, history and politics; Cultural Amnesia.
Clive James’ extentive writing work has been honoured numerous times including in 1992, when he was made a Member of the Order of Australia which in the 2013 Australian Day Honours was upgraded to Officer level. In the 2012 New Year Honours list, Clive James was also appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).
In April 2011, after the media speculated that the author had suffered from kidney failure, Clive James confirmed that he was suffering from B-cell chronic lymphoncytic leukemia and had been in treatment for it the past 15 months. In an interview for BBC Radion 4 in June the following year, the author admitted that the disease had “beaten him” and he was “near the end.” Then in 2015, in a BBC interview with Charlie Stayt, Clive James described himself as “near to death but thankful for life.”
Clive James’ battle with illness, life and death has been another thing the author has explored in his writing. Until June 2017, James wrote a weekly column in The Guardian entitled Reports of my Death. While in 2016, Clive James published a collection of poetry, Sentenced to Life, which openly deals with illness and death.
Clive James continued to publish writing right up to a month before his death, releasing Somewhere Becoming Rain: Collected Writings on Philip Larkin in October this year. Sadly, this will be the last book published in James’ lifetime as the poet, critic, author and broadcaster passed away in his home in Cambridge on Sunday 24th November 2019.
In a statement from United Agents, posted on behalf of Clive James’ family, it was revealed that a private funeral, for family and close friends, was held for the author on the 27th November to celebrate his life. The statement also stated, “He [Clive] endured his ever-multiplying illness with patience and good humour knowing until the last moment that he had experienced more than his fair share of the ‘great, good world’. He was grateful to the staff at Addenbrooke’s Hospital for their care and kindness, which unexpectedly allowed him so much extra time. His family would like to thank the nurses of the Arthur Rank Hospice at Home team for their help in his last days, which allowed him to die peacefully and at home, surrounded by his family and his books.”