Clive James, 1939-2019

Originally published at:


This makes me sad. Thanks Clive.


“Common sense and a sense of humour are the same thing, moving at different speeds,”

Boy, that sure is the truth.


I am very sad, tonight.

Every word he uttered or wrote was one of the best words.**

Off to listen to some Pete Atkin albums.

ETA ** and if

He also had advice for his future obituarists, telling them “shorter is better, and that a single line is best”.

then even if I say so myself, I think that line will do.

I am close to tears, even just thinking about his loss, as I listen to his poetry set to music.


Clive James wrote many serious poems & many silly ones. Here’s one that’s mostly silly:

Windows is shutting down, and grammar are
on their last leg. So what am we to do?
A letter of complaint go just so far,
proving the only one in step are you.

Better, perhaps, to simply let it goes.
A sentence have to be screwed pretty bad
before they gets to where you doesnt knows
the meaning what it must of meant to had.

The meteor have hit. Extinction spread,
but evolution do not stop for that.
A mutant languages rise from the dead
and all them rules is suddenly old hat.

Too bad for we, us what has had so long
the best seat from the only game in town.
But there it am, and whom can say its wrong?
Those are the break. Windows is shutting down.


I thought of his poem “Johnny Weissmuller, dead in Acapulco” when I heard this.
He was always a joy to read.


I didn’t always agree with him (the usual left wing cat herding issues) but the world seems an emptier and more depressing place with him gone.

Another name I dread to see in an obituary.

1 Like

The death of Jonathan Miller was also announced today. To lose two public intellectuals in the space of a week is downright careless.


James had a true gift for a turn of phrase and even his newspaper prose had almost a musical, rhythmic quality. Just as importantly though, he was part of a cohort of public intellectuals that left Australia in the 1960’s - which other than himself included most notably Robert Hughes and Germaine Greer - at a time when Australians rarely dared to be intellectual, let alone do that filthy sort of stuff in public.

In the mid-1980’s, a girlfriend gave me a second-hand copy of the book of his Observer TV reviews. It’s long since lost, but it’s still somehow my benchmark for “witty”. He effortlessly moved between astute observation, caustic metaphor and charming silly word games, but never gave the sense that he wanted to show off how clever he was, ala Umberto Eco.


My wife and I watched this as college students together - we laughed like drains and the broadcast cemented itself as a key memory in our shared life.

It’s 2 hrs long - but this little section (38:09) will give you a taste - He was a genius.


A man equally at home describing the ghostly Barbara Cartland thus: ‘Twin miracles of mascara, her eyes looked like the corpses of two small crows that had crashed into a chalk cliff’; yet who could produce an award-winning translation of Dante’s Inferno; and produce truly sublime poetry - Clive James has to be Australia’s greatest gift to the UK.

I loved ‘Clive James on TV’ - essential late 1980s Sunday night viewing then grew into his other writings. If anyone needs a taste of his genius, pick up a copy of his autobiography ‘Unreliable Memoirs’ - it is shoulder-shaking funny and one of those books that will get you funny looks if you are unwise enough to read it on the train.

And as the great man himself said:

'Stop worrying… nobody gets out of this world alive’

I’m not worrying, but I’m gutted at his passing.


Let’s not forget his great work of poetry, “The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered.”


Was just coming here to post that same link. It’s a little miracle.

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.