CLIVE JAMES (6902036259)

Clive James in 2012. Photo by Ruby Goes. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Clive James
Born Vivian James
October 7 1939 (1939-10-07) (age 80)
Kogarah, Sydney, Australia
Occupation Essayist, poet, broadcaster
Nationality Australian
Notable work(s)

Cultural Amnesia,

Unreliable Memoirs
Notable award(s) Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal for Literature
Spouse(s) Prue Shaw
Children Claerwen, Lucinda

Vivian Leopold "Clive" James CBE AM (born 7 October 1939) is an Australian-born English poet, literary critic, broadcaster, novelist, and memoirist.

Life Edit

Overview Edit

, best known for his autobiographical series Unreliable Memoirs, for his chat shows and documentaries on British television, and for his prolific journalism. He has lived and worked in the United Kingdom since the early 1960s.

Youth and educationEdit

James was born in Kogarah, Sydney. He was allowed to change his name as a child because "after Vivien Leigh played Scarlett O'Hara the name became irrevocably a girl's name no matter how you spelled it".[1]

James' father was taken prisoner by the Japanese during World War II. Although he survived the POW camp, he died when the aircraft returning him to Australia crashed in Manila Bay; he was buried in Hong Kong. James, who was an only child, was brought up by his mother in the Sydney suburb of Kogarah.

In Unreliable Memoirs, James says an IQ test taken in childhood put his IQ at 140.[2] He was educated at Sydney Technical High School (despite winning a bursary award to Sydney Boys High School) and later at the University of Sydney, where he studied Psychology and became associated with the Sydney Push, a libertarian, intellectual subculture. At the university, he edited the student newspaper, Honi Soit, and directed the annual Union Revue. After graduating, James worked for a year as an assistant editor for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Move to England Edit

In early 1962, James moved to England, where he made his home. During his first 3 years in London, he shared a flat with Australian film director Bruce Beresford (disguised as "Dave Dalziel" in the initial 3 volumes of James' memoirs), was a neighbour of Australian artist Brett Whiteley, became acquainted with Barry Humphries (disguised as "Bruce Jennings") and had a variety of occasionally disastrous short-term jobs (sheet metal worker, library assistant, photo archivist, market researcher).

James later gained a place at Pembroke College, Cambridge, to read English literature. While there, he contributed to all the undergraduate periodicals, was a member and later President of the Cambridge Footlights, and appeared on University Challenge as captain of the Pembroke team, beating St Hilda's Oxford but losing to Balliol on the last question in a tied game. During a summer vacation, he worked as a circus roustabout to save enough money to travel to Italy.[3] His contemporaries at Cambridge included Germaine Greer (known as "Romaine Rand" in the earliest 3 volumes of his memoirs), Simon Schama, and Eric Idle. Having, he claims, scrupulously avoided reading any of the course material (but having read widely otherwise in English and foreign literature), James graduated with a 2:1 — better than he had expected — and began a D.Phil. thesis on Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Critic and essayistEdit

From 1972 to 1982, James worked as a television critic for The Observer. Selections from his column were published in 3 books — Visions Before Midnight, The Crystal Bucket and Glued to the Box — and finally in a compendium, On Television.

James has written literary criticism extensively for newspapers, magazines and periodicals in Britain, Australia and the USA, including, among many others, The Australian Book Review, The Monthly, The Atlantic Monthly, the New York Review of Books, The Liberal and the Times Literary Supplement. John Gross included James's essay 'A Blizzard of Tiny Kisses' in the Oxford Book of Essays (1992, 1999).

The Metropolitan Critic (1974), his debutt collection of literary criticism, was followed by At the Pillars of Hercules (1979), From the Land of Shadows (1982), Snakecharmers in Texas (1988), The Dreaming Swimmer (1992), Even As We Speak (2004), The Meaning of Recognition (2005) and Cultural Amnesia (2007), a collection of miniature intellectual biographies of over 100 significant figures in modern culture, history and politics. A defence of humanism, liberal democracy and literary clarity, the book was listed among the best of 2007 by The Village Voice.

Another volume of essays, The Revolt of the Pendulum, was published in June 2009.

He has also published Flying Visits, a collection of travel writing for The Observer.

Poet and lyricistEdit

James has published poetry in periodicals all over the English-speaking world. He has published several books of poetry, including: Poem of the Year (1983), a verse-diary; Other Passports: Poems. 1958-1985, a debut collection; and The Book of My Enemy (2003), a volume that takes its title from James' poem, "The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered."[4]

He has published 4 mock-heroic poems: The Fate of Felicity Fark in the Land of the Media: a moral poem (1975), Peregrine Prykke's Pilgrimage Through the London Literary World (1976), Britannia Bright's Bewilderment in the Wilderness of Westminster (1976) and Charles Charming's Challenges on the Pathway to the Throne (1981).

During the 1970s he also collaborated on 6 albums of songs with Pete Atkin:

  • Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger (1970),
  • Driving Through Mythical America (1971),
  • A King At Nightfall (1973),
  • The Road Of Silk (1974),
  • Secret Drinker (1974), and
  • Live Libel (1975).

A revival of interest in the songs in the late 1990s, triggered largely by the creation by Steve Birkill of an Internet mailing list "Midnight Voices" in 1997, led to the reissue of the 6 albums on CD between 1997 and 2001, as well as live performances by the pair. A double-album of previously-unrecorded songs written in the seventies and entitled The Lakeside Sessions: Volumes 1 and 2 was released in 2002 and "Winter Spring", an album of new material written by James and Atkin was released in 2003.(Citation needed)

James acknowledged the importance of the "Midnight Voices" group in bringing to wider attention the lyric-writing aspect of his career. He wrote in November 1997 that, "one of the midnight voices of my own fate should be [that] the music of Pete Atkin continues to rank high among the blessings of my life, and on my behalf as well as his I bless you all for your attention".(Citation needed)

Novelist and memoiristEdit

In 1979 James published his debut book of autobiography, Unreliable Memoirs, which recounted his early life in Australia, and was reprinted over 100 times. It was followed by 4r other volumes of autobiography: Falling Towards England (1985), which covered his London years; May Week Was in June (1990), which dealt with his time at Cambridge; North Face of Soho (2006), and The Blaze of Obscurity (2009), concerning his subsequent career. An omnibus edition of the first 3 volumes was published under the generic title of Always Unreliable.

James has also written 4 novels: Brilliant Creatures (1983), The Remake (1987), Brrm! Brrm! (1991), published in the United States as The Man from Japan, and The Silver Castle (1996).

In 1999, John Gross included an excerpt from Unreliable Memoirs in The New Oxford Book of English Prose. John Carey chose Unreliable Memoirs as 1 of the 50 most enjoyable books of the 20th century in his book Pure Pleasure (2000).

Television Edit

James developed his television career as a guest commentator on various shows, including as an occasional co-presenter with Tony Wilson on the first series of So It Goes, the Granada Television pop music show. On the show when the Sex Pistols made their TV debut, James commented: "During the recording, the task of keeping the little bastards under control was given to me. With the aid of a radio microphone, I was able to shout them down, but it was a near thing...they attacked everything around them and had difficulty in being polite even to each other".[5]

James subsequently hosted the ITV show Clive James on Television, in which he showcased unusual or (often unintentionally) amusing television programmes from around the world, notably the Japanese TV show Endurance. After his defection to the BBC in 1989, he hosted a similarly-formatted programme called Saturday Night Clive (1988–1990) which initially screened on Saturday evening, returning as Saturday Night Clive on Sunday in its second series when it changed screening day and then Sunday Night Clive in its third and final series. In 1995 he set up Watchmaker Productions to produce The Clive James Show for ITV, and a subsequent series launched the British career of singer and comedienne Margarita Pracatan. James hosted one of the early chat shows on Channel 4 and fronted the BBC's Review of the Year programmes in the late 1980s (Clive James on the '80s) and 1990s (Clive James on the '90s), which formed part of the channel's New Year's Eve celebrations.

His major documentary series Fame in the 20th Century (1993) was broadcast in the United Kingdom by the BBC, in Australia by the ABC and in the United States by the PBS network. This series dealt with the concept of "fame" in the 20th century, following over a course of 8 episodes (each chronologically devoted to a decade of the century, from the 1900s to the 1980s) discussions about world famous people of the 20th century. Through the use of film footage, James presented a history of "fame" which explored its growth to today's global proportions. In his closing monologue he remarked, "Achievement without fame can be a rewarding life, while fame without achievement is no life at all."

A well known fan of motor racing, James presented the official Formula One season review videos produced by the Formula One Constructors Association, more commonly known as FOCA. James, who attended most F1 races during the 1980s and is a friend of FOCA boss Bernie Ecclestone, added his own humor to the reviews which became popular with fans of the sport. He also presented The Clive James Formula 1 Show for ITV to coincide with their Formula One coverage.

Summing up the medium, he has said: "Anyone afraid of what he thinks television does to the world is probably just afraid of the world".


In 2007, James started presenting the BBC Radio 4 series A Point of View, with transcripts appearing in the "Magazine" section of BBC News Online. In this programme James discussed various issues with a slightly humorous slant. Topics covered included media portrayal of torture,[6] young black role models[7] and corporate rebranding.[8] Three of James's broadcasts in 2007 were shortlisted for the 2008 Orwell Prize.[9]

In October 2009 James read a radio version of his book The Blaze of Obscurity, on BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week programme.[10]

In December 2009 James talked about the P-51 Mustang and other American fighter aircraft of World War II in The Museum of Curiosity on BBC Radio 4.[11]

In late 2009, James returned to presenting A Point of View for BBC Radio 4 with a series of thirteen talks.

In May 2011 the BBC published a new podcast, A Point of View: Clive James, which features all sixty A Point of View programmes presented by James between 2007 and 2009.

He has posted vlog conversations from his internet show Talking in the Library, including conversations with Ian McEwan, Cate Blanchett, Julian Barnes, Jonathan Miller and Terry Gilliam. In addition to the poetry and prose of James himself, the site features the works of other literary figures such as Les Murray and Michael Frayn, as well as the works of painters, sculptors and photographers such as John Olsen and Jeffrey Smart.


In 2008 James performed in two self-titled shows at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival: Clive James in Conversation and Clive James in the Evening. He took the latter show on a limited tour of the UK in 2009.

Private lifeEdit

James is married to Prue Shaw, an academic in modern languages specialising in Italian and medieval romance philology. The couple have 2 daughters, Claerwen (a painter), and Lucinda (a civil servant). James divides his time between a converted warehouse flat in London and a house in Cambridge. He has a policy of not talking about his family publicly.

After the death of his friend Diana, Princess of Wales, James wrote a piece for The New Yorker entitled "I Wish I'd Never Met Her", recording his overwhelming grief.[12] Since then he has declined to comment about their friendship.

While a detractor of communism and socialism for their tendency towards totalitarianism, James still identifies himself with the left, endorsing some of the features sometimes observed under socialism, such as a planned economy and state-owned media, and eschewing the free market and privatisation associated with capitalism. In a 2006[13] interview in The Sunday Times, James states of himself: "I was brought up on the proletarian left, and I remain there. The fair go for the workers is fundamental, and I don't believe the free market has a mind".

In a speech given in 1991, he criticised privatisation: "The idea that Britain's broadcasting system—for all its drawbacks one of the country's greatest institutions—was bound to be improved by being subjected to the conditions of a free market: there was no difficulty in recognising that notion as politically illiterate. But for some reason people did have difficulty in realising that it was economically illiterate too".[14]

Overall, James identifies as a liberal social democrat.[15] He strongly supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, saying in 2007 that "the war only lasted a few days" and that the continuing conflict in Iraq was "the Iraq peace."[16] He has also written that it was "official policy to rape a woman in front of her family" during Saddam Hussein's regime and that women have enjoyed more rights since the invasion.[17]

James has been noted for expressing views sympathetic to climate change scepticism.[18][19]

James is currently a Patron of the Burma Campaign UK an organisation that campaigns for human rights and democracy in Burma.[20]

Describing religions as "advertising agencies for a product that doesn't exist," James is an atheist and sees this as the default, obvious position.[21][22]

James is able to read, with varying fluency, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Japanese.[23] A tango enthusiast, he has travelled to Buenos Aires for dance lessons and has a dance floor in his house which allows him to practise.[21]

A former heavy drinker and smoker, who recorded in North Face of Soho his habit of filling a hubcap ashtray daily, James now drinks only socially and stopped smoking in 2005.[24] He admitted smoking 80 cigarettes a day for a number of years.[25]

In April 2011, after media speculation that he had suffered kidney failure,[26] James confirmed that he was suffering from B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and had been under treatment for 15 months at Addenbrooke's Hospital.[27] In an interview with BBC Radio 4 in June 2012, James admitted that the disease "had beaten him" and that he was "near the end".[28] He revealed that he was also diagnosed with lung disease and kidney failure in 2010.[29]

In April 2012, Channel Nine's A Current Affair ran an item in which Leanne Edelsten claimed she had an eight-year affair with Clive James.[30]


In 1992 James was made a Member of the Order of Australia, and in 2003 he was awarded the Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal for Literature. He has received honorary doctorates from the Universities of Sydney and East Anglia. In April 2008, James was awarded a Special Award for Writing and Broadcasting by the judges of the Orwell Prize.[31]

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2010.[32]

James was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2012 New Year Honours for services to literature and the media.[33]



  • The fate of Felicity Fark in the Land of the Media: A moral poem in rhyming couplets. London: Cape, 1975.
  • Britannia Bright's Bewilderment in the Wilderness of Westminster: A political poem in rhyming couplets. London: Cape, 1976.
  • The improved version of Peregrine Prykke's Pilgrimage through the London Literary World: a tragic poem in rhyming couplets. London: Cape, 1976.
  • Fan Mail: Seven verse letters. London: Faber, 1977.
  • Charles Charming's Challenges on the Pathway to the Throne: A royal poem in rhyming couplets. London: Cape, 1981.
  • Poem of the Year. London: Cape, 1983.
  • Other Passports: Poems, 1958-1985. London: Cape, 1986.
  • The Book of My Enemy: Collected verse, 1985-2003. London: Picador, 2003.
  • Angels over Elsinore: Collected verse, 2003-2008. London: Picador, 2008.
  • Opal Sunset: Selected poems, 1958-2008. New York: Norton, 2008; London: Picador, 2009.
  • Nefertiti in the Flak Tower: Collected verse, 2008-2011. London: Picador, 2011.


  • Brilliant Creatures: A first novel. London: Cape, 1983.
  • Brrm! brrm! or, The man from Japan; or, Perfume at Anchorage: A novel. London: Cape, 1991.
    • published in U.S. as The Man from Japan. New York: Random House, 1993.
  • The Silver Castle: A novel. London: Cape, 1996.


  • The Metropolitan Critic: Non-fiction, 1968-1973. London: Faber, 1974; London: Cape, 1994.
  • Visions Before Midnight: Television criticism from 'The Observer', 1972-1976. London: Cape, 1977.
  • At the Pillars of Hercules. London & Boston: Faber, 1979.
  • First Reactions: Critical essays, 1968-1979. New York: Knopf, 1980.
  • Unreliable Memoirs. London: Cape, 1980; New York: Knopf, 1981.
  • The Crystal Bucket: Television criticism from 'The Observer', 1976-1979. London: Cape, 1981.
  • From the Land of Shadows. London: Cape, 1982.
  • Glued to the Box: Television criticism from 'The Observer', 1979-1982. London: Cape, 1983.
  • Falling Towards England: Unreliable memoirs continued. London: Cape, 1985.
  • Flying Visits: Postcards from 'The Observer', 1976-1983. New York: Norton, 1986.
  • Snakecharmers in Texas: Essays, 1980-1987. London: Cape, 1988.
  • May Week Was in June: Unreliable memoirs continued. London: Cape, 1990.
  • Clive James on Television. London: Picador, 1991.
  • The Dreaming Swimmer: Non-fiction, 1987-1992. London: Cape, 1992.
  • Fame in the 20th Century. New York: Random House, 1993.
  • Even as We Speak: New essays, 1993-2001. London: Picador, 2001.
  • Reliable Essays: The best of Clive James. London: Picador, 2001.
  • As of this Writing: The essendial essays, 1968-2002. New York: Norton, 2003.
  • The Meaning of Recognition: New essays, 2001-2005. London: Picador, 2005.
  • Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the margin of my time. London: Picador, 2007.
    • published in U.S. as Cultural Amnesia: Necessary memories from history and the arts. New York: Norton, 2007.
  • North Face of Soho: unreliable memoirs, volume IV. London: Picador, 2007.
  • The Revolt of the Pendulum: Essays, 2005-2008. London: Picador, 2009.
  • The Blaze of Obscurity. London: Picador, 2009.
  • A Point of View. London: Picador, 2011.


  • The Remake: A novel. London: Cape, 1987.
Clive James - Japanese Maple

Clive James - Japanese Maple

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[34]

See alsoEdit



  1. James, C., Unreliable Memoirs, Pan Books, 1981, p.29.
  2. James, C., 'Unreliable Memoirs', Pan Books, 1981, p.59 .
  3. James, C.,'May Week Was In June', Jonathan Cape, 1990, p.49 .
  4. Garner, Dwight (2007-07-24). "The Book of My Enemy". The New York Times. 
  5. "The Observer, November 1976". Retrieved 2007-12-24. 
  6. James, Clive (2007-03-30). "The clock's ticking on torture". BBC News Magazine. Retrieved 2007-12-24. 
  7. "Young, gifted and black". BBC News Magazine. 2007-03-23. Retrieved 2007-12-24. 
  8. James, Clive (2007-02-16). "The name-changing fidgets". BBC News Magazine. Retrieved 2007-12-24. 
  9. "Shortlist 2008", The Orwell Prize
  10. "Book of the Week – The Blaze of Obscurity". BBC. 19 October 2009. Retrieved 19 October 2009. 
  11. "Museum of Curiosity on Radio 4 web site". BBC. 25 December 2009. Retrieved 25 December 2009. 
  12. Clive James on Diana
  13. Appleyard, Bryan (2006-11-12). "Interview Clive James". The Times (London).,,2101-2442961,00.html. Retrieved 2010-04-30. 
  14. "On the Eve of Disaster"
  15. Arts Today with Michael Cathcart 12/12/2001
  16. "Bill Moyers talks with Cultural Critic, Clive James.". Retrieved 2009-05-07. 
  17. "Still looking for the western feminists". BBC News. 2009-05-22. Retrieved 2009-05-23. 
  18. "Programme 1: On Climate Change". Retrieved 2011-11-05. 
  19. Monbiot, George (2009-11-02). "Clive James isn't a climate change sceptic, he's a sucker - but this may be the reason". London: Retrieved 2011-11-05. 
  20. "The Burma Campaign UK: AboutUs". Retrieved 2007-12-24. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 "Enough Rope with Andrew Denton – episode 84: Clive James (04/07/2005)". Retrieved 2008-09-16. 
  22. "Discussion between Richard Dawkins and Clive James at the Edinburgh Book Festival". Retrieved 2010-08-27. 
  23. Haynes, Deborah (2007-05-12). "Culture vulture". The Times (London). Retrieved 2010-04-30. 
  24. Smoking the Memory |
  25. "Smoking, my lost love". BBC News. 2007-08-03.  Template:Dead link
  26. "Clive James battles leukemia"
  27. "I'm battling leukaemia, reveals broadcaster Clive James". London: Daily Mail. 30 April 2011. Retrieved 30 April 2011. 
  28. "Clive James tells BBC "I am dying, I am near the end"". Belfast Telegraph. 21 June 2012. Retrieved 21 June 2012. 
  29. "Clive James: 'I'm getting near the end'". BBC News: Entertainment and Arts. 2012-06-21. Retrieved 2012-06-26. 
  30. "Star’s secret affair". ninemsn: A Current Affair. 2012-04-23. Retrieved 2012-06-26. 
  31. Stephen Brook (2008-04-25). "Hari and James take Orwell prizes". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-04-25. 
  32. "Royal Society of Literature All Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 9 August 2010. 
  33. London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 60009. p. 7. 31 December 2011.
  34. Search results = au:Clive James, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Feb. 1, 2014.

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