Clive James
Clive James

Clive James

  • Australian
  • Presenter and writer

Press clippings

Clive James dies aged 80

Clive James, the Australian writer and broadcaster known around the world for his dry wit, has died at the age of 80.

BBC, 27th November 2019

While this Jason Manford-helmed retrospective of annual events hardly seems a comparable tradition to Clive James's satirical compendiums of yesteryear, AFOY has nethertheless become a regular annual entry in the schedules. Joined by some of the biggest names in British comedy, Manford cocks a wry Mancunian snook at py]2014[/y]'s most exciting and exasperating moments. Expect the Suárez bite, Ukip, and bendy iPhones to be given the full treatent.

Mark Jones, The Guardian, 19th December 2014

In The Trip to Italy, Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan took their competitive impersonation skills to a new level when one of them impersonated Saddam Hussein impersonating Frank Spencer, and the other impersonated Roger Moore impersonating Tony Blair.

I lost track of who was which, but it was virtuoso stuff. Meanwhile they were eating the greatest of Italian food while surrounded with British upmarket honey-blonde chalet girls.

More mature by the episode, Steve retired to bed alone for a nap. Rob pulled one of the girls but might have dished his chances by showing her a picture of his daughter. By now the chaps are so well established in their characters that they can do uncharacteristic things. I have seldom seen a British comedy series quite so inventive.

Clive James, The Telegraph, 17th April 2014

W1A continued to do what it had done before, but it was still very funny. As the amiably bumbling intern Will, Hugh Skinner mastered the art of putting his verbal tics together into complete arias. "Cool, yeah, no worries, yeah, cool." Then the reality of his own personality suddenly became clear to him. "Sometimes I'm completely useless." But he was never aware for long of his own limitless potential for chaos.

In Will's continuing struggle to match the envelopes with the invitations, the invitation for David Cameron turned out to be in the envelope addressed to the Prince of Wales. Then the envelope addressed to David Cameron turned out to contain an invitation to Joan Bakewell. I hope I got that right. Will, of course, had no such hopes until too late. The show was a hoot like the voice of Siobhan Sharpe, but let's not forget that the Beeb is really like that.

Clive James, The Telegraph, 17th April 2014

Clive James: Why I went for vintage comedy this Xmas

Clive James reviews last week's Christmas TV including Victoria Wood's Mid Life Christmas (BBC Two), Tommy Cooper's Christmas Special (Channel 5) and Morecambe and Wise (BBC Two).

Clive James, The Telegraph, 2nd January 2014

Radio Times review

I've watched Dave Allen: God's Own Comedian (Monday BBC2; iPlayer) twice now. I'll probably watch it another eight or nine times, in the hope that any of Allen's essence can somehow enter my soul. This was less a film about how to be a TV comedian, more a film about how to be.

Dave Allen had a spark, a glint. He had no fear. He knew he had his s**t straight. He trusted his mind. He was always looking for mischief. He was curious. He loved his family. He never stopped thinking. If it was funny, he'd say it.

You could see it as he bounded onto the stage to present his first big TV show, in Sydney in 1963. At 26, in his second foreign country - he'd left Ireland at 16 and left his friends The Beatles behind in England ten years later - he was brazenly flirting with the studio audience. He had it. Soon Australia had given Dave, unutterably sexy at that point with his black hair and charmed eyes, his own chat show, which from the clips in God's Own Comedian seemed to consist of him larking about aimlessly and assuredly with female co-hosts and, in one extended sequence, risking his life to demonstrate how to escape from a submerged car. Advised to stay in Australia and build on his success, Allen followed his first wife back to England and simply repeated it there.

This documentary about one of the best stand-up comedians in British TV history didn't actually contain very much of his stand-up, because what audiences were buying wasn't a series of jokes, but time with Dave Allen - a share of the drink that was normally in his hand, on and off stage. "They wanted him to like them," explained Mark Thomas, a writer for Allen's later shows. Allen's honest independence was alluring but it took him, quite naturally, to extremely controversial places.

The flint inside the laconic exterior was formed young. Allen's newspaper-editor dad, a major local celebrity, had died when his son was 12, leaving the family struggling. But before that, a Catholic education had woken Allen up. "They hit me. They pulled my hair. They punched me. They demeaned me. None of them were qualified teachers."

Allen's material about the Catholic church wasn't revenge, exactly. The Pope stripteasing, the "nuns farting next to lilies" and the rest came more from his fascination with humans at their hypocritical worst. He grinned widely when asked which of his routines about religion had offended the IRA: "Most of them!" If it was true, he'd say it. Allen was a mainstream household name but did sketches about Apartheid, because he wanted to. His popularity kept rising.

Craven celebs would have consolidated with safe options. Allen wandered off to present a series of proto-Theroux documentaries on eccentric and marginalised people, drawing on his equal fascination with humans at their best. He took a straight acting role as a man in mid-life crisis in an Alan Bennett TV play. Allen was "looking for the meaning of life", said one of his collaborators, and that didn't sound ridiculous.

About the only black note in this fantastic programme - which may have glossed over all sorts of monstrous flaws in Allen's character, although I suspect it didn't and don't much care - was his last full series for the BBC in 1990, which was dogged by green-inkers moaning about the swearing. We saw Allen eruditely explain in a Clive James interview that there are more important things in the world to worry about than "rude sounds", but the Beeb caved and Allen was wounded. It was an ironic, pathetic, trivial but illuminating example of what Allen stood against and why he mattered.

Not that he thought he mattered much, Dave Allen being one of the few things in which Dave Allen didn't take too much interest. He made the best show he could but then went home, exchanged his smart stage garb for scruffy linen, and got on with reading, painting, drawing, and hosting sprawling weekenders for his extended family and friends. The ghost stories he would petrify the kids with at the Allen house in Devon sounded like better gigs than any of the TV ones.

"He had these many many abilities but he held them quietly," observed his widow Karin. Allen knew it was just a ride and, as Cyril Connolly ambiguously said, you can't be too serious. Finally, God's Own Comedian dealt with the mystery of the missing forefinger on Allen's left hand, by refusing to answer it. He'd told everyone something different: as his associates related the tale they'd heard, they had his glint in their eye.

Jack Seale, Radio Times, 5th May 2013

During the huge Comic Relief production Funny for Money (BBC One), the first segment was hosted by Claudia Winkleman and some guy. Try as I might, I couldn't remember Some Guy's name even after I wrote it down, but that could have been because I was so knocked out with the way Claudia looked. At first glance, she looked like a visitor from some planet where the women have beautiful legs and no eyes. But at second glance, I spotted that she did indeed have a pair of eyes somewhere behind her fringe, and at third glance I noticed that she was wearing a perfectly judged frock.

Here were the British showing the Americans how to do it. All we need now is a bit of confidence to go with the manifestly superior sanity. Unfortunately such confidence is hard to come by, because the Americans wield a heavy cultural influence over the rest of us even when they are doing something so glaringly wrong as to load an over-glamorous outfit onto an averagely glamorous woman. It's almost 70 years since the Second World War and the British are still in thrall to that postwar mentality by which it was taken to be self-evident that only the Yanks could build desirable cars.

Clive James, The Telegraph, 22nd March 2013

Charlie Brooker has been kind to me in print, so I must be careful not to be too kind about him, lest people suspect that I am dishing out a quid pro quo. On the downside, his weekly show behind a desk (Charlie Brooker's Weekly Wipe, BBC Two) sometimes makes it look as though he wants to eat the desk in his anger at the world.

But his larger dramatic creations reveal a Swiftian intelligence that is quite unusual when translated into an updated, high tech, electronic (squrrk!) field. There is quite a lot of squrrk! in Black Mirror. He wants you to know that your attention is being zapped into lightning trips from one field of reality to another.

The main reality in the latest show seemed to be that a helpless young woman was on the run from dozens of zombie-type vigilantes: shades of A Clockwork Orange, Assault on Precinct 13, etc.

But (squrrk!) not so fast. Towards the end it turns out that she is really the victim of a deadly game. With her wiped brain - Brooker is fond of the idea of the human mind being annihilated by television - she is being made to experience the suffering she caused when she tortured a child. But did she? Are the organizers of the game (see, as Brooker undoubtedly has, The Game, with Michael Douglas) normal people like us, at last getting the chance to inflict a just punishment that the psycho criminal will actually feel? Or what?

Doubts remain as the soundtrack says squrrk! Brooker used to be a companion at arms for Chris Morris but it is starting to look as if he, Brooker, has a scope all his own, and more powerful for being less parodic. He doesn't just make fun of television, which even I can do. He can see the fractures in life itself, as Swift could. On top of that he has the great virtue of having seen everything and yet not being derivative. His desk-eating savagery is too heartfelt for that.

Clive James, The Mirror, 7th March 2013

All performers, and especially comedians, would like to have credibility. This was the subject of Funny Business (BBC Two), a show in which I took a personal interest, because I once harboured the illusion that I could do after-dinner speeches and commercials and thereby pick up some easy money.

Until recently, straight actors lost credibility if they did commercials. Sir Laurence Olivier did a Polaroid commercial, but only on the understanding that it would never be screened in the UK. Today, however, George Clooney hustles coffee and Brad Pitt barks for Chanel No5. The money might go to charity, but it still counts as a fast buck. Nevertheless, the actors get away with it.

For the comedians it has always been a hard choice. A commercial will look like slumming unless it is funny enough to be thought of as part of the comedian's repertoire. Another question mark hangs over the corporate event appearance, where months of big bucks can be earned in a single night. But people who haven't paid to see you, and who are sitting at round tables which ensure that many of them are facing the wrong way, are a soul-destroying prospect.

Intelligent comic operatives such as Barry Cryer, John Lloyd and John Cleese were united in the opinion that the business opportunities form part of the career. But I can say from experience that it hurts when it goes wrong. I once did a big, expensive set of plugs for Australian Telecom in the very year that their opposition came out with a better product. And the money wasn't all that easy. There is a small hill of red dirt somewhere near Alice Springs that is flatter now because of the number of times I had to walk up it.

Clive James, The Telegraph, 25th January 2013

Thanks to the success that was The Last Leg during the 2012 Paralympics - no less a critic than Clive James said it was almost the best bit of the whole shebang - genial Aussie comedian Adam Hills returns to present a round-up of the week's events in the news. He's joined again by stand-up Josh Widdicombe and sportswriter Alex Brooker. Doubtless their easy-going chemistry and quick quippery will snag them an even sturdier audience than the one they earned over the summer.

Ben Arnold, The Guardian, 17th January 2013

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