Thursday, 05 July 2012

Radio Reviews: 6 July

Reports of Clive James’s demise are premature… his star still shines brightly

Written by Louis Barfe
Louis-Barfe-newBWAfter all the press hoo-haa in which it seemed as though Clive James was ready to flake out at any moment, it was a relief to hear the reality of what he had said on last week's Archive on 4. Tone of voice is everything. The statement of mortality comes in a jocular manner, in response to a question about how many recordings of his work James has kept. The answer is very few, and he's dumping most of those.

'I'm a man who is approaching his terminus and I'm starting to wonder how much of this junk you can take with you, and the answer is none,' he said. Yes, he's ill, but he was just observing that he's getting old. Admittedly, he's quite seriously ill. At the start, James talked about his leukaemia and emphysema, his laboured breathing being fairly audible. But as he warmed up, he started to sound like the Clive James of old.

These Meeting Myself Coming Back shows are like a This Is Your Life, where audio clips are the surprise guests. We heard a very competitive early appearance on a radio panel game with Kingsley Amis. 'You had to be competitive around Kingsley, he was never off,' James said warmly, adding that he missed Amis. He was modest about his position in 1970s Grub Street. He said he was happy and honoured to be hanging around the likes of Ian McEwan, James Fenton and Kingsley's son Martin.

Maybe this was the Australian outsider speaking; maybe it was self-deprecation. Either way, he sells himself short. There has never been, and will probably never be, another figure like him. James is both an intellectual and an entertainer. His equal love of high and low culture, combined with his acute perception and way with words, make him a rare beast.

His brilliant Observer TV reviews set the tone for the genre, albeit with too many of those who follow in his wake concentrating on the gags at the expense of the analysis. James takes the mickey out of bad TV, but rarely sneers. His love of the medium shines through. And as he reminded us, back then, he did it live, scribbling furiously as he watched two TV sets simultaneously.

Why did James move into television himself, John Wilson asked? He replied with a line of Gore Vidal's: 'None must escape'. He felt that he wanted his words and thoughts to reach as many as possible. The medium is poorer for his self-imposed absence.

Archive on 4, BBC Radio 4, Saturdays at 8pm.


Tim Lihoreau is moving over from Classic FM's weekend breakfast show to its weekday counterpart, replacing Mark Forrest. Lihoreau is also the station's Creative Director and has been with Classic FM since 1993.

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