Clive James: ‘I’ve got a lot done since my death’

Clive James: ‘I’ve got a lot done since my death’


Clive James, born on 7 October 1939, is an Australian author, critic, broadcaster, poet, translator and memoirist, 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 1962.

clive james

‘I am restored by my decline’: Clive James photographed at home in Cambridge for the Observer New Review by Phil Fisk, March 2015.

He has been suffering from increasingly serious health issues since 2010. In a BBC interview with Charlie Stayt, broadcast on 31 March 2015, James described himself as “near to death but thankful for life”. However, in October 2015 he admitted to feeling “embarrassment” at still being alive thanks to experimental drug treatment. He is still working hard and even jokes – ‘I’ve got a lot done since my death’.

Back in May 2009, Clive James was featured in the Guardian’s Writers’ Rooms series –


Clive James’s writing room. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe

The swivel chair had to be a serious item, because I am in it most of the day. The PC on the desk, surrounded by papers arranged so that nothing can be found when required, is one of the several computers that feed material to my website, but it is also the precious instrument on which I transfer draft essays and poems from the stack of notebooks, just the latest in a line of several hundred that are around the place somewhere, kept for purposes of consultation, or perhaps insulation.

Behind the chair is a window giving a dull view eastward. The dull view was carefully chosen, so that if I was going to be distracted by anything, it would not be by that. If I swivel to take a look it’s a sure sign of failing inspiration. Usually I face the screen or stare broodingly past it at the rest of the room, wondering how it ever got into such a mess. Along the top of the bookcase there are stacks of magazines and newspapers to which I have contributed, all preserved against a rainy day. Which rainy day would that be, precisely?

The cabinet with many handles contains thousands of photographs from my showbiz past. I never look at them. Most commonly I focus on the Japanese Sumo wrestler. He is made of some strangely weightless metal and I bought him in Tokyo, but I can’t remember when. I can’t remember why any of the stuff is here, except that I never have time to throw any of it away, because I’m too busy.

The room was originally designed so that I might retire into it like a Victorian man of letters, suck on a pipe and languidly inscribe a few thoughts in a velvet covered diary with a gold clasp. But I hit the chair running about 10 years ago, and ever since I have rarely had a moment even to lean back in it. I sit hunched forward, racing always against time. So the air of casual ease that the room conveys is entirely an illusion.




2 responses to “Clive James: ‘I’ve got a lot done since my death’

  1. Aw just love Clive James. He lives in a big, beautiful house in central Cambridge. Such a brilliant man.

  2. What an interesting personality. The story about his “death” is amazing. I did not know about him. Thank you for sharing his story, Kris!

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