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Clive James - Genius

Kaleidoscope celebrates the written and spoken word and the world recently lost someone who personified excellence and complete brio in both - Clive James.

A few days before Clive finally succumbed to illness, years after the medical runes feared he might, I bought his latest book of poetry, The River in the Sky - in fact one long epic poem taking us on a grand tour of ‘the fragile treasures of his life’.

One night, I sat in a pub reading it while the rain poured down outside and realised once again how much sunshine Clive had brought into my life, as i am sure he did for millions of others. 

Clive was a genius with words - in a book, a newspaper or magazine column, a poem or a piece of literary criticism all the way through to a TV show, interview or a radio programme. Whatever he was considering, from highbrow classics to the everyday antics of a television soap, Clive would be intelligent, funny, on the point, brave and humane all in one twist of his pen, computer keyboard or voice ... Ah, that tremendously impish voice. 

Like many others, I first came across Clive James through his ground-breaking TV review columns in The Observer - so funny, so pin-point - and it was a huge delight to follow his work over the subsequent years. But my most abiding example of Clive’s genius is his voice.

Some years ago, he fronted a series of radio talks for BBC Radio 4’s A Point of View and every one of the shows are pure brilliance. Deconstructing a ridiculous judge who drove himself to ruin because he tried to evade a driving offence, celebrity weddings, the inevitability of chaos, bad language and much me, Clive on top form, each talk a delicious slice of what made James James.

Clive James 7 October 1939 – 24 November 2019

Visit for Clive’s vast canon of work, including the BBC Point of View shows

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