Broadcaster Clive James died ‘a month after he laid down his pen'

The poet and critic was 80.

Author, critic and broadcaster Clive James has died at the age of 80, one month after laying down his pen for the last time.

The Australian-born star of The Clive James Show was diagnosed with leukaemia, kidney failure and lung disease in 2010 and over the years wrote and updated his own obituary.

He died at home in Cambridge on November 24 and a private funeral attended by family and close friends took place in the chapel at Pembroke College, Cambridge on Wednesday.

A statement on behalf of his family, released by his agents, said: “Clive died almost ten years after his first terminal diagnosis, and one month after he laid down his pen for the last time.

“He endured his ever-multiplying illnesses with patience and good humour, knowing until the last moment that he had experienced more than his fair share of this ‘great, good world’.

“He was grateful to the staff at Addenbrooke’s Hospital for their care and kindness, which unexpectedly allowed him so much extra time. His family would like to thank the nurses of the Arthur Rank Hospice at Home team for their help in his last days, which allowed him to die peacefully and at home, surrounded by his family and his books.”

James first revealed the news of his illness in May 2011, when he had already been ill for 15 months – when he wrote to The Australian Literary Review to explain why he could not write for them.

Clive James death
Clive James with Liza Minneilli in 1996 for the recording of the Clive James Show (Neil Munns/PA)

He became the television critic for The Observer in 1972 and selections from his column, which he wrote for more than ten years, were published in three books.

He ventured into memoir in 1980, when he published the first book of his autobiography and it was followed by four other volumes, as well as four novels.

He found fame on television as the host of Clive James On Television, Saturday Night Clive and The Clive James Show and he fronted the BBC’s Review Of The Year programmes in the late 1980s, as part of the channel’s New Year’s Eve broadcast.

He also ventured into travel programmes and made the major documentary series Fame In The 20th Century in 1993, and presented the official Formula One season review videos throughout the 1980s, while on radio he presented BBC Radio 4’s A Point Of View.

Clive James death
Clive James with Jerry Hall in 1990 (PA)

During his long illness he increasingly focused on writing poetry, including the collection Nefertiti in the Flak Tower and the poem Japanese Maple, which was published in The New Yorker in 2014 and became a viral sensation before appearing in best-seller Sentenced to Life in 2015.

More recently he wrote a book about binge-watching called Play All and in October 2019 he released Somewhere Becoming Rain, a collection of writings about the work of Philip Larkin.

His self-penned obituary revealed that a long and ultimately unsuccessful operation to remove a cancer on his cheek in February 2019 left him frail and almost blind.

He spent the spring and summer of 2019 writing and editing an autobiographical anthology called The Fire Of Joy, which he described as a raid on “the treasure-house of his mind”.

The book will be furnished with his notes on each poem and was finished a month before his death. It will be published in 2020.

With Miss Piggy in 1998 (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Among those paying tribute to James was Monty Python star Eric Idle, who also referenced the death of Sir Jonathan Miller, which was also announced on Wednesday.

Idle tweeted: “Savage news this morning. To lose one friend is bad but to lose two reeks of carelessness. The beloved hilarious genius Jonathan Miller who dramatically changed my life three times, and dear Clive James my pal at Cambridge. Its a f****** rainy day in LA appropriate for tears.”

BBC director-general Lord Tony Hall said James was “a clever, witty and thought-provoking broadcaster. He had a huge range of talents and everything he did was essential listening or viewing. He is irreplaceable”.

Actor and theatre director Samuel West also remembered James, writing in a tweet: “We were lucky to have him for so long after his diagnosis. We were lucky to have him at all. RIP Clive James.”

In a second tweet, he added: “Thinking back with such joy to family Sundays around the breakfast table, my father reading Clive James’s Observer TV column aloud to us, weeping with laughter, often unable to finish. Beautiful, turned, silly, explosively funny prose. What a loss.”

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