Rcjp's Weblog

November 8, 2006

Notes from TV Interview with Clive James

Filed under: misc — rcjp @ 4:37 pm

Its rare enough that I find anything worth watching on tv; even rarer to find something that I’d watch twice and positively nonexistent that I’d watch it a third time and scribble down some notes. Well, almost nonexistent, because here are some rough notes on a interview Clive James gave recently on TV on his life:

Born 1939, left Australia at 21, went to Pembroke Oxford and wrote a humorous tv column for the Observer in the 70’s, poems and a three volume autobiography.

Defining moment was his fathers death; he had survived the slave labour camps in Japan but died when, instead of waiting for the ship, he boarded an American plane laid on to take them back home to Australia which flew into a typhoon.

Saw Japanese ‘Endurance’ tv programme as a way to move the violent militaristic culture ‘Bushido’ onto television where it belongs.

Over-attached to his mother, but left for 16 years. “I didn’t get a very amazing degree from Sydney University and later on I didn’t get a very amazing degree from Cambridge. I knew some brilliant students and I wasn’t one of them – I spent too much time reading off the course, and I still do – its an inability to do what is set down.”

Terrible first jobs. Poems came back for two years. His old professor got him into Cambridge. “Very little happened because I willed it. On the whole I have to be asked to do things.”

Liked being a tv critic because it gave him a chance to talk about everything – since there is a programme about every subject. Critics these days get sent a dvd with a week’s tv, he used to watch the channels simultaneously (three) and scribble furiously as there was no way to wind back! Always thinks of pieces in terms of a running order – as he did when at Cambridge foot-lights. He’d take his notes from a week of watching tv and sit down at someone else’s typewriter at the Observer on a Friday morning and type.

“Whenever I thought of a joke, it was usually then, it was usually compressing an argument I already had – what’s the fastest way of saying this and I’ll think of a way that came out funny. And then sit back and laugh at it …”

This became legendary i.e. that he would sit there just laughing.

“…that was possibly a mistake – I was laughing because it had just hit me like a lightening bolt. All the other journalists which stretched into the distance, hated me because they already thought I only worked one day a week and there I was yodeling at my own stuff.”

Infamously described Arnold Schwargzenegar – Brown condom full of walnuts
and a tennis player as ‘a smile like a car crash’ (she had braces).

Some quotes (often abridged but hopefully representative) from the interview:

Ideally I’d like to make every answer an epigram. I was always trying to write the ideal paragraph; and sometimes the ideal paragraph is only a line long. I use a joke as a means of compression, its the fastest way of conveying an argument. But I always did love the tradition of the aphorism.

Some of my favourite things were said anonymously in Hollywood. Someone one said about a young actress “She’d be an nymphomaniac if only they could slow her down”

Rhyming slang I think is the dullest thing that ever happened to the world.

Get the joke in first – no one can say anything about my personal appearance because I got there first. Get your self deprecation in very early before the deprecation starts.

Interviews – Sit there mute, but put something on the desk.

It takes 10 years to build an image on Fleet St, I started finding a 1000 word column restrictive.

I will never stop writing poetry; thats a real test of seriousness because nobody really wants it. Hardly anybody reads poetry habitually, I do, and I like the people that do. But its a small market.

A woman’s world is what I look forward to.

The big lesson I’ve learned – A free society is simply bound to be full of things you don’t like – thats what freedom is.

He has a website http://clivejames.com


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