[![]( "james01")]([Clive James on Enough Rope]( Once famously described as "a brilliant bunch of guys", Clive James is a conspicuous over-achiever. Poet, novelist, critic, chat show doyenne, documentarian, dancer, song writer, Footy Show host, he's brought his boundless energy and enthusiasm to all of these pursuits. Tonight he brings it to us. Please welcome Clive James. ANDREW DENTON: No steps. Clive, welcome. It's an honour. CLIVE JAMES: Well it was a very, very flattering introduction. I'm not so sure I'm worthy of the show, Andrew, I'm in very bad shape. I cut myself shaving this morning. ANDREW DENTON: Yes, yes. CLIVE JAMES: I've got a bad case of sinusitis under one eye, which is very rare. ANDREW DENTON: Yes, yes. CLIVE JAMES: And I've got a very advanced case of swollen lower chest. ANDREW DENTON: Mm. CLIVE JAMES: Which comes from eating a great deal of Australian food in the last week. ANDREW DENTON: Mm. CLIVE JAMES: On the whole, I would perfectly understand it if your people came on and carried me away. ANDREW DENTON: We might trim you in post-production. How is that? CLIVE JAMES: Yes, yes. ANDREW DENTON: Why don't we concentrate on the bit that's still perfect, the brain? CLIVE JAMES: If only that were true. It's ageing fast. ANDREW DENTON: But it's full of stuff. How many books are in your house? CLIVE JAMES: Books that I wrote? There is only about 30 books that I didn't write, but I'm still reading many, many thousands. It's what I do for a living and sometimes I wonder if that's the way to spend your life. Like, you spend a third of you life sleeping, for example. Wouldn't you like to get that back, you know? ANDREW DENTON: Well if you've read those many books, and I'm sure you have, have you slept at any point in the last 40 years? CLIVE JAMES: No, I haven't slept much at night, but I sleep a lot during the day. ANDREW DENTON: How do you do that? CLIVE JAMES: I'm a great afternoon napper. It's a little trick that I learnt from Ronald Reagan, actually. I learnt two tricks from Ronald Reagan, I'll tell you the other one in a minute because I know you're going to ask me. ANDREW DENTON: Yes. CLIVE JAMES: But Reagan always used to have a little nap in the afternoon. He figured that he'd done a lot of work during the morning, you know 20, 30 minutes' solid concentration. ANDREW DENTON: Yes. CLIVE JAMES: He'd conk out for an hour and then he could start his day again. ANDREW DENTON: So what was the other thing you learnt from Ronald Reagan? CLIVE JAMES: Never gargle with cold water. He learnt that from Frank Sinatra. I was interviewing Reagan and I was gargling with cold water. He said, "You shouldn't do that." He said, "Frank taught me." I thought, "Frank? Frank who? Who would that be? Frank Skinner, Frank... ANDREW DENTON: Frank Spencer. CLIVE JAMES: Then it occurred to me that it must be Frank Sinatra. Then he said, "Cold water freezes the vocal chords. It's very bad for you. You should gargle with warm water." On those two principles, get an hour's sleep in the afternoon, always gargle with warm water, Ronald Reagan ruled the world. ANDREW DENTON: Wow. It's that simple? CLIVE JAMES: Yes. ANDREW DENTON: We've learnt so much from you already, there is no need to go any further. I want to show you a clip of you from 1959. This will take, if not you, certainly your pate, back down memory lane. (ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE PLAYED) CLIVE JAMES: What a prick. ANDREW DENTON: Why? CLIVE JAMES: "Super-fluidity of adjectives"? Who was I victimising? It was Kerouac, wasn't it? ANDREW DENTON: It was Kerouac indeed, yes. CLIVE JAMES: Though two things strike me. There was my magnificently baroque vocabulary. ANDREW DENTON: Yes. CLIVE JAMES: And that head of hair that I was carrying. ANDREW DENTON: Yes. CLIVE JAMES: That was real. Those are actual follicles and actual strands of hair there. ANDREW DENTON: Do you remember where you left it? CLIVE JAMES: All over the earth. ANDREW DENTON: Is that right? CLIVE JAMES: Trailing behind me like this, sort of - this magic carpet. But I was so lean and mean and so full of conceit. ANDREW DENTON: And there was, on display, your love of the language. I get the sense that, for you, probably after sex, the greatest feeling in the world is getting six words just right in a sentence. CLIVE JAMES: Yes, yes. Way ahead, in fact. ANDREW DENTON: Yes. Because you know you can complete the six words? CLIVE JAMES: Yes, exactly. This is very true, what you say. We may go into that later, or we may not. ANDREW DENTON: Nothing worse than premature punctuation. CLIVE JAMES: But I think I used to talk a lot in those days. I was very young, very - a young Australian and I talked a lot. I think almost anybody who ends up talking well, if I can say that, starts off by talking too much. That was probably the real reason why I had to leave Australia. I had worn everybody out, I had bored them to death. ANDREW DENTON: Here's a difficult question. It applies especially to comedy, but to all writing. When do you know that a word is just right? CLIVE JAMES: It goes "click", like that. ANDREW DENTON: Really? CLIVE JAMES: It goes way, way back up in the head. I've never been able quite to describe the sound to anybody, but it goes "click." Yes. But the little "click" sound is nothing beside the enormous sound that you hear in your head when the thing is wrong. ANDREW DENTON: Okay. CLIVE JAMES: Because you bore yourself. ANDREW DENTON: Yes. CLIVE JAMES: You know when a sentence is clumsy. I think that the writer owes it to the reader to make the sentence read as easily as possible. Easy writing makes for hard reading. So the reason why you write everything twice and work on it very, very hard is to make it effortless for the reader. The reader, ideally, shouldn't know that he or she is reading, it just should flow along. To get that you've got to practice, and it takes a long, long time to get good. You end up with the fear of the ballet dancer. The fear of the ballet dancer is that their bodies will give out before they're ready. The writer has roughly the same feeling. I'd like to be able to write perfectly before I go nuts. ANDREW DENTON: Going back to our archives for a minute, this is Clive from a show called 'Up Sunday', 1973. CLIVE JAMES: Where do you get this stuff? (ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE PLAYED) CLIVE JAMES: Where did you get that? ANDREW DENTON: We've been looking. CLIVE JAMES: I not only had forgotten that I'd ever done that, I actually repressed it. If anybody had told me, I'd have said, "No, no, it never happened." I'm astonished. I don't think my Germaine Greer impersonation was very good. ANDREW DENTON: It's a little feminine. CLIVE JAMES: But Germaine - I was impressed with Germaine the first time I met her, and I'm bound to say she was with me. This was the late 50s, a long time ago, long before you were born. ANDREW DENTON: Mm. CLIVE JAMES: Germaine arrived from Melbourne University at Sydney University, where I was. As we've seen, I was - you know, I had all that gorgeous head of hair in those days and that, sort of, that racing tadpole face and everything and I looked, you know. Germaine must have liked the look of what she saw and she also able to detect, by x-ray vision and mental telepathy, that I was a virgin. I suppose it wasn't hard to pick. Anyway, she told her friends that she was intent on taking my virginity. Now this news reached me on the tom-toms. ANDREW DENTON: Yes. CLIVE JAMES: And I shot through. ANDREW DENTON: Why? Was it the thought of losing your virginity or... CLIVE JAMES: Yes, exactly. If I'd been smart, I would have accepted the offer, alright. Anyway, let's roll forward in time for a few more months, because later on I thought that it might be a good idea after all. So I put myself subtly in Germaine's way, the subtle things that young men do, like grabbing hold of lampposts and standing out sideways, you know. ANDREW DENTON: Yes. CLIVE JAMES: And flexing the muscles and so on. It didn't work, Andrew. No, she didn't go for it. ANDREW DENTON: She'd lost interest? CLIVE JAMES: Yes. More than that. She had me removed from her apartment. ANDREW DENTON: So when did you lose your virginity? CLIVE JAMES: That's another question altogether. It was later. I just wanted to establish that, though. I've got quite a lot of history with Germaine and anything that she says against me is probably right. ANDREW DENTON: Is that right? CLIVE JAMES: Yes. But I've got a lot of respect for her. I think she's a brilliant, brilliant woman. ANDREW DENTON: Looking at that, which reminds us of the fact that it was more than 40 years that you headed off to England. CLIVE JAMES: Yes. ANDREW DENTON: And you left your mum behind, who was a widow, you were her only child. CLIVE JAMES: Yes. ANDREW DENTON: And you rang her every day while you were in England. CLIVE JAMES: No, not every day, I couldn't afford it. Often. ANDREW DENTON: Often? CLIVE JAMES: Yes, yes. I was in touch with her right until the end, which wasn't all that long ago. She died a couple of years ago. No, it was the central relationship in my life, alright, but I did go. ANDREW DENTON: Yes. CLIVE JAMES: And I think if I'd stayed my life would have been very different. I don't think it would necessarily have been less spectacular, I might have done something in Australian radio and television, you never know. But the reason I went, I think, was that it was a necessary breaking away from a relationship that was too close. I thought the world of my mother and of her generation. They were brave, brave women. But the quickest way for a young man to cripple himself was to stay, I thought. I don't know whether I was right about that or not. I bear a load of guilt about it. ANDREW DENTON: I was going to ask, the danger, of course, in leaving is that you do feel guilty. CLIVE JAMES: Oh sure. But you feel guilty anyway. Freud, if he was here now - Freud would be a great guest for you - Freud would tell you that any man whose father died young, there is a load of guilt. ANDREW DENTON: Is part of the guilt, though, that you can never be, for your mother, what your father... CLIVE JAMES: The guilt is you can't do anything, you can't fix it for them. You can't fix history. In my deepest dreams I go back and give them a life. He would come back, they would be together, they would have their life and it wouldn't be destroyed by history. You must live forever with the fact that chance, the dice of chance have rolled over your life and crushed the corner of it and utterly crushed their lives. There's no way - it formed my whole view of life. Finding a justification to live is still my perennial search. ANDREW DENTON: You've thought about this a lot, I know. What kind of a man might you have been, had he lived? CLIVE JAMES: I hope I would have been a man like him. But the question is, what kind of a man would he have been had he lived. He was 33 when he died. That's half the age that I am now. So when I visit his grave it's like visiting my son's grave. I would have been a different man. I would have had someone to guide me and there are many foolishnesses I would not have committed. But, on the other hand, I might have ended up less adventurous and less interesting and more normal. I don't think it's my normalities that make my work interesting, it's probably the abnormalities. ANDREW DENTON: As always. It's true, is it not, that he really only knew you as a photograph? CLIVE JAMES: That's right, yes. I think he held me in his arms for one day before he went up to Singapore, just in time to be captured, and the only photograph - my photograph of him when the plane crashed, I know that. ANDREW DENTON: That's an always unbearable thought. CLIVE JAMES: It is. It's a lot of unbearable thoughts. But you've got to go back in time. That was a period of history when the world was full of unbearable thoughts, and that was just an accident. In Europe children my age, their entire families had been wiped out for generations. One and a half million children my age were loaded onto trains and taken to oblivion for no reason at all. So in a way we had it lucky if we were just contending with an accident. That's what I try and tell myself. But it - the role that chance plays in life - for one thing, it destroyed any religious sense I might ever have had. I really do think religions are just advertising agencies for a product that doesn't exist. It doesn't mean I'm not reverent about life, I'm too reverent about life, but I don't think God interferes. If God ever interfered or intervened, he would have done long ago. So you have to do without that and you have to face up to a life that, really, you have to impose meaning on it. The way I do it is by trying to make sense of in the writing. ANDREW DENTON: The argument, of course, about God is that these are tests. These are tests of faith, tests of character. CLIVE JAMES: Stop testing me. ANDREW DENTON: You might be failing the test. You wrote in a poem, Son of a Soldier. CLIVE JAMES: Yes. ANDREW DENTON: About going back to visit your father's grave when you were in your 50s. CLIVE JAMES: Yes. ANDREW DENTON: You said this was the first time in your life that you'd cried authentically. CLIVE JAMES: Yes, that was probably the truth. It was the first time I'd really let the tears go. ANDREW DENTON: What was difference between that and... CLIVE JAMES: Well it was because it was worse than a personal hurt. I've got a very thin skin. Some say that I was stupidly hypersensitive, I don't react very well to criticism, I had to teach myself to. I've done plenty of crying in my life but this was real crying because I wasn't crying for me, I was crying for him and for my mother. But I could go on for a long time about this, and I don't want to bore you or the audience, but you've certainly put your hand right into the wound. This is the central thing that drives my life. But that's not enough to make an artist. A lot of people have tragedies in their lives and this is - for one thing, the tragedy didn't happen to me so it makes it easier, right. ANDREW DENTON: Yes. CLIVE JAMES: It happened to the people around me. ANDREW DENTON: It's not boring, though, it's fundamental. When you found yourself crying in a way you'd never cried before, for your parents, your tears, up until that point, had been for yourself. Did it make you wonder about yourself? CLIVE JAMES: Well, yes, and it also reminded me of what Graham Greene used to call "the chip of ice". The chip of ice in the writer's heart. Because the chip of ice is there too, and the very moment when you're crying, truly crying for the first time in your life about other people, like your parents, the chip of ice is telling you, "I could use this." That is another guilt that the artist lives with. Everything is material. This is terribly true of - David Malouf, he is a wonderful writer, David. He did a book about a painter. The painter's friend gets killed and gets his head beaten in, in a kitchen and there is blood all over the walls. The painter, who loves this man, the man who has been killed, sees the pattern on the wall and thinks of what his next abstract picture is going to look like. ANDREW DENTON: Mm. CLIVE JAMES: You see, that's the terrific moment in literature. Only Malouf could do that, I think, in prose at the moment. It's true. It's the way artists think, and they're guilty about it. Everything is an opportunity. ANDREW DENTON: Are you vaguely aware of that through all phases of your life? CLIVE JAMES: Yes, yes. ANDREW DENTON: Even at the most intimate times, the most passionate times? CLIVE JAMES: Yes. It can play hell with your love life, if you've got one. It's always a big mistake to tell the lady, "I can get a poem out of you." Actually it's a good way of scaring her off if you don't want to be involved. ANDREW DENTON: Yes. "This relationship is going from bad to verse." That's appalling. CLIVE JAMES: No, no, that was excellent. ANDREW DENTON: Your mum only died a couple of years ago. You had, as you've said, an incredibly close relationship. CLIVE JAMES: Yes. ANDREW DENTON: So when that person is not there in your life to reach out to... CLIVE JAMES: I'm not so sure that I ever reached out very much because I remembered how much reaching I'd done when I was tiny. This is when things are formed, you know. When nothing must happen unless mummy was there. When she had to take you into the toilet when you were tiny and you were out visiting the zoo or something. When you fell off the back of the bus and skinned your knee, "Where is mummy?" All this builds up and up and up and then suddenly you're 21 and you think, "I can't go on like this. I've got put a world between my and this. Between my needs and her needs." So then you spend a long time not being in touch and get guilty about that. That's really what happened. One of the things I was trying to do was to pay them back. I imagine if my father had lived, that he and she might have been proud of me for the things that I'd achieved. My mother really wanted me to pass well at the university and have a degree so that I could get a job. That's it. She would call it "qualifications". What really worried her was that I had no qualifications and this writing lark that I was doing would never really pay properly and I wouldn't be able to build a house for my family, the way she had, which she did all by herself. This went on for several decades and she never quite believed what I was doing - she'd watch me on television and she was still worrying about the qualifications. ANDREW DENTON: Mm. CLIVE JAMES: Then finally, a few years ago, the Sydney University very kindly gave me an honorary doctorate, a doctor in letters, a velvet hat, you see this stuff. ANDREW DENTON: Yes, yes. CLIVE JAMES: The big cape and everything. Superman. My mother was there. I'd got her - they brought her down from the nursing home, she's in a wheelchair and she was sitting there at the back of the hall and I gave the address. After that I walked towards her and there could almost have been a brass band playing selections from Aida, you know, as I marched towards her. I could see this look on her face and I knew what was look was. She was thinking, "At last he's got his qualifications." ANDREW DENTON: He's got work. He's safe. CLIVE JAMES: There will be work, yes. See, that was all in their consciousness in that generation. ANDREW DENTON: Yes, of course. We've talked about your poetry and you mentioned beautiful women before. I've noticed, looking at your poetry, that there is a distinctive theme, one of many. CLIVE JAMES: Oh. ANDREW DENTON: Like, if we go to... CLIVE JAMES: Evidence, you've got? ANDREW DENTON: Evidence. "Your Honour, I table this." Girl on a Train, 1970: "What did I do yesterday? Well I'll tell you in brief. 10 quid for the book and I got out of town... CLIVE JAMES: "10 quid from the bank and I got out... ANDREW DENTON: Thanks. Sorry: "Slowly but surely my life came to flower again, falling head over heels for a beautiful girl on the train." CLIVE JAMES: It happened. ANDREW DENTON: Skip forward to 2004, Slalu. You've just seen a beautiful woman walk off the ferry: "Leo, speed reading my expression and knowing me of old, would have me as predictable as a Bondi tram. It's true, I am." CLIVE JAMES: Yes. ANDREW DENTON: For all your fabulous pursuit of the intellectual, how easily seduced are you by beauty? CLIVE JAMES: If I was a painter I'd be the kind of painter who fell in love with every model. Whether the model fell in love with me would be up to her. But it's true and I think it will be true until I die. I never get over the miracle of female beauty. Male beauty not so much, but you're a very handsome man. ANDREW DENTON: I know. CLIVE JAMES: And I'm stirred, but not stirred quite the way I am by that girl up in the third row up there. ANDREW DENTON: And I will deal with this sense of disappointment. CLIVE JAMES: Yes. ANDREW DENTON: Of your talents, which ones would you trade to have been a sexy man? CLIVE JAMES: None. ANDREW DENTON: Really? CLIVE JAMES: No. I've actually wrote a poem called Exit Don Giovanni, which is about the tragedy of being Don Giovanni, Don Juan, the man who has to make no effort. I've known a couple of them in my time. ANDREW DENTON: Yes. CLIVE JAMES: I've known two guys who never had to lift a finger. ANDREW DENTON: Really? CLIVE JAMES: Women ran towards them, you know? I'm jealous, but it did take their whole time. No, I would rather do without one. Anyway, I have to do without that. I would have to be the kind of man who worked at it. Sex is at the base of everything. There is - Freud, who still isn't here, we've been waiting for him... ANDREW DENTON: I know. CLIVE JAMES: It's about time he got on here, said it was at the basis of everything and so did Nietzsche, that everything arises out of the sexual desire. Everything you do, everything you create, comes out of sexual - that seems quite logical to me. It's probably something we share with the white-tipped reef shark, for example, and every other animal in nature. ANDREW DENTON: Not quite as brutally, I hope. CLIVE JAMES: Exactly, the sexual drive is the first drive. But not to have modified it or parlayed it into another form of creativity is tragic. ANDREW DENTON: You said in an interview a couple of years ago that maybe you have an important book in you, an important book. CLIVE JAMES: Yes. ANDREW DENTON: Does the thought of doing something important tantalise you? CLIVE JAMES: I'm very, very conceited about my work and I've done a lot of being here today. But psychologists in the audience will have detected an inner conceit that's impregnable. I actually believe that every word I write is important. ANDREW DENTON: Yes. CLIVE JAMES: My songs, lyrics, even the most frivolous joke. I really do believe that. But I know that I might be wrong. ANDREW DENTON: You've said that you may only have 10 years left in you. CLIVE JAMES: Yes. ANDREW DENTON: You do so many things, including, most recently, hosting The Footy Show. CLIVE JAMES: That could have been the end of me. ANDREW DENTON: Why not get to the important book? CLIVE JAMES: Well I'm going to. It's a couple of years up the line. I've got two books I'm finishing now and there is a couple of other projects that I'm working on, and then I'll probably get to the big novel. But it's not unknown for people to have this big project and they never get to it. Truman Capote, who was very fine writer and much underestimated, and was also a great liar of course. One of the lies he told was that he had a big novel that he writing. When he finally dropped off the twig, the big novel was discovered to be one pathetic sheet of paper with a few notes on it. ANDREW DENTON: But that lie was only horrible truly to himself. CLIVE JAMES: Yes. ANDREW DENTON: You have consumed the lives of so many great people who have done great things. CLIVE JAMES: Yes. ANDREW DENTON: Does this not eat away at you, the thought that you want to leave something on the table that's going to stay there? CLIVE JAMES: Well, maybe it's better to leave something small anyway. Sometimes there are very great writers who leave only a few lines, really, and you can write 30 books and you leave nothing behind except one line that people will quote. Well it's enough. It's not up to you to decide how you're going to be remembered and you don't work with the aim of being remembered by certain people, or many people, you work with the aim of being as good as you can. ANDREW DENTON: Let's skip from literature to one of your other great passions, the tango. CLIVE JAMES: Ah. ANDREW DENTON: Is it true that you had a dance floor put in your house so you could practice? CLIVE JAMES: Yes, the press runs away with that idea and I think they get the impression there are chandeliers involved. It's just a floor on the top floor of my flat. ANDREW DENTON: But you went to Buenos Aires to learn it, didn't you? CLIVE JAMES: Oh yes, and I still fly there occasionally just to, you know, do some lessons. ANDREW DENTON: What's it's like to dance? CLIVE JAMES: Oh it's great. ANDREW DENTON: Yes? CLIVE JAMES: And you get to hold a beautiful woman against you and the police don't come. It's - do you know what I mean? ANDREW DENTON: No. Are you still up to form? CLIVE JAMES: Yes, yes. I stay in shape and I have danced a couple of times - when I'm here in Sydney there are two or three places you can dance during the week, and I dance quite a lot back in England. ANDREW DENTON: If a beautiful dancer were to materialise now, could you dance a few steps? CLIVE JAMES: You haven't got one? You've got everything else. ANDREW DENTON: Janise. CLIVE JAMES: No. But I'm wearing my - the first thing to say about the tango is that you never dance it with a rose in your teeth, so you have the rose between your teeth. ANDREW DENTON: Okay. CLIVE JAMES: I'm wearing my Williams boots here, this isn't going to be so smooth. Have you got some music? ANDREW DENTON: We do have some music for you. CLIVE JAMES: What's your name again? JANISE: Janise. ANDREW DENTON: Janice. Janice, Clive. Clive, Janice. CLIVE JAMES: Okay. Have you got some music? ANDREW DENTON: We do have some music. When you're ready. (MUSIC PLAYED) ANDREW DENTON: Janice, thank you so much. Clive James, you give life a very good name. Clive James, ladies and gentlemen. CLIVE JAMES: Andrew Denton.


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