If he's called Clive, he must be our man
Saturday 18 February 1995
You watch the way top geneticists have cloned Clive James's career in television on to that of his namesake, Clive Anderson, and you wonder whether the powers that be adhere to a rigid checklist when scouting for presentational talent. Remember that nippy little Chelsea winger called Clive Walker? He was a bit thin on top. Apparently Sky are slinging a quiz show at him. Rumour is rife that the Welsh rugby referee Clive Norling will be offered Anne Diamond's job, but only if he agrees to shave his head. Any minute now Clive Anderson will be doing reviews of the year, fitting clever captions on to silly news footage on New Year's Eve, but for the moment he is Our Man in... (BBC2). Last night he was in Goa, on the hippie trail that is fast making way for the tourist developments: "It's a tough assignment," he said, "but somebody has to do it."
Ninety seconds into the trip, with Our Man dismissively pointing out Goa on a map of India, while telling jokes about being bald and being a lawyer, it looked as if Clive Anderson Talks Back had switched channels to do an outside broadcast. Putting up in an uncomfortable shack on his first night, he produced the mosquito repellent and the portable light and took you straight back to the useless-gizmos slot he does in the studio. When he rang to book an interview with the head of tourism, he explained that he was from the BBC. "Better than saying Channel 4," he said afterwards, a familiar Anderson-ism that none the less betrayed an affection for his main employers and even suggested guilt at his straying.
The jokes chuntered along nicely, and it scarcely seemed to matter that he was doing the show without celebrity guests, because Anderson can bounce a gag off anyone, especially if they're a foreigner or stoned and therefore slow on the uptake. Parodying David Attenborough, he crept through the undergrowth in search of hippies, he did a Top of the Pops fish-eye-lens narco-trip take-off, and generally gave the impression that the investigation that brought him there could wait awhile.
The preambling neatly served a dual purpose: it gave the punters the Anderson they switched on to see, and it briefly portrayed the simple hedonistic lifestyle that golf courses and five-star hotels will destroy. While quite a lot of us could sleep soundly with the knowledge that hippie culture has been asked to move on from a remote coast of a distant continent, the ecological destruction of village life that development is causing might prick the conscience of the odd potentially Goa-bound holiday-maker.
On the drawing-board this programme, a cross-breed of hard reporting and light entertainment, must have looked like a hybrid that would never get up and walk, but Anderson's charm manages to pull the generic strands together. His stock line is self-deprecation, and that works equally well in a comedian filing a holiday story and a reporter trying to tease answers out of pompous, self-satisfied bureaucrats.
When he met the head of tourism, a hilarious sequence ensued in which Anderson and camera crew were made to wait in the office while several men continued their meeting round the head honcho's desk. Your man from Newsnight would excise the bits in which the interview was interrupted by the incessant dring-dring of the phone, but here we cut to shots of the intrepid reporter looking wryly narked.
Incredibly, serious journalism wasn't undermined by this journalist's comic instincts. This is probably a trick only trained barristers, performers in a missionary profession, can pull off.
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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