Clive James: reports of my death are greatly exaggerated


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The Independent Culture

Your starter for 10: what connects Osama bin Laden, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Clive James?

The answer, as of Thursday, is that they've all been prematurely killed off by journalists. Tributes began pouring in to James, the "brilliant, funny, twinkly eyed" broadcaster, (that from Julian Clary) after the Mirror announced he was "near the end". Comedians, delighted that the news agenda had finally moved on from their tax affairs, scrambled to pay their respects: Dara O Briain called him "an inspiration", and Chris Addison hailed him "a genius and a one-off".

The bad news, or rather the good, was that James is still very much alive. So much so that he promptly hit back by writing an article in yesterday's Telegraph, under the headline "I'm not dead yet!". In it, he declared "I still have a few years left", and gave it with both barrels to the journalist who had killed him off, saying he'd like to "bite him in the upper thigh".

To be fair to the hack in question, James had said he is "getting near the end" and described himself as "a man who is approaching his terminus". Just not to him. The quotes were lifted from the transcript of a Radio 4 show that aired last night.

To say you are "reaching your terminus" is, for all of us, simply a statement of fact. Where else are we heading? It's true that James, who is suffering from leukaemia, is probably a few paces ahead of most. But one thing he categorically is not, as of 8 o'clock last night, is dead.

In fact there are still plenty of beans in the 72-year-old Australian. He continues to write a weekly TV review and has been working with the BBC on his new programme. He has also just published a new collection of poetry, Nefertiti in the Flak Tower.

There was only one bum note in yesterday's spirited article. Attacking the Mirror for its "piddling so-called interview", James claimed "the cheap press are uneasily aware that nobody cares much about what they say". Was he not aware that, had they not killed him off, he wouldn't have been writing that piece, or that Clive James wouldn't have been catapulted to the top of the news agenda? As any poet knows, nothing boosts sales like your own death.