The dignity of Clive James is a lesson to us all

At 74-years-old and increasingly frail, he is focused on what he called the other day “the death door stuff”

Share

Recently, I have wondered how I will approach my own death (should, of course, I have a slow, conscious demise, and not die as a result of an accident with a domestic appliance). Will I rage against the dying of the light? Will I just feel horribly sorry for myself? Will I be cheerfully resigned to my fate, taking comfort in a life well lived? Probably a mixture of all three, but I have come to think that dying with dignity is as important as living with grace.

I have been particularly moved by the progress the great author, journalist and TV presenter Clive James is making towards his final resting place. James suffers from emphysema and leukaemia, and knows that, for him, the light will die in the relatively near future. He's not happy about it, but neither is he bashful, and the man who liked nothing more than a glamorous party and an evening of salsa dancing is studiously embracing the inevitable, bequeathing a beautiful running commentary on his own demise.

We had a false alarm a couple of years ago when James said in an interview that he was “approaching his terminus”. This prompted a flurry of encomia about James, who has been a colossal figure in British culture for the past 50 years, but thankfully journey's end proved to be a few stops further down the line.

This enabled James to have an Indian summer, doing the thing for which he will be most fondly remembered: TV criticism. So here he is, only a few weeks ago: “In The Trip to Italy, Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan took their competitive impersonation skills to a new level when one of them impersonated Saddam Hussein impersonating Frank Spencer, and the other impersonated Roger Moore impersonating Tony Blair. I lost track of who was which, but it was virtuoso stuff. Meanwhile, they were eating the greatest of Italian food while surrounded with British upmarket honey-blonde chalet girls”. The James back catalogue is replete with brilliant paragraphs like this: funny, perceptive and expressed with a characteristic economy of style.

But James the TV critic is no longer, unconscionably cast aside by his employer, and now, at 74-years-old and increasingly frail, he is focused on what he called the other day “the death door stuff”, and his latest offering - a poem called “Sentenced to Life” - is a terribly affecting piece of work. You can hear him recite it himself, the voice hesitant but still definably his, on his own website, clivejames.com, and it is essentially a love letter to his native Australia, which he will never see again.

He writes of his memory of “the Pacific sunset, heaven sent/In glowing colours and in sharp relief” and concludes the poem thus:

Now I am weak. The sky is overcast

Here in the English autumn, but my mind

Basks in the light I never left behind

Tomorrow James appears on stage in London at an Australian literature festival, talking for an hour about his life and work. It's what he calls “a last post”. Very, very few of us have the gift of articulacy that was bestowed on Clive James, but we can all learn from the manner of his farewell.   

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Recruitment Genius: PA

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A PA is required to join a leading provider of...

Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Any chance the other parties will run their election campaigns without any deceit or nastiness?

Nigel Farage
 

The digital world is incredible – but it’s human bonds that make us who we are

Joanna Shields
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness