The Seven Ages of Clive James


1) THE HAIRY YEARS

DATES: 19whenever-1972

FEATS: Getting here, getting noticed and getting on. Winding up Germaine Greer. Starting a TV column in The Listener. Working for the mysteriously-named London Weekend International dreaming up shows like Think Twice because “there were two of us, and we would be doing quite a lot of thinking”.

FOLLIES: Writing comedy songs. Writing short stories. Writing epic poetry. Writing anything except TV reviews.

‘ALLO CLIVE!: Assorted hangers-on and compadres included Julie “Argentina” Covington, Russell “No T” Davies and Barry “Cultural Ambassador” Humphries.

JUST JAMES: “Years later Joan Bakewell told me she thought it was the most irritating single television programme she had ever seen”

IN A WORD: Hirsute

2) THE MUSHROOM YEARS

DATES: 1972-1982

FEATS: Invents TV criticism. “This, the man who…” “Developing situation.” “Turning into a very freaky scene.” “Aptly branded with a title which turns out to be an anagram for Old Krap.” “Groovy, doomy”. “A plague on it.” “Opening and closing doors.” “Dusty mist and misty dust.” “Wmbldn.” “‘You’re gonna doublet? I doan believe ya!'” “Television history is made out of television.” “Didn’t need a lolly to suck.” “Got nipples together.” “Freezing fog situation.” “Folds his hands, leans forward and smiles at you from under his moustache.” “Two small crows”. “Clearing its throat.” Also does Saturday Night People with Janet Street Porter and Russell Harty.

FOLLIES: Penning more epic poetry on the side.

‘ALLO CLIVE!: Harry the Hawk, Barbara Woodhouse, David Coleman and a thousand other small screen heroes.

JUST JAMES: “To appear on television and explain the futility of television to the masses whose opinion is not worth having – truly this is the work of a saint.”

IN A WORD: Seminal

3) THE LWT YEARS

DATES: 1982-1987

FEATS: Debuting ‘Postcard’ idea with jovial jaunt to Paris Fashion Show. Channel 4 chat show with guests like Alan Coren, AJP Taylor and, naturally, Germaine Greer. Commentating on Formula One for a laugh.

FOLLIES: Going swimming with some Playmates at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion. On camera.

‘ALLO CLIVE!: Posh film stars. Exiled princesses. Terence Donovan.

JUST JAMES: “I was in the gathering dusk and I suddenly realised there was an eerie silence coming from my left foot. I looked down. I wrote a column on it. I was the first really scientific student of dog mess.”

IN A WORD: Glitzy


4) THE IMPERIAL YEARS

DATES: 1988-1995

FEATS: Talking by satellite to Vitali Vitaliev. Inventing YouTube. Talking by satellite to Mel Brooks. Stormin’ Norman Norman Stormin’ Norman Schwartzkopf. Discovering Japanese television. Talking by satellite to Billy Connolly. Playing role of guest judge on the Generation Game. Talking by satellite to TV evangelists/cross-dressers/cross-dressing TV evangelists. Riding the Slippery Dips in Sydney. Getting fitted with a hairpiece in LA. “I’d received word that an extremely eminent and attractive female foreign dignitary was in town and desperate to meet me.”

FOLLIES: “And the winner of this year’s Teatowel Wearer Of The Year award is…Yasmin Arafat!” Getting to ‘Finally Meet’ Frank Sinatra.

‘ALLO CLIVE!: Jerry Hall, Jane Fonda, Elle MacPherson, Louise Lombard, Caroline Langrishe and a million other glamorous starlets.

JUST JAMES: “How long do you give him?” said Mr Mitterand. “I’ll give him three weeks, max,” said Mr Hurd. “Don’t call me Max,” said Mr Mitterand.

IN A WORD: Intercontinental


5) THE PRACATAN YEARS

DATES: 1995-2000

FEATS: Defecting to ITV and not being a complete disaster. Little-seen Clive James On TV effort wherein our host re-read old columns and cued in clips while subject of the criticism sat in the audience looking bemused.

FOLLIES: “Eeez it me yurrrr looookin furrrrr?” She’d already shown up once or twice at the Beeb, but it was only now that Marguerita became the ubiquitous “surprise” guest to bring Clive’s telly curtain clunking down week in week out.

‘ALLO CLIVE!: See above

JUST JAMES: “Now, to sing us out, in her inimitable style, and you should try imitating it…”

IN A WORD: Earsplitting


6) THE HIBERNATION YEARS

DATES: 2000-2004

FEATS: Jacking it in when ITV wanted more Geri Halliwells and less Gore Vidals. Not slagging everyone in the industry off like 95% of most ex-TV presenters.

FOLLIES: Staying quiet for too long.

‘ALLO CLIVE!: As far away from Marguerita as possible.

JUST JAMES: “They used to put the arts on with Morecambe and Wise. Those days are gone and they’re not coming back.”

IN A WORD: Grim


7) THE 2.0 YEARS

DATES: 2004-NOW

FEATS: Updating his memoirs. Going out on the road. Putting everything he’s ever done online. Getting a new weekly Radio 4 slot.

FOLLIES: Resuming the epic poetry (shudder).

‘ALLO CLIVE!: Martin Amis. Terry Gilliam. Germaine Greer. All those literary nabobs he interviews in his library for his website.

JUST JAMES: “It’s like simultaneously painting and skating and dancing and singing. Everything at once. It’s terrific fun.”

IN A WORD: Swashbuckling

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