Me and Clive James go back a long way- back to the mid 1970s, when his weekly TV reviews in The Observer were the cleverest and funniest critical writing to be found. I was surprised to discover his credentials as a literary critic, characterised by deep knowledge and common sense (not as common a pairing as one might think). And his Unreliable Memoirs were a definitive roman a clef of adolescence, if a little self-indulgent. Self indulgence, alas, was to become the theme of his later work, including an embarassing comic/satirical poem for the Royal Wedding in 1980, and then his TV series. Initially, his elaborate sardonic riffs applied to popular culture were refreshing, but solidified into a pose. And he admitted that he was star-struck by Hollywood. The point at which I switched off was when he interviewed Jane Fonda, smirking at his good fortune to be spending time talking to such a personality, having forgotten, presumably, that he once wrote that Jane Fonda as an activist was a superb consciousness-raiser, on the grounds that if he found himself sharing an opinion she held he immediately examined it.
But to judge from his website www. clivejames.com, he is now back in the land of the sane, and his literary reviews are amusing and perceptive. As he says on the home page "It might seem strange to say so, in the face of the evidence, but this project is not meant entirely as an ego trip, although I suppose the Pharaohs said the same when they were approving the designs for their individual pyramids." His poetry has improved, too.