CLIVE JAMES AO CBE FAHA
1939-2019

It was with great sadness that the Academy learned last week of the death of Clive James AO CBE FAHA, who passed away on 24 November 2019 at the age of 80. 

Vivian Leopold (Clive) James was a literary critic, journalist, writer, poet, and TV host. Born in Sydney, Australia on 7 October 1939, James attended Sydney Technical High School before studying psychology at the University of Sydney. Having moved to London at the age of 22 to study for a further degree in English at Cambridge University, he would ultimately live in the UK for the remainder of his life. He was elected as an Honorary Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 2006.

James worked first as a literary journalist in London, where he wrote two well-received books of critical essays, The Metropolitan Critic (1974) and At the Pillars of Hercules (1979). It was also during this decade that he began his foray into popular entertainment, earning praise for bringing his literary flair and sardonic style to the role of TV critic for The Observer. This charismatic panache would become his hallmark, and he would go on to become a television presenter for BBC, with numerous appearances including ‘Clive James's Postcard From’ (1989-1995), ‘Saturday Night Clive’ (1988-90), and his eight-part documentary series, ‘Fame in The Twentieth Century’ (1993), which was also broadcast in Australia by the ABC.

His numerous television and radio appearances did little to interfere with his prodigious creative output. He was prolific across a variety of media, from poetry, novels, and plays, to essays, reviews, and newspaper articles. Unreliable Memoirs (1980) was the first of five autobiographies. His translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy was published in 2013. 

His reviews of major European, American, and Australian poets revealed a deep intellectual grasp of this literary form; his own poetry was published to widespread critical acclaim. Peter Porter once described him as a “true poet” and in 2003 his Collected Verse was awarded the Philip Hodgins Memorial Award. 

He received numerous other accolades and awards for his broad-ranging work. In 2008, he was awarded a George Orwell special prize for writing and broadcasting, and in 2015 he received a special award from BAFTA for his contribution to television. His contribution to the arts was recognised with an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Sydney; he was appointed CBE in 2012; and became a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1992 and an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 2013 in recognition of his service to literature.

His diagnosis with terminal leukaemia in 2010 did nothing to slow his output, which included another collection of literary essays, Latest Readings (2015), a column in Guardian’s Weekend magazine entitled Reports of My Death, and a poetry collection, Injury Time (2017).

We extend our deepest sympathies to the James family.