Clive James, an expatriate Australian writer and broadcaster who wrote incisively and often hilariously about television, literature and current affairs, has died aged 80, his agents said on Wednesday.
James, a big name in British television and radio in the 1980s, was influential in media circles and won awards for journalism and broadcasting.
His often coarse, dead-pan style peaked in popularity in the 1980s with the show ‘Clive James on Television’, in which he lampooned clips of absurd international television shows, in particular a Japanese contest called ‘Endurance’.
He wrote a newspaper column titled ‘Reports of My Death’ in The Guardian after being diagnosed with leukemia in 2010. In 2016 he said his longevity after announcing his illness was embarrassing.
As comfortable writing about low-brow as well as intellectual culture, his self-deprecating book of memoirs ‘Unreliable Memories’ was a bestseller reprinted dozens of times.
His book ‘Cultural Amnesia’, comprising short essays about more than 100 people who fascinated him – including writers Thomas Mann and Franz Kafka, filmmaker Federico Fellini and musicians from Duke Ellington to Erik Satie – testified to the breadth of his cultural and intellectual interests.
James acted as informal adviser to Britain’s Prince Charles and his ex-wife Diana, something he wrote about in a searingly honest portrayal of their friendship and the phenomenon of Diana’s popularity after her death in a car crash in Paris in 1997.
Vivian Leopold James was born in Sydney in 1939, changing his name to Clive as a child. He moved to England in 1962 and, after graduating from Cambridge University, remained there for the rest of his life.
He died at his home in Cambridge on Sunday, his agents said.
James taught himself French by reading the novels of Marcel Proust with a dictionary, joking that he “might have forgotten to say it took me 15 years”. He also spoke Russian, Japanese, German and Italian.