Clive James RIP

A celebration in response to the death of Clive James, who had dealt with his long illness with philosophy, wisdom, anger and humour. His death marked the end of a remarkable career.


While James was a very funny man, he was also a serious thinker about writing, literature and the arts. In the following short film he discusses literature and art with John Carey, emeritus Merton Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford, a renowned literary critic. In a fascinating chat, they talk about ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, elitism and classism in the arts, and what might be terms the ‘value’ of the arts. Covering TS Eliot, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf and Tracy Emin within social and historical contexts, it makes for fascinating listening. The volume on the film is very quiet, so you’ll have to boost it a bit.

And the final words James himself, with the fantastically comically spiteful poem. A ‘remaindered’ book is one the publishers have not managed to sell, so batches of such books are dumped into cheap bookshops to be sold quickly at knockdown prices. For an author, therefore, this is something of a humiliation – which James in this poem enjoys – because it is not his book!

The book of my enemy has been remaindered

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased.
In vast quantities it has been remaindered.
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
My enemy’s much-praised effort sits in piles
In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.
Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
One passes down reflecting on life’s vanities,
Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
Lavished to no avail upon one’s enemy’s book –
For behold, here is that book
Among these ranks and banks of duds,
These ponderous and seemingly irreducible cairns
Of complete stiffs.

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I rejoice.
It has gone with bowed head like a defeated legion
Beneath the yoke.
What avail him now his awards and prizes,
The praise expended upon his meticulous technique,
His individual new voice?
Knocked into the middle of next week
His brainchild now consorts with the bad buys,
The sinkers, clinkers, dogs and dregs,
The Edsels of the world of movable type,
The bummers that no amount of hype could shift,
The unbudgeable turkeys.

Yea, his slim volume with its understated wrapper
Bathes in the glare of the brightly jacketed Hitler’s War Machine,
His unmistakably individual new voice
Shares the same scrapyard with a forlorn skyscraper
Of The Kung-Fu Cookbook,
His honesty, proclaimed by himself and believed in by others,
His renowned abhorrence of all posturing and pretence,
Is;there with Pertwee’s Promenades and Pierrots
One Hundred Years of Seaside Entertainment,
And (oh, this above all) his sensibility,
His sensibility and its hair-like filaments,
His delicate, quivering sensibility is now as one
With Barbara Windsor’s Book of Boobs,
A volume graced by the descriptive rubric
‘My boobs will give everyone hours of fun.’

Soon now a book of mine could be remaindered also,
Though not to the monumental extent
In which the chastisement of remaindering has been meted out
To the book of my enemy,
Since in the case of my own book it will be due
To a miscalculated print run, a marketing error –
Nothing to do with merit.
But just supposing that such an event should hold
Some slight element of sadness, it will be offset
By the memory of this sweet moment.
Chill the champagne and polish the crystal goblets!
The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am glad.

Thank you, Clive James.