Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Two Icons

Nov 27, 2019

The day's news includes the deaths of two British cultural icons.

You might say that Clive James, poet and all-round man of letters, has been dying for a decade. It has been that long since he received a terminal cancer diagnosis and announced it to the world. His lovely 2014 poem "Japanese Maple" contains the final lines:

Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colors will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone
So brightly at the last, and then was gone.

James was 80 years old. My favourite quote: "If you don't know the exact moment when the lights will go out, you might as well read until they do."

Also passing this week is the theatre director Jonathan Miller, age 85, one of the original members of the Beyond the Fringe comedy troupe. My older brother had brought records of BTF into the house when I was a teenager. They were screamingly funny and on a visit to London in the 1960s I took the opportunity to take in the show live. I laughed so hard my stomach hurt, literally bent double over the seat in front of me. It was a small theatre and I wondered afterwards if the foursome had asked themselves who the young hysteric was in the fifth row.

Peter Cook and Dudley Moore are both gone so that leaves Alan Bennett as the only surviving member of the troupe, which I was pleased to see featured in an episode of the latest season of The Crown.