Remembering Clive James

Clive at his deadliest — in the Observer, March 7, 1976

From my tribute to him in today’s paper…

I was privileged to be his successor-but-one. (When he stood down from the paper in 1982, Julian Barnes took over, and I then succeeded Julian in 1987.) I knew when I accepted the job that it would be a tough assignment. Indeed, I had learned that lesson 10 years earlier, because occasionally – when Clive’s TV work took him abroad – I used to be called in by Terry Kilmartin, the Observer’s then literary editor and éminence grise.

On one such occasion, after labouring mightily on the column, I caught the London train on the Sunday morning. Two very grand middle-aged ladies got in and sat opposite me. One of them had a copy of the Observer, and I watched, entranced, as she immediately went to the back page and started to read. I saw her chuckle as the jokes detonated, and I felt a glow of quiet satisfaction: I had finally cracked it. And then, when she had finished reading, she handed the paper to her companion.

“Dorothy”, she said, “you really must read this. Clive James is very funny this morning!”

I may have stepped into his shoes. But they were too big for me. Which is why I miss him.

Podcasting: will it succumb to the Wu cycle?

This morning’s Observer column:

I’ve just been listening to what I think of as the first real podcast. The speaker is Dave Winer, the software genius whom I wrote about in October. He pioneered blogging and played a key role in the evolution of the RSS site-syndication technology that enabled users and applications to access updates to websites in a standardised, computer-readable format.

And the date of this podcast? 11 June, 2004 – 15 years ago; which rather puts into context the contemporary excitement about this supposedly new medium that is now – if you believe the hype – taking the world by storm. With digital technology it always pays to remember that it’s older than you think.

When he started doing it, Winer called it “audioblogging” and if you listen to his early experiments you can see why. They’re relaxed, friendly, digressive, unpretentious and insightful – in other words an accurate reflection of the man himself and of his blog. He thought of them as “morning coffee notes” – audio meditations about what was on his mind first thing in the morning…

Read on