Essays: “Reports of my Death”: The <i>Guardian</i> Column |
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“Reports of my Death” : The Guardian Column

In her recent Reminiscence about working with Clive, Melissa Denes, his editor at The Guardian, recalls what fun it was getting his weekly column into the paper’s “Weekend” magazine:

‘Clive wrote about Bake Off (“Formula One with cars you can eat”), night-surfing in Sydney, Adele’s Hello, binge-watching Steven Seagal movies, Wimbledon, Proust, Boris Johnson. He filed at 10am every Wednesday without fail. No column was about any one thing: he skipped from his beloved granddaughter’s birthday to Harry Potter to TS Eliot to an opera star newly recovered from a brain tumour. He loved the limitations of the length (460 words), calling the columns his “bonsai pinadas”: “I just set out to keep you fascinated for the next three minutes and the whole thing goes like a racing dog,” he wrote. His first column got front-page billing, and he trended on Twitter, which delighted him: “The thrill reminds me of the first time I was ever in print, back there on the Sydney Morning Herald in the early 60s,” he emailed. “Heavens, what fun. Onward, Clive.”

‘There were things we disagreed on — climate science, and once a column that was a very bad idea whichever way you looked at it. There was a long silence at the other end of the line when I called him to say so. “I see what you mean,” he said. “Well, I’ve got a nice one about a dormouse.” The dormouse was filed the next morning, and who knew that “there are zillions, threatening to eat the entire country”? He would sometimes resist an edit, or refer it upwards to his wife, Prue, or daughter, Claerwen, who tended to come down on my side; often housebound, he was surrounded by women with opinions, and loving it. There were niggles from Clive’s end, too: he objected to a headline that paraphrased rather than directly quoted, or a subeditor correcting a deliberate mistake. Any references to “Guardian house style” were enraging.

‘He liked the back-and-forth of editing (“Bonzer, I’m SO glad you dig this”), but hated what he saw as meddling. A few months after he started, my boss asked that I move the column towards the front of the magazine — a more box-office billing. I redesigned the page and showed it to Clive as a courtesy. He was furious: he was staying where he was, at the back, no fuss. The agent was cc’d, this time for real. Clive argued he would lose a quarter of his readers; someone had once taken his TV show off air for a week, and he had lost a million viewers. So he stayed put and maybe he was right: a reader once wrote to say they liked getting to Clive towards the end, like the sugar at the bottom of a cup of tea.

‘By the summer of 2017 he was finding a weekly deadline too exhausting, and decided to quit while he was ahead. Well, almost. He returned to write longer pieces, about The Crown, the NHS, his first crush (Grace Kelly), always thrilled to be writing, and to be read. “You know I would like to write tons more long pieces but honey, I can barely climb stairs,” he emailed. We last spoke a few weeks ago, when he said he was too tired for the latest piece. “But thank you for asking and please continue to ask. One day I’ll say yes.” I’m bereft there won’t be more yeses, but what a body of work. And as he once said: “Gad, what fun, if a bit tiring.” Onward, Clive.’

[ Clive's Guardian column is indexed at left, and HERE in more detail. And HERE, in the Guardian's own index. Whilst copies continue to exist on the paper's own Website, we provide links to those. See also Clive's columns for the Observer and the Telegraph — Archive Ed., 2020, updated 2022 ]