Clive V L James set about building his website in 2004, after obtaining the rights to the domain name clivejames.com (indirectly) from Colorado-based jet-ski racer Clive M B James. With the assistance of a small but dedicated team of cultural and literary, administrative and technological assistants, including (among others) Cécile Menon, Dawn Mancer, Henriette Guthauser, Susie Young, Dominic Cellier, John Bryan, Nicholas Watts and Simon Larcey, Clive assembled over the following years a virtual Library of Babel, to include copies and excerpts from hundreds of essays, poetic and prose works, blogs, books, artworks, radio and TV programs and podcasts, YouTube videos and Web links. At first his intention was to provide a showcase for his own best work, but he soon expanded this to include selected guest writers. He made the decision to eschew all those distracting website tricks, tropes and gimmicks, so his pages are static in style, untroubled by pop-ups and animations, though arguably at some detriment to their intuitive navigability.
With the onset of illness in 2010, Clive's available time for developing the site inevitably became restricted, and the accession rate of new material declined. Also around this time the content's error rate increased, with an accumulation of broken links, layout and typographical errors, plus some ungainly and in places malfunctioning HTML code (I found earlier and later styles coexisting uncomfortably on some pages), the latter possibly related to the introduction of a CMS (the Drupal content management system) aimed at eliminating the coding drudgery demanded by an editable website.
Then, some time in 2018, clivejames.com disappeared. Page requests to the URL were met by an error message: "This site can't be reached". The domain name referenced a Sheffield-based hosting service (serversure.net) which was apparently no longer hosting the site. No regretful apology for closure, no redirection nothing! In Pete Atkin's words, it seemed to have "fallen off the edge of the table".
Clive may have had his reasons for discontinuing the website, a venture he was so proud of at the start. Or perhaps the hosting service just collapsed. But for that wealth of material to just vanish without some official public archive would be a tragic loss of potential inspiration as well as a waste of Clive's effort. Lacking any word of his intentions and without access to the original files, I decided at the beginning of August 2019 to collect such material as I could from sources various across the Web (including the illustrious Wayback Machine), and assemble a fair copy of the site here on my own peteatkin.com server, to act at least as an unofficial backup in case the original content became, or indeed was already, irretrievably lost. Rightly or wrongly I decided to hold true to the spirit of Clive's vision, eschewing fancy effects and retaining the look and feel of the original in its most recent version, complete with rudimentary fonts, breadcrumbs and static navigation tree, adding just a little colour and mouseover highlighting to aid negotiation of the menus. I might yet swap all that out for a dynamic expandable vertical menu listing in the left-hand pane, and revise some of the small, low-resolution images. But I won't go too far; we'll see.
I've repaired such dysfunctional code and transcription errors as I've spotted, and where possible the broken links — Australian periodicals seem to be particularly careless with their archives — though with some articles (especially those from publications with 'Times' somewhere in the name) access is hindered by paywalls erected since Clive originally selected them for inclusion. Irreconcilable links (some material is no longer to be found anywhere on the Internet) I have disabled, but retained as greyed-out titles for reference. Much of the audio content may not be recoverable unless I can gain access to Clive's files. I've also smoothed the blocky top-menu title fonts and removed the RSS feed, the Google ads, the commercial aspect (the online shop) and most of the Drupal-related bloat from the page code, so things should load in noticeably snappier fashion. And today, with clivejames.com still MIA, I decided to make this part-finished archive available on the Web.
The following I hope will be understood without my needing to state it; but I will anyway, for hope isn't as strong as trust: the opinions expressed in the pages of this archive are those of Clive James and, where appropriate, his guest writers. All text displayed without byline, signature, credit or other attribution is the work of Clive himself. Nothing here should be taken to imply endorsement of, agreement or otherwise with, or support for or against these views, either by myself or by Pete Atkin, the titular subject of the website hosting this archive. Almost everything is covered by copyright, either Clive's or that of others, permissions for the use of which I'm taking to have already been granted.
Continuation of this venture is necessarily dependent on Clive's blessing. Should he request that it be taken down, I shall comply; equally if the original site returns, this one will not attempt to conflict or compete with it. Meanwhile I will keep adding more of the original material. Inevitably, restoring all the pages will be a slow process (this is after all a very-much-part-time 'labour of love'), and for a good while you will continue to see 'not found' errors from menu clicks in some regions of the archive. Please keep checking back for updates.
— Stephen J Birkill, Webmaster peteatkin.com, August 12th 2019.
02.09.19 — First two sections, 'ESSAYS' and 'POETRY', completed, about 400 local pages plus another 50 external links. Most '404' errors now reference pages under 'BOOKS'. Archive announced to 'Midnight Voices'. Much still to do...
03.09.19 — The official site, at www.clivejames.com has reappeared, after many months absence and, coincidentally, just as I announced this archive! It's the work of Dawn Mancer, it uses the editmysite.com app at weebly.com and has a whole new, modern, Wordpress-y look: fashionably sparse, with plenty of white space and some animated fly-out menus — not quite, I think, in line with Clive's original vision for the site. Recalling Clive's fond image of swans, there's a lot of non-displaying code chuntering away just below the surface, but it doesn't seem to slow things down unduly. And much of the old content is there and more is being added. Anyway, this means I can immediately cease development of the archive and delete all links to it. This page, linked from MV, will remain for a while to tell the story.
03.10.19 — As you were! At the invitation of Clive's daughter Claerwen, and together with Pete Atkin, I met with Clive in the book-lined kitchen/study of his at his home in Cambridge to discuss the future of clivejames.com. It was agreed that Dawn Mancer should continue to develop the revived site at the official address of www.clivejames.com, whilst I work to complete this archive, hosted temporarily at the subdomain https://clivejames.peteatkin.com but with the intention of relocation when complete to a new address, possibly at https://archive.clivejames.com. I immediately commenced rebuilding the archive off line, including subtle changes to enhance the user interface and enable more rapid access and updating. Anticipate completion late December 2019.
24.11.19 — Clive gave up the struggle, dying peacefully at home. His funeral was held at Pembroke College on 27th November, after which his death was announced on his website at clivejames.com. Read his self-penned obituary notice here.
31.12.19 — Developing the code to enhance browsing and search-engine optimisation while cutting page access time (and a lot more tidying-up!) has taken me rather longer than expected. The 'Essays' section served as guinea-pig and is now complete, and I'm currently editing the 'Home', 'About' and section-header pages. Adding static data in 'Poetry', 'Books', 'Gallery' and 'Author' should now proceed apace, but I'm reluctant to risk a new ETA; I will publish the new archive in place of the current version as soon as I've completed the 'Poetry' section, at which point the new will begin to overtake the old.
02.02.20 — A month on, and I've realised the magnitute of the task I've assumed in assembling this archive. I'm to blame for much of the delay, as I keep seeing opportunities for improvement while I continue to add material — a design process an acquaintance of mine referred to as "creeping elegance", and which should always cease before launch date! — all of which requires blocks of new code to be developed and in some cases added to already-completed pages. Much of this has to do with improving navigation without losing the menu-driven structure. You'll see. I'm back up to the 500-page mark now, and I reckon there's several times that number yet to build. Onward!
26.02.20 — I hear from Claerwen that much of the old site's content, believed last year to be lost, had at some stage been mislabelled and/or misfiled and is in fact available. Claerwen has taken over day-to-day editing of Dawn Mancer's site, and I'm confident that, in her capable hands, most will be restored. Meanwhile this archive's blanks are continuing to be filled from such material as I can find, in the continuing hope of it being complementary to, rather than competitive with, the 'official' site. Recent reconstructions include 'Fame in the 20th Century' and 'Peregrine Prykke's Pilgrimage through the London Literary World'. I've also started to add all the known song lyrics along with music player links, and have taken a more proactive approach to improving the quality and selection of the images on newly-edited pages. (Where possible I have used higher resolution copies of the very same images chosen for the original site's pages. I'm hoping that their selection was at least in part Clive's, although it's hard to justify some of the idiosyncracies — often poor, low-resolution portraits appear where far better ones of the same vintage seem to have been available. Where the originals are missing or unusable, and for new pages, I've reluctantly substituted illustrative images of my own choosing, which I trust will be appropriate.) Another concern is the vanishing of once-fruitful websites, personal blogs popping out of existence and press sites hiding behind paywalls. I have begun the task of taking copies of these as I come across them, with the intention (in the event of their disappearance) of creating new pages here for Clive's text — a necessary stage, as copyright forbids me from publishing the complete page copies as part of the archive.
27.06.20 — Four months on, and most of that time in lockdown. A kind of milestone was reached today: I moved this archive to its permanent address at archive.clivejames.com (no "www"), so it now sits in a more prominent position alongside the official clivejames.com. That site benefits too: I've corrected a DNS misconfiguration that was causing undue delays in page retrieval for some users. A few links in this archive still target the old address at peteatkin.com, so I've set up redirects that will bring you here with negligible delay and no loss of SEO. Meanwhile the content has expanded considerably, and includes a selection of 'Audio' pages and the start of the 'Gallery' section. Gaps continue to be filled steadily in the 'Poetry' and 'Books' sections. The 'Books' index is in need of revision, as the original distinction between 'in-print' and 'out-of-print' titles makes little sense in a permanent archive. Next I shall open the 'Video' section — I've created a local interface to use for the YouTube material, to avoid the distractions and diversions their users are bombarded with.
30.09.20 — 'New' and 'Author' sections are now complete, as are the highly complex 'Audio' and 'Video' departments, so all sections have content. I've added the service pages, 'Search', 'Contact' and 'Index' — I'm working on a full A–Z listing of pages, people, places, poetry, prose, podcasts, programmes and publications ('Q' should be a doddle after that), which might take a while. But now it's time to bulk out the lower reaches of the 'Books', 'Poetry' and 'Gallery' sections, where there are still too many gaps: when I began this project over a year ago I'd intended to include only content from the original site; with Clive's mandate of last October I've expanded the ambition to include nothing short of completeness, which with the dearth of surviving material in electronic format demands a considerable amount of OCR-ing, correcting and typing.
02.08.21 — Finally I emerge from that task, which I'm calling "Phase Two". I've completed all the catching up that Clive's illness prevented him from doing between 2010 and 2018, so we have now fulfilled his ambition to present on line all of his poems and prose ever published in book form prior to the October 2019 meeting, including the novels and the epic poems. Those categories were especially challenging thanks to Clive's extensive use of italics, small caps, indented dialogue and accented characters, all of which needed manual entry in the free on-line OCR application I've been using. But in total we now have some 2,300 local Web pages active, encompassing about 9,600 book pages. I doubt we have scooped up all of the unbound material (mostly poems and essays) appearing in periodicals, nor do we have total coverage of Clive's TV criticism columns — some of these appeared in the Listener and the New Statesman in the early days, and a number of his Observer columns were omitted from the published collections. I shall add the missing items if and when they become available.
So now, two years after I began the project, the self-imposed "pressure to complete" is removed and I can coast into Phase 3, which is one of long-term maintenance: I'll be adding some images to those essays, poems and lyrics that don't have them, looking for rare and overlooked works, and chasing down new copies of the videos that YouTube frequently removes in response to (usually) petty copyright claims: are a few bars of a song included in a TV show really going to damage an artist's reputation or hurt a record company’s revenue? Apart from fixing the elusive bug in the 'Audio' menu, the major task remaining is the A–Z index — I'm not treating this as urgent: it will take a while. The final acts of Phase 2 were the activation of the 'Random Page' function and the addition of a 'Help' page with the usual FAQ (or in our case "Seldom Asked Questions") section.
It's been a privilege to rebuild this.