The great Peter De Vries, when asked about the nature of his ambition, replied that he yearned for a mass audience that would be large enough for his elite audience to despise. In this latest volume of his tragicomic autobiography, Clive James admits twice to a similar aspiration. Meeting the dazzling Nicholas Tomalin and accidentally making a good impression on him with a piece of gaucherie about wine, he finds (or fancies) that Tomalin is describing him round town as “the boy from the bush who could quote Wittgenstein”. Looking back at the close of North Face of Soho, he rues his own tendency to fall for projects “that would duplicate the effects of the Italian Renaissance while helping to save the baby seals in the rain forest”. The first of these moments comes just as James has left the Footlights in Cambridge to launch himself in the metropolis, and the second occurs when he is back home in Cambridge trying to recuperate from the flopperoo that was the West End launch of his mock-epic poem about the grooming of Prince Charles. This, in other words, is about that weird transitional interlude “the 1970s”; a decade of “becoming” for many boomers. He faithfully notes that many people tried to warn him about the “Charles Charming” fiasco – Mark Boxer discreetly, James Fenton firmly, your humble servant rudely and coarsely – so here might be the place to state that the 70s in London would have been infinitely less amusing without the willingness of Clive James to take chances including – which is that most vertiginous of all risks – the danger of making himself look ridiculous.
more from the TLS here.