My DLP – Darling Loving Partner – and I adore a good chat show – the sparkle of ‘Chatty Man’ Alan Carr; the gently lisping, floppy haired Jonathan Ross and the wicked charm of Graeme Norton. These three are not to be missed, except when the latter went over to the dark side. Yes, to his horror and ours, his programme went commercial and was thus eviscerated with inane ads. As good and these guys are though, the icons of the genre still remain the big three of television past – Frost, James and Parky. These are the innovators, the doyens, the benchmarks by which all pretenders are measured. They are the masters.
The umpire gave David Frost out earlier this past week and he’s gone now to that great pavilion of darkness. It is too long ago for me to adequately do justice to him in his pomp, but I know I religiously watched the various incarnations of his television offerings. I know him best these days through the great re-enactment of his major coup in the mesmeric cinematic double-hander ‘Frost/Nixon’. This was his comeback, after his star had started to wane, when his expertise cajoled a President into admitting that he had betrayed the trust of a nation. There is much more that could be said, but Roy Bremner’s print obituary says it better than I ever could, as he tell yarns of the first of the golden three so glorious the reader aches for more; lamenting that a legend’s light firstly dimmed with age and then was snuffed out. ‘When asked if was nervous before the Nixon interviews, Frost did not seem to be able to comprehend the question.’
Parkinson has now retired from the crease, although he’ll play a valedictory innings for a special request, as when Adam Hills partnered him for a stand recently. This cricket tragic was always welcome in my lounge room, loving Australia as we loved him. We’re sad he is no longer a permanent fixture and we miss him dearly.
Looming above even these two, though, is Clive – in part due to the fact that he has/had such a number of strings to his bow. He was Renaissance Man to their being One Trick Ponies. Sadly his dotage has been ruined through ill-health and a scandal only marginally less debilitating than that afflicting Rolf. The Kid from Koongarah has been given out by the umpire and now only needs confirmation from the third referee that his innings is at an end. He knows there will be no reprieve. He’s dying before our eyes. He just wants the time to tie up the loose ends before he tucks his bat under his wing. We know that time will not be given.
If Frost and Parky dabbled in print – Clive James obliterates it. Poet, memoirist, critic and essayist – the wanderings of his mind know/knew no bounds. Why, he’s even translated Dante and improved on the inventor of Italian’s versifying.
It was remarkable television the timely interview that another more than adequate extractor of information had with him in the days after Frost’s departure. I’ve read it was a difficult programme to make – James requiring many breaks to intake the necessary forced air required to continue on gamely. Big Red, although probing, went gently with him and despite the wheezes, Clive James was at his voluble best. If you watched the eyes through Kerry O’Brien’s questions and his responses, they often said more than his lips did. He is afraid – he is very afraid of what is ahead of him – but, as he says, at least he has had warning.
I feel akin to James in two ways. Firstly I share his views on the opposite gender, on their exquisite beauty that he claims is the major evidence that there is a god. He has tried to live to the adage, as I do, that the pleasure has to be in the observing, never in the taking. With my wonderful DLP, for me that is easy to do, but with James, even being married to his intellectual match in Prue Shaw, it obviously has not been the case for him. His long standing affair with a former Eddelsten – Leanne – was outed in the most public and embarrassing of ways when some execrable tabloid television current affairs reporter – pun intended – entrapped him with the seemingly vacuous Leanne in tow. His illness was acutely apparent, but no sympathy was given to the great man in a cringe-worthy play for ratings. The result – his missus kicked him out. Now there has been something of a reconciliation, but still not an invite to move back home.
The second point of akinship is that he produced one of my favourite books – his ‘Unreliable Memoirs’. I had tears of mirth streaming when I first read it; I’ve had tears of mirth streaming when I’ve read extracts of it to my students over forty years of teaching. The book is my childhood, his book is Australia’s childhood – or at least for those of us of a certain vintage. It is magnificent. He cracked Big Red up with the recount of ‘The Great Billycart Train Disaster’ – the piece I used most with the kids – and I suspect it was not the first time the interviewer had encountered it either. It simply is a pricelessly hilarious piece no matter how many occasions it is read as is, I might add, his description of Barbara Cartland at Charles’/Di’s wedding in another work.
Some of his interviews are legendary – Katie Hepburn, Roman Polanski – but his greatest ‘gift’ to popular culture is the discovery of extreme Japanese Television game shows. Of course these days inflicting cruelty and indignities on contestants for entertainment is mainstream, but back then, when Clive ruled the airwaves, it was novel; even if many, like myself, found it excruciating to watch. Clive reveled in it.
Yes, as we watch this great man of letters walk slowly to the pavilion, reluctantly trailing his bat behind him, we know we’ll ‘…not see his like again.’
Roy Bremner’s print obituary = http://www.smh.com.au/world/frost-tv-legend-and-friend-to-the-famous-20130902-2t0z1.html