Thursday, November 28, 2019

some posthumous thanks

Just a moment to post here before prepping for family Thanksgiving, so here's my chance to give thanks for the lives and work of Clive James and Jonathan Miller, two great British cultural figures who've left us within the past few days.

James, who was Australian by origin and continued affiliation, but lived in the UK most of his adult life, did much creative writing particularly poetry, but is best known for his literary reviews, which showed much perception as well as wit. My favorite bodies of his writing are his travel accounts, usually of visits to specific places, which nearly always began with a description of the plane flight he took to get there; and his short and punchy television reviews. He won my allegiance with one that began "The gymnastics and the swimming having finally been got out of the road, the Olympics settled down to the task of boring you rigid with the track and field events," though it turned out his disdain for the Olympics didn't survive the swell of patriotism when they were held in Sydney.

Jonathan Miller won fame as one of the four Oxbridge students who put Oxbridge student humour on the map with the show Beyond the Fringe (here he is there being learnedly Oxbridgian with Alan Bennett) and then became something of a cultural polymath and one of Britain's leading directors of theatre and opera. Some rare footage of him directing the initial cast of his famous ENO production of The Mikado; if you haven't seen the result, it's here: Act 1 and Act 2.

Among the recently departed, I'm also grateful for William Ruckelshaus, the second hero of the Saturday Night Massacre of 1973. Whether his and Richardson's likes exist today remains questionable.

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