Saturday, November 30, 2019

VALÉ - CLIVE JAMES by John Crawford

What a literary titan. Clive James and ‘words’ were meant to be partners for life; but I’m afraid my lasting pleasure remains the series Clive recorded for television, featuring young Japanese men who were prepared to do ‘anything’ in front of the camera. It was a hoot!

I’m proud to say I have some history with the ‘Kid from Kogarah’ and our lives ran parallel, although we didn’t realise by just how much until we met in 1988. Clive and I were both born in Kogarah (although he was four years older than me); our families both moved to the southern Sydney suburb of Jannali, and we both attended the Jannali West Public School.

Jannali Railway Station

Clive went on to Sydney University, and I got a job, because my family could not afford for me to go to university.

Richard Drewett
But, back to the story. In March 1988 I had a call from England from the late Richard Drewett, who was a producer for London Weekend Television. Drewitt had met Stirling Moss at a cocktail party and told Stirling that the organisers of the Formula One GP in Adelaide had asked Clive to participate in the celebrity race, but hadn’t realised that he didn’t even have a driving licence. Richard was going to make a feature for LWT, but as for the next steps he was lost.

Stirling told him: “Call my friend JC in Sydney, he can sort anything out, and give you some pointers.” Then Stirling called me and outlined his conversation. Richard Drewett did not call me for several days, but I had assiduously worked on lining up some elements which would bring huge publicity benefits for Jaguar Rover Australia and for Jaguar.

From that phone call Richard and I worked side-by-side, 10,000 miles apart, right up until race day in Adelaide. First we had to set up the synopsis.

Here goes.

Clive can’t drive, so we line him up with Stirling Moss.

Stirling meets him at Goodwood (which Lord March made available FOC) and gives Clive a basic lesson; then we enrol Clive in the British School of Motoring to pass his test (which he did, first time).

Clive passes his driving test

Then we pulled a Jaguar Sovereign off the UK press fleet, and removed the back seat to fit a camera tripod, and Stirling takes Clive from basic driving into the realm of high performance in a powerful Jaguar sedan, piling on lap after lap around Goodwood.

After the program aired Jaguar Public Relations Director David Boole was amazed at the amount of free publicity Jaguar enjoyed, just by loaning a press car.

All the way to Adelaide on their Qantas flight, Stirling continues to drum the theory of high performance driving into Clive.

At this stage, he’s approaching burnout.

Once in Adelaide, the late Jim Murcott was their race instructor, and whilst Clive pounded around the circuit, Stirling, typically, went off to chat up the then Miss Australia, Judy Green.

Clive managed to achieve 21st place on the grid – right in the middle of the pack.

Prior to the race, we invited Clive and Stirling to our annual Jaguar Cocktail party at the Adelaide Hilton where he met F1 World Champion Alan Jones.

On race day at the Grand Prix circuit Clive sought input from the late Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, and some hilarious advice from the late James Hunt: “Listen Clive, when you get in a spot of bother, just close your eyes and push on. That’s what I do. I black out over 90 mph and I’m still here.”

Clive with Ayrton Senna, James Hunt and supporter, Barry Sheen
The celebrity race was ‘eventful’, with a few drivers crashing into the scenery, and lo and behold in his one and only motor race, Clive James finished two places up on his starting position, in 19th.

The film ran on the ABC in Australia, on London Weekend Television in the UK, where it was repeated several times. The script was written by Clive James and Richard Drewett, and featured Clive’s ascerbic wit, clever alliterations and wonderfully self-deprecating humour.
I corresponded with Clive James up until I went to the USA with Jaguar in 1990, and several times met Richard Drewett for drinks during visits to London.

It was then I discovered I was enjoying a friendship with the original producer of the Michael Parkinson Show. 

Drewett was a truly original thinker, and after his move from the BBC to LWT, everything he touched turned to gold, and he enjoyed a wonderful partnership with Clive James, producing a series of independent tv shows which rated very highly. They were two peas in a pod.

So long Clive, it was an honour and a pleasure to know you, if only briefly.

John Crawford

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