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And now … a glorious late show from Clive James | Peter Bradshaw

Sentenced to Life, James’s new collection of poems, is a vindication of his greatness as a writer and has cemented his reputation as a ‘late developer’

Clive James has ready for publication a new collection of poems, called Sentenced to Life. These contain some of those personal reflections on mortality for which he has been celebrated – a new vindication of his greatness as a writer and public figure who surpasses the silliness of being a “national treasure”. In interviews, he has wryly commented on the fact that he is still here; that he has become the living “late Clive James”, and that he has now cemented his reputation as a “late developer”. What he has, in fact, achieved is rare: like his namesake Henry, he has a late style. His poems about death have the accessibility, simplicity and impact of his light verse. I am one of those people who loves talking and writing about Clive James. I have never met him, though once as a student I asked for his autograph in the Lion Yard shopping arcade in Cambridge (my toes curl at that memory), and he once wrote me a letter of encouragement in the 1990s, when I was being sued by a Conservative politician. Any new publication from James is something to celebrate, but what I’d most like to see is his first volume of autobiography, Unreliable Memoirs, put on the GCSE list as a set text. It is his prose masterpiece, and an example of English comic writing that should be taught to schoolchildren alongside the works of Evelyn Waugh and PG Wodehouse.

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