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28/05/2017
BBC Radio 4

    Cane toads, golf ball potato crisps and the joys of listening to Clive James

    edits BBC Radio current affairs programmes, including Crossing Continents and From Our Own Correspondent

    Clive James - presenter of A Point of View

    As an editor, there are some experiences that are less than happy. Like the moment when one of the BBC's in-house lawyer frowns and says that your rock-solid investigative story won't withstand assault under the libel laws. Or when you have a cracking story all set-up in Dodgistan. Only the government of Dodgistan won't give you a visa.

    But there is one experience guaranteed to bring a smile. An experience I always savour. The moment when I double click on the first draft of a script from one of our contributors to A Point of View. And never more so than when the contributor is Clive James.

    Clive might sometimes have given us advance warning of the general direction of what he was going to write about. Sometimes he didn't. Either way, that first reading of his scripts was like opening up a jewel box, a children's magic set, a chest of wonders.

    And that began with the very first words. Consider this opening paragraph, among my favourite ever beginnings of a radio script:

    "I have been registered for VAT since 1973. Great stories are often introduced by a sentence similarly factual, bald, terse. Gaul is divided into three parts. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. I have been registered for VAT since 1973." (Listen to the programme.)

    Or - a close rival: "What do I know? Montaigne asked himself, and in answering that question during the course of several volumes of great essays he touched on many subjects. But he never touched on the subject of the golf-ball potato crisp." (Listen to the programme.)

    Then there are the sudden saltiest of salty phrase, and the kind of wit that makes you end up with your cup of tea going up your nose - if you are unwise enough to consume Clive James while drinking a cup of tea.

    In his - now celebrated - disquisition of the spread of the cane toad across Australia he observes: "The cane toads are getting bigger and smarter. Soon they'll be learning to drive. There is a school of thought, not necessarily paranoid, which holds the opinion that cane toads with human skills have already penetrated the Australian media and are even appearing as presenters of reality television shows." (Listen to the programme.)

    And when considering sports: "The off-side rule, for example, was written by a Druid that the other Druids couldn't understand. After the first grand final at Stonehenge stadium, the referee was evenly distributed around the pitch." (Listen to the programme.)

    More surprising perhaps were the sudden flashes of passion - for his favourite causes, such as the high arts,the rights of women and especially for liberal democracy and the courage of its defenders.

    Then there were the twists and turns of the argument. Always unpredictable, always surprising, yet always in the end coherent.

    In his sign-off despatch, he started by observing the madness of small children, then went on to consider the the nature of liberal democracy and the pains and joys of ageing by way of a rag doll with pockets full of chocolates.

    Along the way, there were excursions to consider GK Chesterton and the discovery of penicillin before finishing with - guess what - a tribute to the courage of Aung San Suu Kyi. It sounds a bit like the work of someone with the literary equivalent of ADHD, but it makes perfect sense.

    Listen, if you don't believe me.

    In fact, that's what this post is about. Because for the first time ALL of Clive James's back catalogue from A Point of View is now available to download.

    And there's one big benefit to that: the joy of listening to Clive's unique delivery, as he relishes every phrase. Listen and enjoy.

    Just watch out for the cane toads.

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