Recently in this journal C.K. Stead explained the dilemma of being a popular Australasian performer in England: 'He can only be fully understood at home: but there he's likely to encounter sullenness and resentment, which is overcome, paradoxically, by the irresistible force of a fame earned where the comprehension of what he is doing must be less than complete.' It is not easy to get this paradox straight. If I understand him, Stead claims that for the Australian or New Zealander to make it in England - as many of his generation have - more than reverse migration is required. An exhausting oscillation is imposed on these ornaments of the post-Sixties British scene - a generation of exiles who seem not so much lost as culturally over-extended. Stead was writing in the LRB about his friend and fellow Antipodean, Barry Humphries. Humphries is nowadays primarily a West End and small screen entertainer with his largest viewing constituency in Britain. The same - but more - could be said of Clive James. James has earned himself reputations as a television host, reviewer, newspaper columnist, songwriter, 'metropolitan critic', versifier and novelist (Brrm! Brrm! is his third published title). He is the master of many trades and must be envied by more varieties of hack than anyone in England. Envy is sharpened by James's being so ostentatiously an outsider - still as aggressively Australian as the day he landed on our shores, thirty years ago.
LRB 12 March 1992 | PDF Download