"Stop worrying," joked Clive James once. "Nobody gets out of this world alive." As if to underline this, he braved a 90-minute valedictory show at King's College, London, bringing the audience to its feet, despite a terminal combination of leukaemia and emphysema. It is rare indeed to meet his combination of communication gifts: a successful chat show host, waspish TV critic and celebrated translator of Dante's Divine Comedy. There are eight poetry collections and 14 volumes of essays as well as an abiding humanity, and what he calls his "incredible ability to make mistakes". As Howard Jacobson argues in a documentary to be shown in Sheffield next week, James was part of a wave of Australian talent which included Germaine Greer and Robert Hughes that arrived in the sixties and changed British culture. James once regretted never being Oxford professor of poetry. It was a joke, but he would not have been short of supporters.
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