Aust writer and critic Clive James dies

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Britain Obit Clive James

Clive James has died aged 80 at his home in Cambridge after a decade of illness

Clive James laid down his pen for the last time a month before he died.

The Australian writer, broadcaster and critic died peacefully at his home in Cambridge in England on Sunday, surrounded by his family and his books.

The talented and prolific wordsmith even penned his own obituary, and promised to keep updating it "until they carry me to the slab".

"This piece, or part of it, will serve as a cheaper obituary than anything most newspapers are likely to have in the freezer," he noted on his website.

James' agents announced the 80-year-old's death after a private funeral for family and close friends in Cambridge on Wednesday.

"Clive died almost 10 years after his first terminal diagnosis, and one month after he laid down his pen for the last time," the statement on behalf of James' family said.

"He endured his ever-multiplying illnesses with patience and good humour, knowing until the last moment that he had experienced more than his fair share of this 'great, good world'."

His death was announced on the same day as that of Beyond the Fringe satirist and stage director Jonathan Miller, who died aged 85.

Monty Python star Eric Idle reacted to the "savage news" during a "f***ing rainy day in LA appropriate for tears".

"To lose one friend is bad but to lose two reeks of carelessness. The beloved hilarious genius Jonathan Miller who dramatically changed my life three times, and dear Clive James my pal at Cambridge," Idle tweeted.

Actor, comedian and writer Stephen Fry tweeted: "Clive James and Jonathan Miller - two heroes of mine growing up. Each so wildly and profusely gifted in so many directions. Very sorry to think they're not in this world any more."

BBC director-general Tony Hall said James was irreplaceable.

"Clive James was a clever, witty and thought-provoking broadcaster. He had a huge range of talents and everything he did was essential listening or viewing."

After being diagnosed with leukaemia and lung disease in 2010, James increasingly focused on writing poetry.

An ultimately unsuccessful operation to remove a cancer on his cheek in February left James frail and almost blind.

Yet he spent the English spring and summer writing and editing an autobiographical anthology, which was finished a month ago and will be published next year.

His self-penned obituary described The Fire Of Joy as "a raid on 'the treasure-house of his mind': a collection of the poems that first awoke in him his love of poetry and that were lodged forever in his memory".

"The book is furnished with his notes on each poem and on the capacity of a well-furnished mind to endure and transcend, to escape the confines of the body."

Vivian Leopold James was born in Sydney in October 1939, changing his name to Clive as a child.

He moved to England in 1962 and, after graduating from Cambridge University, remained there for the rest of his life.

Early on, his "prominence in extracurricular activities" attracted the attention of London literary editors.

He became a prominent literary critic and moved seamlessly from television critic to performer.

"But despite the temptations and distractions of media celebrity, he always maintained his literary activity as a critic, author, poet and lyricist," James' online obituary noted.

He informed, challenged and entertained for two generations.

Above all, he could write - clear, witty prose on any subject, ephemeral or profound.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said James was a great novelist, poet, wit and personality who showcased the good humour and good nature of Australians.

British Academy president Professor Sir David Cannadine said from literary criticism to journalism, essays, fiction, poetry and broadcasting, "there was simply no pursuit to which Clive James could not turn his hand and excel".

"For over 50 years, he lit up this world with his wit, wisdom and incisive commentary," he told the PA news agency.

"Truly, we will not see his like again."