Mark Mason

I regret my bust-up with the Bee Gees: Clive Anderson interviewed

The man who reinvented the chat show talks about mistaken identity, Macbeth and making a career out of being a bit of a smartarse

‘The really tricky thing,’ says Clive Anderson as we discuss the topic of being recognised in public, ‘is when they say, “I love your programmes —that thing you did with Margarita Pracatan…” Do I say now that that wasn’t me? Because if you let them carry on about how they loved your Postcards From…, and the Japanese game show, and then you tell them, they get very indignant and say, “Well, why did you let me give you all that praise?”’ It’s easy to understand the mistake in the abstract — indeed The Spectator’s arts editor made it himself in his email to me: ‘Could you interview Clive James for us?’ (If I could manage that, Igor, I wouldn’t be writing for a living.) But to get it wrong with the man himself in front of you? Anderson isn’t even sure that James’s death will solve the problem. ‘No doubt now I’ll have people coming up and saying, “I thought you’d died?”’

The Loose Ends host is preparing for a tour of his one-man show Me, Macbeth and I. It’s a mix of stand-up, theatrical anecdote and personal reminiscence (‘two thirds of the title is me, after all’). Central to the structure is Anderson’s fascination with what he calls ‘the greatest play ever written’. This dates from his schooldays, when he was denied a prominent role. Though perhaps, given the play’s reputation, that was a fortunate escape. ‘The bad luck thing dates from the first-ever performance,’ he explains. ‘The boy playing Lady Macbeth died. Also there was the witchcraft element. Shakespeare had included that to appeal to James I, who was interested in all things spooky — in fact, he’d written a book about the subject. But the rumour got around that Shakespeare had included real witches’ words, thereby unleashing all sorts of evil forces.’

‘The old jokes are the best,’ replied the author.

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