Thursday, April 16, 2009

RIP Sir Clement Freud

I'm sad to hear of the death yesterday of Sir Clement Freud, grandson of the psychologist Sigmund Freud, and one of my favorite comic figures on British radio.

According to his obituary in the Daily Mail:

Over lunch at the Daylesford Cafe in London's Notting Hill, a month short of his 85th birthday, Sir Clement Freud was discussing his epitaph.

He'd originally wanted 'I told you I was ill', but lamented, his features droopier than ever, that he'd been beaten to that by Spike Milligan.

He had now settled on 'Best before...' followed by the date of his death. Highly appropriate, he thought, for a former chef as himself so associated with food.

. . .

With his bloodhound eyes and doom-laden voice, Clement Freud was a peculiarly British institution, despite being born in Berlin and having had to work hard to shed his German accent.

His was the slow and measured, slightly mocking voice on the BBC Radio 4 panel show Just A Minute, that audiences most wanted to hear.

He was in every series of the programme from its inception in 1968, and seemed to get better with age. Only a fortnight ago he recorded what will now be his final appearance on it.

Freud's great trick was managing never to reveal what he was really thinking. 'You look at him straight in the eyes and they give nothing away,' friends would say.

This was a constant mind game that Freud played, highly appropriate for a grandson of Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, though Clement hardly ever talked about him and admitted he hadn't actually read anything he's written: 'To me he was not famous, just a good grandfather in that he didn't forget my birthdays.'

. . .

As a television chef and gourmet, he had received many offers to promote certain brands of food, but declined them all in order to protect his professional integrity.

But dog food? That was different.

As he described it: 'One day in 1968, a man called from an advertising agency. 'Do you like dogs?' he asked.

'Not other people's dogs, I don't.' 'Do you eat dog food?' 'Not knowingly.' 'In that case, would you do a dog food commercial?'

And so the memorable and award-winning television advertisement in which Henry and Clement sat side by side, looking astonishingly, gloomily alike, was born.

For the manufacturers of Minced Morsels, it was a masterstroke. For Clement Freud it was a payday of £45,000 for three days' work - and instant stardom.

From that moment, his public persona had been established. There was no going back. This was the Clement Freud - dry, acerbic, self-deprecating, achingly pessimistic - whom the public adored.

Undoubtedly, it helped him win the Isle of Ely for the Liberals when he stood in 1973. He chose the Liberal party because he wanted the Conservatives to lose, but couldn't bring himself to link up with Labour.

So confident were the bookies that this political upstart hadn't a chance that they laid him 33-1. Always a courageous punter (visitors to his Marylebone flat were invariably shown the photocopy of a bookmaker's cheque for £70,420.45 which he kept in a frame on the wall), he put £1,000 on himself and pocketed £33,000.

Later, the member for Isle of Ely was among a group of MPs who visited China. They included Winston S. Churchill, grandson of the wartime leader.

When they arrived in Peking, Freud discovered that the hotel had given Churchill a much better room than himself.

When he enquired why this was so, he was told it was because 'Mr Churchill has a famous grandfather.'

Freud declared: 'This is the first time in my life that I've been outgrandfathered.'

. . .

In recent times, as Sir Clement moved into his eighties, he'd begun to think of death quite a lot. He wrote about the topic last year, claiming, mischievously, that each of his children wanted everything, from his wine to his cookery books - 'so that will be no trouble'.

Clement Freud publicly poo-pooed his celebrity, but privately he adored it. He would get angry when people repeated the rumour that he would like a peerage.

He was proud of having received a warm letter from Margaret Thatcher when he left the House of Commons and being photographed having lunch with Muhammad Ali when the Greatest was still Cassius Clay.

And he would boast that a children's book he wrote, Grimble, was described as a 'masterpiece' by J.K. Rowling.

And all the time, looking so marvellously miserable with it.

There's more at the link.

Sir Clement was a regular on the BBC and Radio 4 program Just A Minute, where he drew howls of laughter from audiences for almost four decades. He served on the panel from the very first series of the show until his death, the only person to do so. For those who don't know the show, it involved a series of topics on which panelists were challenged to speak for one minute without hesitation, repetition or deviation. The other panelists could challenge them for any breach of the rules (and frequently for anything that would raise a laugh!).

The show was (and remains) immensely successful. If you've never heard it before, here's a short excerpt from YouTube. Being a radio show, of course, there were no visuals, so whoever recorded this has supplied still pictures to accompany the soundtrack.

Given his long involvement with the show, perhaps it's fitting that the British cartoonist Mac chose to commemorate Sir Clement's death with the following cartoon.

Thanks for all the laughter, Sir Clement. You'll be missed. Rest in peace.



Old NFO said...

Agreed RIP, he was really a character in Britian!

Anonymous said...

Never heard of him til now. Very funny!