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Last Updated: Monday, 29 March, 2004, 17:24 GMT 18:24 UK
TV host pays tribute to Sir Peter
Clive James
James said Sir Peter was an "intellectual circus"
Satirical TV host and writer Clive James pays tribute to the actor, novelist and comic Sir Peter Ustinov, who has died aged 82, in an interview with BBC Radio 4's PM programme.

I quite like talking myself, but when Peter was in the room there wasn't much point, you just had to listen.

He was unimaginably, overwhelmingly gifted. You had to imagine a cross between Dr Johnson, Isaiah Berlin, Peter Sellers and don't forget Charlie Chaplin - because Peter was a great mime too.

Sometimes his greatest effect on screen was to say nothing. There's a scene in We're No Angles where he opens a locked box, he just hits it with the edge of his hand, and I just fell out of my chair when I saw it, and I still fall out of my chair when I think about it. I could go on for a long time.

He's a big thing to do without
He was inexhaustible. It was like talking to Europe, talking to history.

And on the question of whether he would have been more famous in one area if he'd abandoned the others, we have to remember in the 40s and 50s he was the country's leading playwright. Romanoff and Juliet was the beginnings of a brilliant career.

'Intellectual circus'

But I think he'd just get bored doing one thing. He would go from one thing to another I think because to him it was all one. That's what I loved about him.

He was a very lovable man. I hardly knew him, I only met him two or three times, but each time was ingrained in my memory like being like some superb intellectual circus.

Sir Peter Ustinov
Sir Peter once did a Brezhnev impression to James

He did an impression of Brezhnev for me once, in the green room, and it was just him and me. That was the real danger with Ustinov. He'd give you the whole show before the interview in the green room, and if you weren't careful he'd give it to the make-up girl as well.

He suddenly became Brezhnev just by doing something to his face, he didn't have to say anything, and then when he started talking in Russian it was amazing. And of course he could speak Russian.

There were several languages he didn't speak, but he could speak their accents. He said the most important thing was to speak the accent. He could be anyone in the world just by adopting a tone of voice.

You had to meet him in full flight. And if he knew you well enough to know you knew something about modern history he would start giving it to you, it would be all the people he'd met.

The day had to come when he'd be gone. Thank God it was a long time coming. But he's a big thing to do without.




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