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Clive James's London

Clive James
Clive James has been a London resident for nearly 50 years

TV's go-to guy for intelligence and wit is an Aussie who "voluntarily" lives in the capital, and has done for nearly 50 years. Recently, he's been concentrating on his first love, poetry, and expanding his profile on the web. Here, he reveals his London loves and loathes.

What's your favourite neighbourhood?

"Last week it was Manchester Square, behind Baker Street and Oxford Street, to go to the Wallace Collection. But my favourite place is still Soho. I'd sit in a café all day and never get any work done."

Your favourite building?

"Buildings don't thrill me so much as what they represent. I'd go for the National Gallery because I used to go there in winter when I first got here - it was free and it was warm."

Most hated building?

GLA building
Inside view of the "hated" GLA building

"Way out ahead in terms of sheer ghastliness is the new GLA building. It's a work of genius but it's remarkable how it attracts bad people, Ken first and now Boris."

Best view in London?

"It has to be where I live, in the Butler's Wharf area, looking down-river when it's full and flat. You can see Canary Wharf looming out of the mist."

Favourite open space?

"Green spaces attract me most and it's a toss up between Hyde Park and St James's Park. The parks are the lungs of London - it's far greener here than Sydney for instance."

Most interesting shop?

"I shop for books and the best is Grant and Cutler in Great Marlborough Street. It sells books in foreign languages, and I can manage a few. Only for reading, mind you."

Favourite pub, bar or restaurant?

"I don't drink much and I'm not particularly interested in eating out. What I like is coffee bars and I've discovered Café Nero in my area... which for a long while I thought of as being the only one in London."

Most memorable night out?

My most memorable night out? My first night dancing the tango at the Dome in Tufnell Park - the first night I managed not to injure my partner I mean...
Clive James

"My first night dancing the tango at the Dome in Tufnell Park - the first night I managed not to injure my partner I mean."

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?

"I'm so boring, all I like to do is read and write. It's still the biggest adventure for me, and the top of that would be to write a poem in a day. There... I told you I was boring."

Where would you take a visitor to London?

"I'd take them to the Wallace Collection, which I mentioned before. I'd say, there's the Velasquez, the Vermeer, and the most beautiful Gainsborough in the world - it's called 'Perdita' by the way and it's divine.

Then on to coffee or lunch right there in the café at the Wallace Collection. Two hours later and you've put on around two pounds in weight at least."

The worst journey you've had to make in London?

"I have a freedom pass now, so I can go anywhere. The drawback is that the tubes and buses might not be running. I want the bendy bus to go, and if Boris can deliver that, I'll be thrilled."

Your personal London landmark?

"Centre Point - because you can orientate yourself anywhere. I love it for its usefulness."

Your favourite fictional Londoner?

"There are so many of them - all the characters in Dickens and Waugh for instance. My favourite, though, is Trapnell from the Anthony Powell novels, the Dance to the Music of Time series. He's like me, a literary figure living hand-to-mouth, a bit like a predecessor of Jeffrey Barnard."

Favourite London film, book or documentary?

Still from The Ipcress File
The Ipcress File: James's choice for favourite London film and book

"There's such a rich choice. The one I like is London as the background to The Ipcress File, the book and then the film with the Michael Caine/ Harry Palmer character. There's a lot of London in it, the whole area around the Royal Albert Hall for instance.

At the end when Harry escapes from prison, which he thinks is a thousand miles away somewhere, he climbs over a wall and a London bus goes past in the road. That tells you everything you need to know."

Which time period in London, past or future, would you like to go to?

"I do love the idea of the 18th century coffee house, listening to Dr Johnson speak. But no-one lived very long in those days. Throw in some antibiotics and I'd go to Holland House in the early 19th century, when Lord Byron might turn up. I love all that."

Angels Over Elsinore, Collected Verse 2003 - 2008 by Clive James is out now, published by Picador.

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