Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

April 17, 2009

more from the press

This is the first piece I've seen where Nicholas is quoted - from the Times

Sir Clement Freud, who has died nine days short of his 85th birthday, was a man of many achievements. They included becoming a chef, nightclub proprietor, television personality, radio panellist, Liberal MP, amateur jockey and journalist — although for many years he had to endure being known as the doleful character in the dog food commercials. At least it made a change from being known as the grandson of Sigmund Freud.
If his performances promoting Minced Morsels with Henry the basset hound were an onerous legacy — children who saw him in public would shout out, “Where’s your dog?”, much to his annoyance — they were also lucrative. His terms for the advertisements were that he would write his own script, that he would not mention the product by name and that he would be paid the same as the Prime Minister’s annual salary. Astonishingly, the advertising agency agreed.
In later years he was best known for his appearances on the Radio 4 panel show Just a Minute, in which he was the master of the late interruption, and always sounded disappointed if he did not win. “He was very competitive,” said Nicholas Parsons, the programme’s host.
His wit was evident from an early age, as was its sometimes calamitous effect. At a hunt ball in the early Fifties a girl, on discovering that his grandfather was the founder of psychoanalysis, said: “I say, congratulations! May I dance with you?” He pointed out that Sigmund Freud was not keen on dancing, though he was strong on sex, at which point the girl went bright red and beat a retreat.
Times Archive, 1973: Cheering crowds thrill impassive Mr Freud
As the election result was announced, all the crowd wanted to do was cheer Mr Freud, who stood blinking, looking happy but stunned
His love of gambling was used to great effect when he contested the Cambridgeshire seat of the Isle of Ely for the Liberal Party. The bookmakers put him at 33-1, at which point he placed a sizeable bet on himself. “The word went round that the hot money was going on Mr Freud,” said Parsons, who helped him to campaign. “They all began to take him more seriously.”
His lugubrious, grumpy demeanour concealed a mischievous streak. A big international magazine once offered him a generous sum to write about his grandfather. He duly supplied 1,500 words — on his maternal grandfather.
That sense of mischief followed him into the Commons, where in his last term the painful courtship between the Liberals and the Social Democrats resulted in an alliance. A dinner was mooted in celebration and Freud was designated to find a restaurant.
“There was David Owen, and Roy Jenkins, who was no stranger to the sybaritic side of life,” recalled Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon. “Clay [as Freud was known to his friends] chose a vegetarian restaurant in a basement off the Tottenham Court Road. As we went down, the first thing which greeted was a sign which said that the lesbian callisthenics class was cancelled. The look of complete and utter distress on Roy Jenkins’s face, and the look of complete dislike on David Owen’s, was perfect. I know that Clay did it as a joke, and it is something I shall never forget.”

This is a great piece in The Independent - includes comment from early producer Simon Brett.

Although born in Germany, Sir Clement Freud came to be regarded as an essentially English character with an idiosyncratic gift for dry wit and a talent in many other spheres of life. In his multi-faceted career, he acquired the status of a minor national treasure as he progressed through roles which included celebrity cook, dog food advertiser, politician, broadcasting personality, author and raconteur. His unique persona included the incongruity of his looks, the rarity of his smiles and the counterpoints of his slow delivery and his devastatingly quick wit.
He will be remembered for his four full decades on BBC Radio 4's Just a Minute, which has been on air for more than 40 years. The programme, a national institution in itself, provided the perfect platform for his droll sense of humour, sharp intelligence and endless inventiveness. He had a particular chemistry with some of its regulars such as the host, Nicholas Parsons. He found it odd, he once said, that he was in the same class as Parsons at school, "and he's now 12 years younger than I am. I wonder where I've gone wrong".
Freud came from a famous family which included his brother, the painter Lucian Freud, and grandfather Sigmund, the founder of psychoanalysis, who he remembered as "benign and cigar smoking". Clement once admitted to losing valuable family heirlooms in the form of Sigmund's nightshirts.
Freud was born in Berlin in 1924 to the Jewish architect Ernst Ludwig Freud and his wife, Lucie. The well-off family fled Germany shortly after the Nazis came to power, moving from Berlin to England in 1933. He was sent to a school in Devon which he recalled as "appalling", describing it as "a tough, anything-goes place".
He became an apprentice chef at London's Dorchester Hotel before the start of the Second World War, and then joined the army, serving on the staff of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. He later played a liaison role at the war trials at Nuremberg. After being demobbed, Freud moved into the hotel and nightclub business, working in Cannes and London and eventually running the Royal Court Theatre Club. He was, he said, the first man to employ personalities such as David Frost, Dudley Moore and Rolf Harris. His next turn took him into journalism, where he wrote about cookery, sport and politics.
His big break came in the 1960s when he and a basset hound named Henry featured in television adverts for pet food. Freud wrote characteristically witty scripts, but what really captured the attention was the way that Henry's lugubrious appearance reflected Freud's own hangdog looks. The public was fascinated by their corresponding airs of human and canine dolefulness. The adverts made him a lot of money and conferred on him a new status as one of the TV celebrities of the day. It soon became clear, however, through the course of numerous guest appearances on the small screen, that Freud had far more to offer than just his distinctive looks.
In 1973, he surprised everyone by winning a seat for the Liberals in the Isle of Ely in Cambridgeshire. Many had thought, understandably, that the frivolity of pet food commercials and of Just a Minute made an unlikely background for an MP. To this day, however, he is remembered in the area as a particularly assiduous worker for his constituents.
But while he applied himself seriously to the business of politics, he remained devoted to Just a Minute, appearing in all of its series. In doing so he spanned the generations, working in the early days with Derek Nimmo and Kenneth Williams and latterly with relative newcomers such as Paul Merton and Stephen Fry.
It says much for his cleverness and creativity that he continued to raise laughs in a game which he played continually for more than 40 years. Its simple rule required contestants to talk on a subject for 60 seconds without hesitation, repetition or deviation. Freud excelled both in talking and in coming up with the most ingenious objections to the performances of the rest of the panel. One of his underlying traits, both on the show and in other facets of life, was his strong sense of competitiveness: he loved to win.
He once paid Fry a huge compliment, saying: "He is probably the best speaker, although he does speak four times faster than me. And he thinks ahead about 20 seconds, whereas I only think ahead about eight."
Yesterday, Fry praised him in return. "I was at first very afraid of him – a lot of people were," he said. "There were a lot of stories that he was immensely grouchy and rude sometimes to people who asked for autographs, but I never experienced that side of him at all."
Others, however, did. "I found he had a very acute mind, great self-knowledge and a capacity to be more directly rude to people than anyone I had up until that point encountered," said Simon Brett, who produced Just a Minute for six years. "He has a very rare and enviable human quality: he doesn't care if people dislike him. What I find admirable is that he does not pretend to be other than he is."
Certainly, Freud was entirely upfront about his grumpiness. He once wrote, with only a modicum of exaggeration: "Good men are gruff and grumpy, cranky, crabbed and cross. I am also acerbic, waspish, sour, belligerent and very occasionally shrewish.
"There are people I hate, I cannot remember why, but I will never forgive them; I walk out of parties to which they come, seat myself at another table if I find them sitting near me on a table plan. We grumps are designed not to suffer people gladly." He was, he explained, always like that. "I was quite a grumpy young man. My grumpiness quota hasn't really changed."
This self-confessed grouchiness did nothing to rebuff the many thousands of fans and admirers who listened to him on the radio, read his hundreds of articles, bought his books and flocked in their thousands when he toured theatres to present his Audience With Clement Freud. With a characteristic mixture of grumpiness and stoicism, he put up with the inevitable questions about his famous grandfather and his famous colleague, Henry the basset hound.
Jill, his wife of 59 years, once said fondly of him: "Clement is a very dry character – so quick, and he will never say the conventional thing. He never does anything the right way round. He is very contrary. He is a constant surprise, full of mischief."
Fry added in his tribute that Freud had a raffishness, and an "air of disreputability". In the 1950s and 1960s, he said, Freud was "a real Soho figure – he knew all the girls of easy virtue, he knew the pimps, the racetrack tipsters."
Freud produced a couple of books for children and wrote about food and drink: one of his works was The Book of Hangovers. He gave his autobiography the deliberately excruciating title of Freud Ego.


Anonymous jane said...

A Twitter friend of mine pointed me in the direction of your blog otherwise I would never have discovered it. It's wonderful and I look forward to dropping by from time to time.
I love Just a Minute and was very sad to hear about the death of Clement Freud. As a small child growing up in England I was very taken with the TV adverts for Minced Morsels that Clement did. In fact I was desperate to try them. Had we actually had a dog, I'm sure I would have. I think it was the first time I was affected by advertising.
Best regards from the West Coast of Ireland!

10:04 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home