SIR CLEMENT FREUD : Memories of a Raconteur
Sir Clement Freud
(Photo : NY Times)
The world has already lamented the loss last week of the adventurer, writer and celebrated raconteur, Sir Clement Freud. We have our own recollections of a visit which entertained us endlessly 20 years ago, when he was a personal guest of the Goss family whilst they were still living at Hartford House.
Sir Clement's appreciation of his visit was echoed in the most beautiful statement about Hartford House and Summerhill Stud. “From there you drive towards Giant’s Castle in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains and 5kms southwest is a handsome drive, lined by trees and decorated with potted conifers, that leads to one of the country’s most beautiful houses. You have arrived”. “Let us return to Summerhill, which is so beautiful that if you had a broodmare you loved it would be downright cruel to send her anywhere else”.
Following is a personal tribute by Derek Taylor, published in the Sunday Tribune.
The host of a fairly uproarious publisher’s party introduced me to Freud – a wit, racecourse addict, chef-patron, cabaret manager, member of the House of Commons and grandson of Sigmund Freud – adding I was from Australia.
Clem, already practising his concerned, lugubrious bloodhound expression although his too-young dewlaps weren’t yet up to it, said sympathetically, “I’m so sorry, but your secret will be safe with me.”
We became friends and almost every time I went through London since, we managed a lunch or an evening of cheerfully libellous accounts of current scandals and politics.
Clem died last week – at his desk, working well into his 80’s, still working hard – and our world is the poorer for his exit.
Thousands of South Africans will remember him as the mordant voice of the BBC radio comedy Just A Minute. For many of its record 41-year run, the show was re-broadcast in SA and around 20 other countries.
Sir Clement Freud MP – as he become known after serving in three successive parliaments – had recorded his last episode of Just A Minute 10 days before he died.
One of his repetitive boasts was he kept his jokes out of his work in the House of Commons as a Liberal Party member.
His Proudest claim was he helped create the Monty Python comedy team. John Cleese and the others had all known or known of each other when members of the Cambridge University Footlights society.
But it only dawned on them to work together after Clement had got them to appear in the cabaret he ran in his nightclub.
This showplace for young and original talent above the Royal Court Theatre also served rather good food : while waiting to be called-up for military service in 1942, Clement found a job as an apprentice chef at the Dorchester Hotel in Park lane, aged 16.
He wrote a successful book, Freud On Food, which contained the immortal line : “The aphrodisiac reputation of the oyster is overrated : the last time I had half a dozen only four of them worked.”
Among his hints for social success and economy was the suggestion that you roasted a couple of coffee beans in a frying pan to release their aroma into the dining-room – while you made the instant coffee.
His children’s book, The Grimble, which didn’t do well when it was published, was later praised as “a masterpiece” by J K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter bestsellers.
This “ultimate immigrant Englishman”, as he once described himself to me, was born in Berlin and arrived in England when Grandfather Sigmund sized up the Nazis’ lethal anti-semitism and escaped with his family to London in 1933.
“We got away early to avoid the rush,” Clement told me.
Much of his self-deprecating humour stems from that frightened 12-year-old boy from Berlin, taken to England without and English to his name.
And from his assimilation in a country not itself short of anti-semitism in polite circles – as Sir Oswald Moseley, leader of the British Union of Fascists demonstrated before he was locked up for World War II.
Clement served with the Royal Ulster Rifles and, after the war, was a liaison officer at the Nuremberg war crimes trials.
Becoming an Anglican when he married Jill Raymond, an actress, they had five children and 17 grandchildren. Jill still runs a successful theatre company at 78.
Clement always protested that he didn’t know his world-famous grandfather well, but he remembered being taken to tea with him in Hampstead and “he was a good grandfather – he never forgot my birthdays.”
I once asked him if he had ever been tempted to follow in Sigmund’s footsteps by becoming a psychiatrist. “Good God, no,” he said. “Have you ever read any of that stuff? I got through a couple of pages of it once. Most unhealthy.”
Towards the end of his life, Clem turned his jokes towards death. His main regret, he told interviewers, was Spike Milligan had beaten him to the epitaph : “I told you I was ill”. Clem had settled on “Best before... (the date of his death).”