It all began in the mid-1960s for the Brilliant Creatures: Germaine, Clive, Barry & Bob, now given de luxe treatment in a two part documentary on the ABC. Germaine Greer, Clive James, Barry Humphries and the late Robert Hughes were undoubted cultural stars but the surprising star of this show is the presenter, Howard Jacobson. He won the Man Booker Prize for The Finkler Question and is shortlisted for this year’s Booker for J. Jacobson provides a perfect context for our quartet in part because he is their counterpoise; he escaped to Australia just when they were escaping to Europe.
They sound courageous and sensitive for making that escape, yet were only doing what countless young Aussies have done before and since; setting off to see the world and hoping to make a mark, which they did. Age has not wearied them but with Jacobson they seem more likable than ever, probably because they show off less with him. After all, he knows the score. But he is generous in saying they changed the face of British culture.
Jacobson’s analysis of their success includes their innocence of class in a class-ridden society; but the most important factor is their use of language, their power over words, their mastery of criticism and comment. Greer is disinclined to accept his praise of her Australian education and his point that it was no cultural desert, but James is more open to being reminded of his own earlier quotation: ‘we came from a blessed place at a blessed time’.
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