SIR CLEMENT FREUD: Special Cambs Times/Wisbech Standard tribute to former MP

By IAN COLLINS SIR Clement Freud, our former Fens MP, had the sort of life which would make him the perfect hero and anti-hero for one of those sprawling modern comic novels. Possibly the author could be Stephen Fry – who popped up to pay a typically gen

By IAN COLLINS

SIR Clement Freud, our former Fens MP, had the sort of life which would make him the perfect hero and anti-hero for one of those sprawling modern comic novels.

Possibly the author could be Stephen Fry - who popped up to pay a typically generous tribute as news of the death broke early yesterday.

The brainy and witty grandson of Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, both of whom escaped from Hitler to London in the nick of time, was the younger brother of painter Lucian Freud.


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But the 'Feud' siblings hadn't spoken in half a century.

Many would remember "Clay" as the rudest as well as the funniest person they had ever met, and yet the master of the merciless put-down was also a heroic bearer of grudges. The slightest affront was never forgotten.

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However, he remained happily married to the actress turned Southwold Summer Theatre organiser Jill Freud.

And he was a doting father to five children, who include presenter Emma Freud (aka Mrs Richard Curtis) and PR guru Matthew Freud - the latter's offspring having the bizarre distinction of being able to call both Sir Clement and Rupert Murdoch grandpa.

He also shared his family's love of Walberswick - often visiting a cottage there, secure in the knowledge that Lucian hated the place.

He was, in short, part Groucho and part grouchy. Goodness only knows what his grandfather would have made of his complex psychology...

That lugubrious voice and hang-dog face first burst upon the nation's consciousness in the 1960s with telly adverts for Minced Morsels - in which he starred alongside a bloodhound called Henry, apparently his canine twin.

And in 1968 he wrote a best-selling children's book, Grimble - a favourite of J.K. Rowling.

But by then he had already seen war service with the Royal Ulster Rifles, and a stint as a liaison officer at the Nuremberg Trials (final reckoning for the murderers of his great-aunts).

He had also established careers in cookery, comedy and punditry.

He had been a chef at the Dorchester, a columnist on sport and food, and a big player in London's Bohemia.

As Stephen Fry said: "He, during the 1950s and 1960s, was a real Soho figure, he knew all the girls of easy virtue, he knew the pimps, he knew the racetrack tipsters and, of course, the restaurateurs, which is where he learnt his business as a chef."

This gourmet and gambler set up a restaurant and nightclub above the Royal Court Theatre and was a Playboy Club director.

He contributed to pop culture by recording a monologue for the Wings' album Band on the Run and coining the line "Hold my platypus duck, Bill" for Rolf Harris's Tie Me Kangaroo Down.

Although he later became an anti-fags fanatic, he once said: "If you resolve to give up smoking, drinking and loving, you don't actually live longer; it just seems longer."

And then, in 1973, came the Isle of Ely by-election.

This was a time when the parliamentary Liberal Party could fit into the back of a taxi. Well, two taxis - one being for big Cyril Smith who had recently won Rochdale.

The Liberals hadn't even contested the apparently true-blue Cambridgeshire seat in the previous wipe-out general election, but now they were resurgent wherever a sitting MP looked sickly.

The selection of a celebrity candidate for a constituency with which he had no known connection seemed baffling - and yet the Liberals had actually held this division until 1945 in the person of a Rothschild, a remote grandee whom many voters still recalled with affection.

I was growing up on the edge of the Fens when the revivalist bandwagon started to roll and it was an amazing sight to behold those great green flatlands turning a lurid orange. I wore a satsuma-sized Friend of Freud badge, defiantly on my school blazer, as a most unlikely MP raced home (having backed himself to win with �1,000 at 33-1 - matching his MP's salary for the next two years).

Still more astonishing, perhaps, was that he proved an extremely diligent servant of the people.

They returned him at four general elections - until he lost, in the changed boundaries of North East Cambridgeshire, in what appeared to be one of the biggest shocks of the polls of 1987.

Chris Lakey covered that contest for the Wisbech Standard. He says: " Eleven constituency meetings in a week was more than a sane man could stand but I saw them all - and had many dealings with Clement Freud.

"A rude man, although not at all arrogant, he didn't suffer fools - and in his world most of us were fools. For me, as a journalist making my way in the business, ringing him for a story was fraught with problems."

It is hardly a winning policy for an MP to let people - reporters, colleagues, helpers, voters - know they are viewed as idiots.

And by 1987 Clement Freud was effectively abandoned to his fate, with a chaotic campaign and a complacency which left many who hadn't even bothered to vote for him surprised and sorry when they lost him.

The ousted MP was shattered - confessing that he was unable even to drive over Westminster Bridge for many years afterwards, since the sight of the Houses of Parliament was too distressing.

The seat had gone but there were more grudges to nurse. He felt he had been marginalised in the Commons by petty jealousies ("I think because I was known, people said, 'We'll show him'...").

But the cause lay also in his own character. It was very telling that, after his 14 years as an MP, the Liberals chose to honour him with a knighthood rather than a peerage.

And so he returned to comedy and commentary, and the showbiz world he had never really left.

He could be a hoot on Have I Got News For You, but many will know him best for his contribution over more than 40 years to Radio 4's Just a Minute.

Such a witty wordsmith was rarely in danger of deviation or repetition - though a harder quiz-master than Nicholas Parsons (recently the subject of yet another Freud grudge) would have penalised that slow delivery for hesitation almost every time.

The vintage combination of Clement Freud, Kenneth Williams and Peter Jones - all now deceased - could make for fantastic verbal fireworks, as could later line-ups with Paul Merton, Graham Norton and Stephen Fry.

Stephen Fry said: "I became immensely fond of him. I was at first very afraid of him - a lot of people were. There were stories that he was immensely grouchy, he was rude sometimes to people who asked for autographs. I never experienced that side of him at all."

Recently, a showman to the last wrote to the Times about preparing for death: "I lost Sigmund's night-shirts and the heavy leather luggage, but have quite a lot of wine, the odd painting, a letter from Margaret Thatcher and a picture of me with Muhammad Ali.

"I took my children around our flat in turns to glean who wanted to have what when we died. They all wanted all the wine, my wife's desk, my collection of cookery books and the same picture, so that will be no trouble.

"When it came to money, all are hugely well heeled and what I leave, especially a fifth share of what I leave, is likely to be an embarrassment: what they tip the milkman at Christmas."

ELAINE GILLINGS writes: "Sir Clement Freud, what a lovely man! I had the pleasure of meeting him twice, both in my school years.

"We visited the Houses of Parliament with the school and met him, he was so warm. Also in 1983 we had our school leavers' ceremony at the Queens Girls School, Wisbech where Clement was presenting certificates.

"I was totally overjoyed when Sir Clement gave me the flower from his lapel when he presented me with my certificate.

"A memory I have and shall cherish forever!

"A wonderful fond reocllection of the man!"

LET US HAVE YOUR RECOLLECTIONS: Email: john.elworthy@archant.co.uk

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