James Clarke was born in London and educated in Staffordshire. He left school at the age of 16 dizzy with knowledge. On his last day as a schoolboy he went home, changed into a canvas Royal Marine Commando jacket stuffed with rations and various implements (all war surplus goods) and, looking very much like a one-man British Expeditionary Force, set off late that afternoon hitch-hiking to France. He had £10 and a US Army pup tent. For weeks he tramped through the war-ravaged north and on over the Alps through Provence to the Mediterranean sleeping in hedgerows and haystacks and living off the land.
On his return he immediately pursued his burning ambition - to become a tea boy on a Birmingham daily newspaper. There he broke so many cups they made him a reporter.
Clarke, after causing much mischief as a journalist in England, came to South Africa in 1955 as a reporter on The Star in Johannesburg “looking for trouble”. He quickly found it by marrying Lenka Babaya - a thoroughbred Croatian - who claims she married him only because she always wanted a simple surname. He skillfully fathered two very beautiful daughters, Jenny and Julie, neither of whom think he is in the least bit funny.
At the next sign of trouble (the 1961 Sharpeville Massacre which Clarke helped cover for The Star) he fled with his family to New Zealand where he became news editor of that country’s largest newspaper, NZ Truth.
Ironically he became homesick for South Africa. New Zealand was far too quiet and he missed being part of the unfolding drama as the social forces grew against the apartheid state. So he returned and became news editor of The Star.
The rest, as they say, is his story.
He spearheaded several successful campaigns including the battle against coal mining in Kruger Park and against a government decision to allow titanium mining on the shores of Africa’s largest estuary - St Lucia. He initiated South Africa’s first urban trail - a 32 kilometre public walking trail through northern Greater Johannesburg along a once neglected river course and he used a team of journalists and university students to blaze a national trail by walking from the extreme north of South Africa on the Limpopo to the tip of Cape Point.
In 1992, when things looked grim during South Africa’s sudden transition from white to black rule and when right wing elements tried to violently upset the negotiations, The Star’s editor, Richard Steyn, decided readers desperately needed some light relief. To Clarke’s amazement he was asked to write a daily humour column. (Amazement? Nay, dear reader, if I can interject here, I was gobsmacked.)
And so he turned South Africa’s longest lived newspaper column, Stoep Talk, into a humour column. It was immediately popular and as the fax machine was fast coming into common use and, soon afterwards, emails too, Clarke was able to strike up a daily dialogue with readers across South Africa and soon the world.
After 47 years as a daily newspaperman Clarke officially retired from The Star in 1997 but he continues to write Stoep Talk and also finds time for science writing and travel writing as well as writing humorous books both in South Africa and in the United Kingdom.
Another of Clarke’s ambitions is to live forever and part of his strategy is to occasionally cycle round the houses and to annually lead an intrepid bicycle-mounted exploratory expedition into “Darkest Europe” and so regale the African public with stories about the strange customs and quaint habits of Europe’s natives.
On these expeditions he is accompanied by five old friends - four being former editors of The Star. The team’s average age is now beyond 70. Although none had cycled since his first childhood their first exploration in 2002 took them 1000 km down the Danube.
The stories of their escapades and their attempts to annex small territories in Europe became popular reading in newspapers and the 2007 book Blazing Saddles - the True Story Behind the Tours de Farce (Jonathan Ball, Cape Town ). Amazon.com has published an electronic version of their first five journeys - Blazing Bicycle Saddles - available for Kindle and iPad users.
© James Clarke 2014 Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Website by SKALLIE
Clarke’s ambition is to become President of South Africa so that he can introduce the death penalty for people who say, “Is it?” every time one tells them something.
In 1968 he wrote a United States best seller - Man is the Prey (subtitled “a personal investigation into the methods and motives of man-eaters and man-killers”) - and decided to resign as a newspaperman. The Star then offered him carte blanche if he stayed. Clarke chose to embark on a career as a science writer specialising, for the next 30 years, in environmental matters during which time he wrote three comprehensive books on the subject.
He developed a particular interest in palaeo-anthropology - the study of man’s origins - and accompanied on field expeditions some of the great names in palaeo-anthropology - Raymond Dart, Phillip Tobias, Richard Leakey, James Kitching, Lee Berger and Washington University’s Glenn Conroy who became a personal friend.
He also became interested in natural history, geology, energy and cultural history authoring several books in those areas. For 30 years he wrote a weekly natural history column.