The Arty Semite

The Witty Inclemency of Clement Freud

By Benjamin Ivry

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When Sir Clement Freud died last spring in London, the U.K. media’s outpouring of affection surprised some readers.

A grandson of Sigmund Freud who was no longer on speaking terms with his brother, the painter Lucian Freud, Sir Clement was a journalist, bon vivant, television personality, and onetime Member of Parliament, but none of his varied identities seemed to account for the genuine affection which he enjoyed. When I asked one British friend for further explanation, I got the faltering reply: “Well, you see, he made a TV commercial for dog food…”

Now, fortunately, the collection “A Feast of Freud: The Wittiest Writings of Clement Freud” appears from Bantam Press UK to explain more. Bantam has also published “Freud on Food,” an anthology of gourmandises by this demanding, highly conspicuous consumer of the good life.

“A Feast of Freud” gives a fuller range of its author’s activities, especially as an unlikely but persistent sports correspondent. In an empathetic 1993 article, he describes how a fellow dubious candidate for athletic supremacy, an Oxbridge economist named Geoffrey Myers, vanquishes all rivals at a world championship in the “minority sport” of tiddly-winks. Freud approvingly quotes the legendary British Jewish boxing promoter Jack Solomons about a fighter who “wouldn’t even have to go into the ring…if world championships were handed out for decency and sheer niceness.”

Although his moods could be changeable, similar good fellowship is reflected in Freud’s 1992 article about cooking dinner for actor and author Stephen Fry. After describing Fry’s Hungarian Jewish origins, Freud recounts: “Fry got hiccups. I cured them,” proving that healing instincts are shared by different generations of the Freud family.

The intriguing 2007 article, “Analyzing Sigmund Freud: The Reflections of a Grandson,” praises Jed Rubenfeld’s “The Interpretation of Murder: A Novel,” an acclaimed historical murder tale set during Freud’s 1909 visit to America, published in 2006 by Henry Holt. When Clement Freud’s Aunt Anna, herself a distinguished contributor to psychoanalysis, turned 80, she received congratulatory telegrams, including one which read: “The rapists from Philadelphia send their congratulations and good wishes.” This turns out to have been a telegraph office mistake for “Therapists from Philadelphia…”

The occasionally grumpy, dilettantish, but ultimately life-celebrating Freud dined out on such anecdotes for decades, and it is good to have some of them preserved in book form.

Watch a collection of Clement Freud’s more memorable media moments:


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