LIFE ABROAD – Part 40 :FROM MEMORY BANK – FRED CLARKE INTERVIEW
Posted on August 15th, 2013

Dr.Tilak Fernando

Copy of Tag-In-Focus.jpgThose who have not seen the late Sir Arthur C. Clarke and his brother Fredrick (Fred) Clarke will automatically get confused if they were to go by their photographs! They were not born as twins yet Fred Clarke looks very much like his brother. Sir Arthur, who died in Sri Lanka on March 18, 2008, was the British author and inventor known for visionary science fiction novels like ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’, ‘Mysterious World’ (1981) and many more, whereas his brother Fred who came out from an Army Career retired as a Heating Engineer in London.

Fred Clarke is a charming, quick witted and an affable Englishman who lives in Somerset, UK. Subsequent to Sir Arthur’s demise I was privileged to have a friendly conversation with him where most of our tƒÆ’†’ªte-ƒÆ’†’ -tƒÆ’†’ªte was dominated with laughter!

The following is an excerpt of that memorable interview with Fred Clarke in 2008.

The writer with Fredrick (Fred) Clarke (Right)

TSF: How ‘young’ are you now Fred….?

FC: What am I ….? 87…?……. but mentally 15! (Laughter)

TSF: How many members were in your family?

FC: Four – three boys and a girl. Brother Arthur, Sister Mary, the late brother Michael and myself.

TSF: How interesting or different was your childhood?

FC: Arthur was about 14 and I was ten years old when our father died of cancer after coming out of the World War 1. He ran a farm but when he died my mother was lumbered with a derelict farm, virtually empty bank account and four hungry kids. With all her glitches she gave children’s education top priority. That made Arthur to have a decent tutelage and join the Civil Service first. I followed suit by joining the Post Office, Mary too got married and Michael, the poor devil, had to carry on with the farm.

TSF: Weren’t you also a journalist some time ago?

FC: Quite true. I had a passion to write which I cultivated and sent my work to various organizations and sports clubs in Taunton, Somerset. Finally I managed to publish a little booklet too which I managed to sell it for six old pennies a copy?

TSF : How far did you succeed in journalism?

FC: I sent despatches to the Rotary Club newspaper and became established as a ‘journalist’. Suddenly, the Editor of the newspaper was conscripted by the Government to join the army to fight the war which made me carry the can of running the Rotary Club newspaper overnight.

TSF: So, What do you think? Do you believe that journalistic talent was bestowed upon your family naturally?

FC: One of our great grandfathers had been a writer. … I don’t know really …. But I think Arthur grasped the brains from the whole family! … (Laughter)

TSF: Didn’t your mother too author a book…?

FC: Yes that’s true. After the war petrol was rationed and many people hired horses as a means of transport. My mother had to work all her life in the farm to bring us up and hiring of horses brought her a steady income. During her latter years when I rode with her in the countryside she always came out with some interesting stories about various places or incidents during her life. So one night I suggested to her to jot down all her experiences in a notebook, which she did. After a month she had 100 different stories! I made a manuscript out of it, an editor friend of a newspaper reviewed the text and finally I got it published under the title ‘My four feet on the ground’ with a cover picture of my mother sitting on a horse.

TSF: What made you enlist in the Army?

FC: On a cold and chilly night while I was waiting for a train in the railway station suddenly four ex-soldiers appeared on the platform. They were fully drenched and did not know which country they were in for a start! We were expecting Germans to arrive those days at any time. However, I helped them out, and on the following day went up to the recruiting office and joined the Army. But most of my time was spent in the jungles of Burma and India.

TSF: When did you come out of the Army and what did you immediately do as a civilian?

FC: In 1946 I came out of the Army and travelled straight up to London and met a girl called Dorothy and married her. Or she married me..!…. (burst of laughter)… At that time Arthur lived in a tiny room in London by himself. When I got married we had no place to live, so Arthur suggested if he were to buy a house whether Dorothy and I could move in with him and look after the residence. We agreed to it whole heartedly.

TSF: Did he buy a place?

FC: Yes a large house in Nightingale Road, Bounds Green, North London.

TSF: How long did the three of you live there?

FC: Suddenly Arthur had to travel to Sri Lanka and there he had met with Dr. Buddhadasa Bodhinayake and Karuna who were planning to migrate to New Zealand. Somehow Arthur had managed to convince them to come to London offering accommodation at his house. So Bodhi and Karuna lived with me in the same house until I decided to shift to Somerset.

TSF: What made you decide to get back to Somerset again?

FC: When Arthur decided to settle down in Sri Lanka for good he sold the house to me; when I made up my mind to get back to my native village in Somerset I sold it to Karuna Bodhinayake.

TSF: Have you any particular memories in your life worth remembering particularly with your brother Arthur?

FC: Once Arthur was on his wheel chair at a Seminar chatting to various people. I saw a lady talking to Arthur from a distance first and a little later I happened to bump into her while walking from a different direction. You should have seen the surprised look on her face (they say we look alike a lot!) She came to me and exclaimed, “Good Heavens! You have made a speedy recovery! (Laughter)

On another occasion it was so hilarious when Arthur’s hearing aid batteries went dead during an official luncheon. Consequently he could not hear a word what the guy seated next to him was saying. So he completely stood still as if he paid no attention to the fellow. Poor chap!! That’s a good one for manners! (chuckles)

TSF: Now that your brother Arthur is no more with us, will you be taking an active role in the Sir Arthur C. Clarke Foundation?

FC: I am too old for that now. Major part of its responsibilities will be taken care of from a base in Washington as Americans have a leading role in it. My daughter Angela is on the Board from London.

TSF: What plans have they made to carry forward what Sir Arthur had been doing up to his last moments in life?

FC: Part of Sir Arthur C. Clarke Foundation’s aim is to encourage young people to write, which I am doing at present. I have been running a number of youth clubs for many years and I find that youngsters today of 12-14 years have terrific imaginations. I am collecting some of their ideas and their inventions.

TSF: How about you writing Sir Arthur C Clarke’s biography?

FC: It has already been done by an American named Brown. But I am trying to get it updated incorporating what has taken place in the past four years.

TSF: Don’t you think it’s a good idea to have a museum in the name of Sir Arthur C. Clarke in Somerset, in your own native village in the UK where all his trophies, awards, pictures, your family photographs, underwater equipment he used etc., could be displayed for people from all four corners of the world to visit and see and appreciate what Sir Arthur C Clarke contributed to mankind during his life time?

FC: It’s a wonderful idea. I am working on it with someone in Somerset to have it in a small scale to display his books, photographs of his trophies etc. Of course, he lost most of his underwater equipment during the tsunami in Sri Lanka.

TSF: How about your own family Fred and how many children have you?

FC: I have brought three lovely daughters, Angela, Judith and Diane to this world and raised them, but when they got the first available chance to leave home one goes to Yorkshire, one far end of England, the other one goes to Lancashire, the other end, and the third one chooses to go to Cambridge! Was I such a bad father…? (Laughter all around)

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One Response to “LIFE ABROAD – Part 40 :FROM MEMORY BANK – FRED CLARKE INTERVIEW”

  1. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    Last night I saw the documentary “Arthur C. Clark: the man who saw the future” and from what I gleaned is that Mr. Clark is a man of such great vision that it is because of him and his visionary thinking grounded in Scientific facts that gave birth to the laptop, the satellite, space travel, to a whole range of items we now take for granted. The video claimed that Arthur C. Clark was the greatest visionary of the 20th century.
    I remember when I was a child in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) going with my family to the Savoy movie Theater to see “2001: a Space Odyssey” and even though I did not comprehend it at that age I did later on and realized the incredible mind of Arthur C. Clark to visualize this Science “fact” movie. If I only knew that he was living in Sri Lanka when my family saw this movie I am sure my father would have met him in person.
    It warmed my heart to know that Mr. Clark was given citizenship and became a Sri Lankan. In 2009 I visited Sri Lanka and in the Galle Face Green Hotel I got to see his bronze bust.

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