• Message from James Clarke

    "South Africa's Best Humour Columnist"

    - SA's Comedy Awards September 2008

    “South Africa’s funniest columnist.”

    - Financial Mail


    The name is Clarke. James Clarke. I have been told by people who know their way around the electronic world with its iPads, USBs, processors, modems, 500 gb hard drives, Blackberries and microwave ovens, that as a writer I have to have a blogsite. Otherwise, I am told, it is like passing oneself off as a CEO and you haven’t a leather chair that tilts back.

    Yet after four years of having a blogsite I still don’t really understand what it is or how it helps sell my books which is my major concern in life apart from not stepping on cracks when walking on the pavement.

    I am also told that on a blogsite it is customary to refer to oneself in the third person. This enables one to grossly exaggerate ones attainments without appearing to have done so personally.

    Not being one to buck the system...

    London-born James Clarke is your average tall, dark, handsome fellow who writes books – fiction and non-fiction. As a humorist he has been compared with PG Wodehouse and James Thurber. (The Daily Bugle in Des Moines said “compared with the works of PG Wodehouse and James Thurber, Clarke’s writing isn’t worth a row of beans”.)

    He long ago settled in South Africa where he became a mover and a shaker in the world of the environmental sciences. As a youth, being a mover and a shaker, had made it impossible for him to follow in his father’s footsteps as a bottler in a nitro-glycerine plant. Hence he turned to journalism.

    But around the time he retired a few years ago he found a new pursuit as a humorist. He wrote a daily humour column in the Johannesburg Star (now syndicated) and began turning out books of humour in the UK and South Africa.

    Clarke very recently moved boldly into the electronic publishing world. It was, he said afterwards, like a non-swimmer diving into a pool without first testing its depth.

    In November 2011 he re-issued his latest book of humour, “Blazing Saddles”, as an Amazon Kindle e-book under the title “Blazing Bicycle Saddles”. For a mere US$4.99 you can download a copy of this seminal cycling book in a matter of seconds by clicking here ....


    He did this with the full realisation that he is totally at sea in the electronic world with its telephones that take movies and receive faxes and sports results.

    The original edition of “Blazing Saddles”, published by Jonathan Ball, has been out of print for two years. It reveals the true story of how six retired men – five of them journalists – year after year set out (intrepidly) from the African continent on a series of exploratory expeditions cycling into “Darkest Europe” to bring back to the people of Africa tales of its funny natives.

    Clarke will also shortly be publishing, via Amazon.com, another of his action-packed autobiographical books – this time an account of his Second World War exploits as L*E*A*D*E*R of the Yellow Six Patrol of the 1st Streetly Boy Scouts in the English Midlands. He recounts the patrol’s ceaseless campaign to defeat Adolf Hitler’s plan to invade England.

    You can read about “The Yellow Six” within this blogsite.

    Clarke, apart from moving and shaking, is a travel writer and proud father of two highly successful daughters – one a biologist and the other an environmental impact analyst. He and his wife, Lenka, live north of Johannesburg.


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 set off late that afternoon hitch-hiking to France with £10,  a US Army pup tent, a  Royal Marine Commando jacket stuffed with rations and various implements looking very much like  a  one-man British Expeditionary Force.



Clarke surrounded by his fans


For weeks he tramped through the war-ravaged north and on through the Alps and Provence to the Mediterranean sleeping in hedgerows and haystacks and living as much as possible 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 – of Croat extraction – 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.


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 should stay. 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 and Washington University’s Glenn Conroy.


He also became interested in natural history, geology, energy and cultural history authoring several books in those areas. For 30 years he wrote a natural history column and the occasional humour piece.


In 1992, when things looked grim during South Africa’s final transition from white to black rule and when  right wing elements tried to violently upset the otherwise peaceful negotiations, The Star’s editor decided readers desperately needed some light relief. To Clarke’s amazement he was asked to write humour – on a daily basis. (Nay, dear reader, Clarke 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 the world.


Now officially retired from The Star he continues to write Stoep Talk on a thrice-weekly basis but also finds time for travel writing and writing humorous books both in South Africa and in the United Kingdom.


Another of Clarke’s ambitions is to live for ever and part of his strategy is to cycle two or three times a week round the houses and to annually lead an intrepid bicycle-mounted 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. Their average age is now 70. None of them had cycled since his first childhood.

Their explorations began in 2002 when the six pedaled 1000 km down the Danube.


The stories of their escapades and their attempts to annex small territories in Europe became popular reading.


Their annual peregrinations became known as “The Tours de Farce” and their first six journeys are the subject of Clarke’s latest book, Blazing Saddles – The Truth Behind the Tours de Farce (Jonathan Ball, Cape Town 2007).

Quickly rush out and buy one while stocks last!





18 Responses

  1. Hi James, I was first introduced to you through The Star, Stoep talk. Now I am 75 living with a friend (fellow) I have known for 63 yrs. We were at school together and his late wife was my “best Friend” . Like you I am a never give up type and we have a most convivial and loving/caring relationship.
    I think I adore you through your writing and have bought a few through the years to send to family ( ex SA’s) in UK. Now they are also fans.
    keep going James and can we expect a new Blazing Sadle book. All of my family were gifted your last one.
    Regards and best wishes. Veronica

    • Dear Veronica, It’s always nice to hear from somenbody who is young like me.And it’s even nicer to hear from somebody who reads my nonsence. I will be writing a sequel to Blazing Saddles (Son of Blazing Saddles? Saddles Blaze Again?) once Tour de Farce X is compleyte in 2011. This will give me five more tours to add to the first five. We have postponed TdeF IV until Seprember next year (cldn’t get decent air travel rates in May) – it will be in Switzerland. Somebody said “\what about the mountains?” but the Swiss say their cycle routes are flat. All I can say is “\they’d better be!”


      James Clarke, Ink Box 876 Lone Hill 2062 South Africa Fax ++27 11 465 4564 BLOG: https://stoeptalk.wordpress.com

  2. Did you know there was now a history – very well done too – of NZ TRUTH? You and Rod Barrett appear of course.

    All well with you?

    • All’s well – I still write for The Star – now 55 years. But as a freelance humour columnist three times a week. A bit of travel writing too. I do an annual two-week cycle tour in Europe with my former editors one of whom is 82 and still does cycle marathons. What are you up to and where? James

    • Joihgn – is the Truth book worth getting. I never thought much of the paper – in fact I thought nothing of it! J ames

      • Worth having as its well done and TRUTH provided a bizarre niche in our working lives. Albeit briefly.
        Me? One wife, two children, three grand children. Been out of newspapers since 1994, turned into an academic – here and in China – and have published a couple of monographs. Now working on a commissioned biography. Often visit NZ have a few friends there – great place to visit but not to work. all best JOHN TIDEY ps. Often see Rod Barrett’s son who lives in Aus.

  3. James

    Need to speak to you urgently about a commemorative article on Ken Newman. Can’t find your speak-contact details anywhere !!

    Lynn Hurry
    083 631 2658

    • My officve phone is 011 465 3660 . But in Natal until until Ja\n 7 uikl Jabn 4 Box 876 Lone Hill. S Africa 2062 Fax: 27 11 465 4564 Blogsite: https://stoeptalk.wordpress.com Website: http://www.jamesclarke.co.za For a free sample of my latest e-book click below: This book is a true and hilarious adventure involving six retired journalists living in Africa who embark on a series of exploratory expeditions into “Darkest Europe” and bring back to Africa tales of the strange natives there. Their first expedition involved a 1000 kilometre cycle ride down the…

  4. John,
    Small world. You were always Mr Clarke to me. My first news editor.
    John Tidey was just that bloke who didn’t give me a job on The Age in 1982. (later proved wrong, I joined The Age a year later and have just retired from it)
    I am looking for a copy of Blazing Saddles, any tips?
    Chris Smith

  5. Sorry, that should read “James” (sloppy journalism). John Clark is a very funny New Zealander living in Melbourne. you would like him.

  6. Stoep talk rocks..I keep 2 cut outs from 2006/07 on my office wall viz:let’s hear it for prozac spray for teachrs and”english is difficult to learn even for the English” u c I am a…u guessed it!

  7. James m’boy. Stumbled across your blog while surfing with nothing else to do and nearly broke a hip when I saw your name.
    I am the poor waif who crawled in from the wastes of Sauer St late October 1969 and boldly asked if there was a journo’s job going on the Joburg Star. Being very smart and recognising superb talent when it pitched up in an ill fitting suit, you hired me on the spot!
    A lifetime later and having made much mischief in Sydney, Australia I am delighted to be reacquainting myself with you. I too have dabbled in travel writing…as well as wine, politics and an about town column on Rupert’s Daily Telegraph (massive fun) and am now bored shitless in retirement. Sorry to catch up this way…so publicly I should say.. but I don’t have any other contact details for you. If you see this I am at dcwild@optusnet.com.au…Huge regards..Dorian Wild.

    • With a memorable name like that you should have done well! Mine is commonplace so I was forced to shout louder. I remember your name but not sour face … were you a reporter? Ring a few bells for me.

      I am now 84 (nearly), creaking at the joints (maybe I should just stop going to joints) but keep, myself busy writing books.

      Who was editor when you were with The Star? Was it Rene deVilliers? John Jordi? It’s now a lousy paper with a third of the circulation it had in the 1960s. It mainly caters for a black readership and, therefore, lots of funeral coverage, politics and soccer. Still broadsheet but with tabloid taste.

      I have just written to Marion Raats who mwoukld haved been oin nthe staff when you were there. Lives in Cowra. Can’t reacall her surname in the 60s. Was going out with Dan Pienaar.

      Anyway, great to hear from you.


      My website: http://www.jamesclarke.co.za

  8. Hi James I was sitting on my stoep – ealier before the rain – and I remembered one of your columns in Recorder …. “I am sitting on my stoep drinking schlapoberski, it is a question of zinc …..” I could not stop laughing. How I enjoyed your Naboomspruit Recorder!!! – 1969

  9. Am living in NZ & miss your stories so much.Would like to correspond d & get our library to buy a couple of your books…they quite good about that..unless you were a persona non grata here or left a dirty trail here!
    I’d like to know if you remember helping me & our Environmental group at Hyde Park START the cleaning up of the Braamfontein Spruit in the 70’s?

    • Have just unearthed this (see below) – yes, I certainly recall START and am delighted to hear from you! Gosh that was 40 years ago!

      Sorry it’s taken me this long to get back to you but have been trying – in vain – to finish two books. I have been in N Natal for two weeks. Came back on Tuesday and now catching up with myself.

      Will write more later… Where in New Zealand are you?


  10. […] My thanks to the wonderful James Clarke who created the demon E*D*I*T*O*R* who probably trained my E*D*I*T*O*R* for whom I have now written […]

  11. […] My thanks to the wonderful James Clarke who created the demon E*D*I*T*O*R* who probably trained my E*D*I*T*O*R* for whom I have now written […]

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