Those 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 such as ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’, ‘Mysterious World‘ (1981) and many more, whereas his brother Fred, who came out from an Army Career retired and worked 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 in Sri Lanka, while he stayed at the Galle Face Hotel, Colombo, where most of our tête-à-tête was dominated with laughter!
At the Galle Face Hotel, Colombo.
The following is an excerpt of that memorable interview with Fred Clarke .
Q, How ‘young’ are you now, Fred….?
A. What am I ….? 87…?……. but mentally 15! (Laughter)
Q: How many members were in your family?
A: Four – three boys and a girl. Brother Arthur, Sister Mary, the late brother Michael and myself.
Q: Was your childhood an interesting one, or did you have a rough time while you were a child?
A. At the time Arthur was about 14 years of age, 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 and with a virtually empty bank account and four hungry kids. With all her glitches she was determined to give her 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.
Q: I gather that you too had some journalistic experience some time ago?
A: You are absolutely correct. I too had a passion to write, which I cultivated. I despatched my writings to various organisations and sports clubs in Taunton, Somerset. At first, as you can expect, they ended up in a wastepaper basket ! Finally, I managed to publish a little booklet, which I managed to sell each copy for six old pennies .
Q : How far did you proceed and succeed in journalism ?
A: I made some contacts with the Rotary Club Newspaper, and they kindly published my articles. Consequently, I became established as a ‘journalist’ in Taunton. Suddenly, the Editor of the newspaper was conscripted by the Government to join the army to fight the war, which compelled me carry the can of running the Rotary Club newspaper overnight.
Q: So, do you believe that journalistic talent was bestowed upon your family naturally, or it was there in your family genes?
A: One of our great grandfathers had been a writer. … I don’t know really …. But I think Arthur was the one who managed to grasp the brains completely, out of all the family members.! … (Laughter)
Q Didn’t your mother too become an author of a book…?
A: Yes, that’s quite true! After the war, issuance of petrol was rationed, which caused many people to hire horses as a means of transport. My mother had to work all her life in the farm looking after horses to bring us up, and she hired horses to earn a steady income to keep us going.
During her latter years, I used to go on horse rides with her in the countryside. During such gallops she always came out with some fascinating stories about various places and incidents that she had experienced in her life. So, one night I suggested to her, ‘mum, why don’t you jot down all your experiences in a notebook.”To my surprise she agreed. After a month or so, she had almost 100 different stories! I then made a manuscript out of those stories and requested an editor friend of a newspaper to review the text, which he very kindly obliged and did a fantastic job out of it. Finally, I published those stories in the form of a book, under the title ‘My four feet on the ground,’with a cover picture of my mother sitting on a horse.
Q: What made you enlist in the Army?
A. On a cold and chilly night, while I was waiting on the platform in the railway station for the train to arrive, suddenly four ex-soldiers appeared on the platform. They were completely drenched, and I did not know who they were for a start! Those days, we expected Germans to arrive at any time. However, I helped them out in their desperate situation, and on the following day went up to the recruiting office, joined the British Army. But most of my time was spent in the jungles of Burma and India.
Q: When did you come out of the Army? And what did you immediately do for a living in your civilian life?
A: In 1946 I came out of the Army and travelled straight up to London and met a girl called Dorothy and married her. Or, I think, she married me..!…. (burst of laughter)… At that time, I lived in a tiny room in London by myself. When I got married, we had no place to live in . Arthur wanted to know from me whether Dorothy and I could move with him and look after the house, if he were to go ahead and buy a house? We agreed to it whole heartedly. He did not spend much time in finding a large house with 5 bed rooms in a lovely area in North London.
Q: What happened next?
A: Once he bought this beautiful large and spacious house in Nightingale Road, in an area called Bounds Green, North London, the three of us moved in to the new house and lived comfortably.
Q: How long did the three of you live there?
A: Out of the blue, Arthur had to travel to Sri Lanka on a mission . He loved Sri Lanka so much that he decided to settle down there. In Sri Lanka he had met a young doctor chap called Buddhadasa Bodhinayake and his wife Karuna. Dr. Bodhinayake had already made plans, when Arthur met him, to migrate to New Zealand. Somehow or other, Arthur had managed to convince them to go to London offering them accommodation at his house. So, ‘Bodhi’ and ‘Karuna’ came and lived with me in the same house until I decided to shift to Somerset.
Q: What made you decide to get back to Somerset again?
A: Once Arthur had decided to settle down in Sri Lanka he faced a dilemma as I too wanted to get back to my village in Somerset. The option left for us was to sell the house but Arthur did not want to sell it to any outsider without giving the first refusal to Bodhinayakes. After persuading them to come to England and offering them accommodation as well he must have felt rather guilty. In the meanwhile, since he decided to stay back in Sri Lanka, I offered him a good price for his house and got the house deeds were transferred under my name.
I too was reluctant to abandon ‘Bodhi’ and “karuna’ after living with them like a happy family unit. After concentrating on the issue and not having a wink of sleep over the problem, to sell the house or not, finally, I decided to offer it to Dr. Bodhinayake explaining the situation. But he appeared to be a wet blanket and did not want to commit to any financial commitment and a house purchase in the least. As a last resort I decided to approach Karuna diplomatically, as I had noticed, during their stay with us in the same house that she was a young, sensible and smart lady who liked challenges. She immediately jumped at the idea, and in double quick time arranged a mortgage too, and bought it under her name even without the knowledge of her husband. So, finally Karuna Bodhinayake became the proud owner of the house that belonged to Sir Arthur C. Clarke in London, and I moved out to my native village in Somerset .
Q: Have you any particular memories in your life worth remembering particularly with your brother Arthur?
A: Yes , in fact many. Once Arthur was on his wheel chair at a Seminar chatting to various people. I saw a lady, in the meanwhile, talking to Arthur from a distance at first. A a little later, I happened to bump into her on a corridor. You should have seen the astonishment on her face (they say Arthur and I look alike a lot!). So, she walked straight up to me and exclaimed, “Good Heavens ! Arthur, how did you make such a speedy recovery ( Laughter)!
There was another occasion, which I must say was extremely hilarious. Arthur was at that time wearing a hearing aid, but without his knowledge batteries of the hearing aid had gone dead suddenly. It, so, happened to be an official luncheon ceremony on his behalf. Consequently, the guy who was seated next to Arthur was going on rambling something, but, unfortunately, Arthur could not hear a word of it, instead he completely sat there like a statue giving the impression to the guy, who was speaking to him from a side, as if he ( Arthur) paid no attention to the fellow. Poor chap!! I felt really sorry for the chap who speaking to Arthur continuously. That’s a good one for manners! (chuckles).
Q: Now that your brother Arthur is no more with us, will you be taking an active role in the Sir ArthurC. Clarke’s Foundation?
A: 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.
Q What plans have they made to carry forward what Sir Arthur C. Clarke had been doing up to his last moments in life ?
A: 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 of age have terrific ingenuities and imaginations. I am collecting some of their ideas and their inventions.
Q How about you writing Sir Arthur C Clarke’s biography ?
A: 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 few years.
Q: 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?
A: 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.
Q: How about your own family Fred, and how many children have you?
A: I have three lovely daughters, Angela, Judith and Diane, whom I have brought to this world and raised them comfortably, but when they got the first available opportunity to leave home, one went to Yorkshire, to end of England, the other one went to Lancashire, the other end of England, and the third one chose to go to Cambridge! Was I such a bad father…? (Laughter all around)
Pic Credit: Google