Fred Clarke, 1921 – 2013: A Perfect Gentleman.

Very few of us are fortunate enough to go through life with a personal champion to help and support us at every turn. But Arthur C. Clarke was lucky enough to have such an advocate in his brother Fred. The two brothers have always reminded me of Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway  – loyal and heroic friends – in Ray Bradbury’s elegiac masterpiece Something Wicked This Way Comes: inseparable and devoted to each other. Where one goes, the other will always follow: “The wind flew Jim away. A similar kite, Will swooped to follow.”

Fred and Arthur shared a bond that not even half the Earth’s circumference could break. When Arthur moved to Sri Lanka (or Ceylon as it was then known) in the 1950s, Fred stayed in the UK. They met up regularly thereafter at various events such as the Minehead Space Festival in 1992 (recently revisited on the BIS website), and always it seemed as if the brothers had never been apart:

Sea of Space – the Voyages of Arthur C. Clarke (From the BIS Archives)

From the BIS Archives: Remembering Arthur C. Clarke – Minehead’s Local Hero

I had the privilege of meeting Fred only once but it was enough to be struck by his selfless devotion to the Clarke legacy. In his tales and anecdotes, Fred could evoke Arthur better than anyone. During that meeting it was as if the more famous of the two siblings was there in the same room, a benign presence warmly appreciative – as he always was – of his brother’s efforts, of Fred’s unfailing resolve not to let time diminish the intensity of Arthur’s achievements. And surely those achievements are, in part at least, also Fred’s. After all, he was the one who got out of bed in the early hours of the morning to answer the phone to Stanley Kubrick when the famously demanding auteur wanted to speak to Arthur. And that was just one instance among countless others when Fred was the first to step forward in his brother’s name, the first to champion his work.

What struck me most about Fred was his ability to deal with the adversities of advancing years in good cheer. In that respect he was one of the bravest men I have ever encountered. Problems with mobility and failing eyesight did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm and energy. In many ways, he was much like Reg Turnill, another champion now sadly lost to us. With the recent departure of Patrick Moore and Les Shepherd it really does seem as if the early history of the BIS is passing beyond living memory; but not beyond the Society’s ability to record the vital contribution these individuals made to its history and its legacy.  We were lucky indeed to have Fred in our ranks (an exemplar of Shakespeare’s “good yeoman”, and none better) supporting the BIS for as long as he did, progressing from a founding figure to a much loved elder statesman.

By all accounts, Fred was an unfailingly modest man, never fazed by the glamour that surrounded his brother. To paraphrase Kipling, he walked “with Kings” but never lost “the common touch.” Occupying neither the spotlight nor the shadows, he was always a distinctive figure, standing by his brother’s side, a position he maintained from childhood to the last of his days, tirelessly working to the very end to keep Arthur’s memory alive.  He was the brother we might all have wished for. And like Arthur, Fred was a man of letters, the author of several books.

I’d like to think the brothers, separated by Arthur’s death in 2008, are together again now, perhaps somehow back in the fields surrounding the family farm in Somerset: two kites swooping together; two kestrels on the wing, both chasing once more the dreams they were destined to share in life.

Mark

MarkStewart, FBIS
BIS Honorary Archival Librarian/Editor (Odyssey)
[email protected]

 

Fred Clarke

Fred Clarke, a life-long champion of his brother’s work and achievements.

Arthur C. Clarke

Fred celebrating the Arthur C. Clarke Gala with Bill Paxton and Buzz Aldrin, Los Angeles, November 2001.

Rob Godwin

Fred with Rob Godwin, CEO of CG Publishing Inc/Apogee Space Books.

Fred Clarke

Fred as Guest of Honour with Jerry Stone at the first “Arthurs” Awards at the British Rocketry Oral History Project Conference Dinner, Charterhouse School, April 2005.


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