Written by Valerie Taylor-Barnes
Clive Alexander Barnes, CBE, was born in London in May 1927 to a Hungarian Jewish father and an English mother. He was, in his own words, “a working class overachiever.” His education, all on scholarship, was at Emanuel School in London and at Oxford University. Before Oxford, as this was wartime England, all young men had to undergo mandatory service although the fighting was over. Clive chose the Air Force for two years. After graduating, with honors from Oxford, he enrolled as a medical student at Kings’ College Hospital in London. Unfortunately, the fact that he could not tolerate the sight of blood brought that venture to a hasty halt. Growing up he had been introduced to the theatre by his mother, secretary to a theatrical agent, and while at Oxford he and his
lifelong friend, John Percival, had formed the Oxford Ballet Club. After graduation he accepted a position as Dance Critic at the Times of London and he also wrote for The Daily Express, The Spectator, Dance and Dancers [Assistant Editor] and Music and Musicians. His writing was regarded as innovative and a breath of fresh air as formerly most dance criticism had been written, rather stuffily, by music critics.
During this time I was being given a few “tryouts” as a corps de ballet dancer and became aware of critics for the first time in my life. In those days we had very little coaching and so these accessible reviews were very important to us. Clive Barnes was the strongest voice and to me the scariest! I thought him opinionated but to be respected, he seemed to know what he was writing about and I really didn’t like that at all. How things change!
Clive’s American life began in 1965 when he was invited to the post of Dance Critic for The New York Times, doubling as full-time Theatre Critic in 1967. This lasted for ten years at which time it was deemed that too much power was in one person’s hands and the position was once again divided. Undeterred, Clive accepted an offer from Rupert Murdoch at The New York Post and enjoyed 31 years of writing as the Theatre, Dance, Opera, Broadway and TV Critic which only ended two weeks before his death on November the 19th, 2008. His last review glowingly noted two junior recruits at American Ballet Theatre.
He was a man of the theatre, sharp eyed, erudite, warm, loving, and a force to be reckoned with. His great and everlasting passion was theatre in all its forms, and to honor him with gratitude, respect and love the lights were dimmed on Broadway on November the 20th, 2008.