Sir Clement Freud, the distinguished bon viveur, humourist, gastronome and former Liberal MP who once gave a speech calling on the House of Commons to serve finer wine, has died nine days short of his 85th birthday, his family announced yesterday.
In a varied career since his famous family moved to the UK in the 1930s, he worked as an apprentice cook at the Dorchester Hotel in London before joining the Royal Ulster Rifles during the Second World War.
A grandson of psychiatry's godfather, Sigmund Freud, and the estranged brother of the artist Lucian Freud, Sir Clement became equally celebrated throughout his life thanks to a remarkable array of careers that ranged from journalist to politician, radio broadcaster and self-parodying dog food marketer.
A statement released by his family said the writer had died at his desk in north London on Wednesday evening whilst friends and colleagues yesterday paid tribute to one of British comedy's driest intellectual wits.
Only two weeks ago, Sir Clement had recorded (and won) what is now his last session of Just a Minute, the BBC Radio 4 panel show which he first joined in 1967 where panellists compete to see who can talk the longest without hesitation, deviation or repetition.
Stephen Fry, the comedian and fellow Just a Minute regular, led the tributes yesterday praising the 84-year-old's “raffishness” and “air of disreputability”.
“I got to know him because I was lucky enough to do a couple of Just a Minutes and I became immensely fond of him,” Fry said. “I was at first very afraid of him. A lot of people were. There were stories that he was immensely grouchy, he was rude sometimes to people who asked for autographs. I never experienced that side of him at all.”
“And another element to him which perhaps should not go unmentioned is his raffishness, if you like, his air of disreputability.”
In recent years he was best known for his deadpan monologues on Just a Minute but Sir Clement first became a household name in the 1960s when he agreed to advertise Chunky Meat Minced Morsels dog food alongside a blood hound who shared his lugubrious expression.
At the time he was already a feted food critic and Fleet Street's highest paid journalist. But he agreed to the self-parodying adverts on the condition that he was paid the same salary as Prime Minister Harold Wilson, sealing his reputation as an intellectual eccentric who was happy to laugh at his own image.
Born into an already famous Jewish family in Berlin, Clement Raphael Freud came to Britain alongside his brother Lucian in 1933 to escape Nazi persecution “before the habit caught on”. He barely spoke a word of English but quickly adopted his new country, serving a brief stint in the Army as a liaison officer during the Nuremberg trials.
But his first love had always been food and Sir Clement returned from the Second World War to open up the Royal Court Theatre Club in Soho before breaking into journalism, first as a sports writer and then as an often viciously acerbic food critic.
In 1973 he turned to politics, gaining Isle of Ely in a surprise win for the Liberal party. No-one was more surprised than Sir Clement, who bet £1,000 on himself at 33-1 odds.
He remained in Parliament for 15 years and returned to writing and radio after losing his North East Cambridgeshire seat in 1987. He leaves his wife Jill and five children, including the broadcaster Emma Freud and PR guru Matthew Freud.