“I sometimes look at my row of books and TV programmes and think, ‘How did I manage to fit that all in?’” says Clive James.

“Other times I think, ‘What have I done? Have I really achieved anything?’ That’s the thought that keeps me going. I’m a fairly conceited man.”

Next year alone, James is having three books published: selected poems under the title Opal Sunset, a book of essays called The Revolt of the Pendulum, and the fifth volume of his memoirs.

He has also published novels, literary criticism and travel writing, and published several collections of his columns — though he is, by his own account, a painfully slow writer.

The motivation behind this huge body of work is partly a sense of responsibility that began in his childhood.

Born in Sydney, Australia, James was brought up by his mother after his father was taken prisoner by the Japanese during the Second World War and died in a plane crash on his journey back home.

James says: “I’ve always thought I should use my time well. My parents didn’t get a chance to — their life together just got cut short.”

After graduating from Sydney University and working for a year at the Sydney Morning Herald, he made his way to England.

“This was the early Sixties — it was thought natural for Australians to go to Britain to make something of themselves. I came away and had to stay away because I was broke. I couldn’t afford to go back.”

After three years in London “getting nowhere”, he followed the suggestion of his old Sydney professor and embarked on a second degree at Cambridge University, where he became president of the Cambridge Footlights comedy troupe.

On leaving Cambridge he became a regular contributor to periodicals such as The New Statesman, and spent ten years as television reviewer for The Observer.

Finally he “lucked into television” when influential TV boss Sidney Bernstein was looking for a “non-TV face”; he then began writing and presenting his own studio series.

Though he retired from television in 2001, James, 69, is busier than ever, saying he has plans for the next 30 or 40 years.

As well as his various writing projects, he also works on his website, which began as a personal archive but has expanded to include a wealth of text, audio, pictures and video, by all manner of artists and thinkers.

There, a few clicks of the mouse can uncover a hidden gem far from what you had intended to look up; similarly, James seems to have incorporated into his career whatever opportunities were thrown his way.

“When you look back on it, it all looks like a plan,” he says. “But it wasn’t.”

Clive James will talk about anything and everything at artsdepot, on Tally Ho Corner, North Finchley, on January 29, at 8pm.

Tickets cost £17 (concessions £15) and are available from the box office on 020 8369 5454.

You can explore his website here