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Clive Henry Sansom (1910–1981)

by Ralph Spaulding

This article was published:

Clive Henry Sansom (1910-1981), poet, educationist and conservationist, was born on 21 June 1910 at East Finchley, London, second son of Arthur William Sansom, manufacturer’s agent, and his wife Mabel Annie, née Johnson. Educated at Hazelwood Lane Junior and Southgate County Grammar schools, Palmers Green, Clive worked until 1934 as a clerk and salesman in the London office of a Sheffield ironworks company. He studied speech and drama at Regent Street Polytechnic and the Speech Institute (1930-35), and phonetics at University College, London (1935-36). Joining the London Verse Speaking Choir in 1932, he participated in individual and group poetry recitals and won a first prize at the 1934 Oxford Festival of Spoken Poetry. In 1937 he lectured in speech training at the Borough Road (Isleworth) teachers’ college and the Franciscan Friary, Woodford Green. He also taught at the Speech Institute and examined speech and drama for the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. On 19 June 1937 at the Friends’ Meeting House, Winchmore Hill, he married Ruth Large, a Tasmanian-born schoolteacher. A conscientious objector in World War II, he worked during those years as a farm labourer and market gardener.

A regular contributor to newspapers, commenting on world affairs and conservation issues, Sansom also wrote poetry, plays and short stories, some of which were published in English periodicals. He published selections of his poems—personal lyrics about war, the English countryside and human love—in In the Midst of Death (1940) and The Unfailing Spring (1943). After the war he resumed his work with LAMDA and the Speech Institute. His first verse drama The World Turned Upside Down appeared in 1948. A long poem, ‘The Witnesses’, was a joint winner at the Festival of Britain competition in 1951.

Moving to Hobart late in 1949, Sansom was appointed next year supervisor of speech education with the Tasmanian Education Department. He and his wife established the Speech Education Centre, developed syllabuses, prepared curriculum materials and wrote and presented ‘Speaking and Listening’ on Australian Broadcasting Commission radio. Recognised nationally as an authority on spoken language, in 1951-65 he was an examiner in speech and drama for the Australian Music Examinations Board and for several years chaired the board’s national committee for speech and drama. After retiring in 1965 he devoted his time to writing poetry, freelance scriptwriting, the conservation movement and the Society of Friends.

In Tasmania Sansom produced numerous classroom texts on speaking and drama, anthologies of poetry and prose, including By Word of Mouth (1950) and The World of Poetry (1959), a novel entitled Passion Play (1951), and selections of poetry, including Dorset Village (1962), The Golden Unicorn (1965), Return to Magic (1969) and An English Year (1975). He wrote three more verse plays: The Cathedral (1958), which has been performed in Australia, Britain and North America; Swithun of Winchester (performed in Winchester Cathedral in 1971 and 1979); and Francis of Assisi (1981), his final work. The plays have been praised for their originality, vivid depiction of characters and settings, and the lyric quality and variety of their poetry. Sansom’s strong sense of the spiritual and belief in the power of creative imagination were affirmed in his Quaker publications, The Shaping Spirit (1965) and Poetry and Religious Experience (1978).

Sansom’s writing was notable for its English settings. Only a few works, including poems such as ‘Tasmanian Scene’ and the cantata for children, There is an Island (1977), related directly to Tasmania. He was, however, committed to the conservation of the environment and worked tirelessly to oppose the flooding of Lake Pedder, the damming of the Franklin River and the growth of the woodchip industry; in 1980 he was named patron of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society. He described himself as ‘the oldest ‘‘greenie” in the business’. In 1972 he was appointed MBE.

Slightly built, with an expressive face, ‘luminous, gooseberry-green eyes’ and an impish sense of humour, Sansom was a ‘warm, unforced, gentle’ man, who was a generous mentor to writers of all ages and abilities. Survived by his wife, he died on 29 March 1981 in Hobart and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Giordano and D. Norman, Tasmanian Literary Landmarks (1984)
  • R. Sansom (ed), Sansom by Forty Friends (1990)
  • Tasmanian Education, 5 Dec 1965, p 130
  • Mercury, 5 July 1979, p 20, 30 Mar 1981, p 2
  • Samson papers, NG 2089 (TSA), DX 18 (University of Tasmania archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ralph Spaulding, 'Sansom, Clive Henry (1910–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 June, 1910
London, Middlesex, England


29 March, 1981 (aged 70)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

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