Tuesday, 19 December 2006


As this is my last blog for a couple of weeks,
I thought I would share a few seasonal views of Venice,
where David and I will be celebrating
Christmas and the New Year...

[Images © Brian Sibley and David Weeks, 2006]

A New Year of Sibleyblogs will begin
on 4 January, 2007

you will be, whoever you will be with,
and whatever you will be doing, we both wish you...

Every Happiness and Blessing of the
Christmas Season


A Successful and Healthy
New Year

Monday, 18 December 2006


A fond farewell to Joseph (Joe) Barbera who died today, aged 95, and who, with his late creative partner William (Bill) Hanna created a cartoon pantheon that were the early evening (and later Saturday morning) household gods to several generations of children across the world.

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera (right) established their brilliance in cartoon entertainment with MGM’s classic ‘Tom & Jerry’ cartoons (beginning in 1940 with Puss Gets the Boot), a series that came to rival the short films of the Disney studio in terms of animation art and - with their fast and furious pacing and legendary knock-about humour - all but eclipsed them in terms of popularity.

In the 1950s with the demise of MGM's cartoon unit and the emergence of television, Hanna and Barbera reinvented animation for TV, accepting the restrictions of limited budgets by simplifying the style and streamlining the production process but winning viewers with their strongly drawn characters and sharp, witty scripts.

Their first venture was The Ruff and Reddy Show which debuted in 1957, although I, personally, first became aware of their work during the following year when I was captivated, week-on-week, by The Huckleberry Hound Show featuring (in addition to the eponimous title-charcater who was a blue dog with a lazy drawl and a penchant for the song ‘Clementine’), the cat-and-mouse - or, rather "meeces" - act of Mr Jinx and Pixie & Dixie and one of H&B’s greatest creations, Jellystone Park’s “picker-nick basket” snaffling Yogi Bear who, with his side-kick, Boo Boo Bear, was the perpetual nemesis of the long-suffering Ranger Smith.

Numerous other shows followed - crowded with memorable cartoon characters such as - one of my personal favourites - Snagglepuss, the overly theatrical mountain lion (“Exit---- STAGE LEFT!!”) and the - to this day - universally beloved Scooby-Doo. And how can one not mention Top Cat (and the gang) or Quick Draw McGraw, Super Snooper, Augie Doggy and Doggy Daddy (“That’s my son!”) and those Wacky Races stars, Penelope Pitstop and Dick Dastardly - plus, of course, Mutley…? And you can undoubtedly add your own role-call of names because there are many of them!

One brilliantly conceived and deftly scripted series, the long-running stone-age sit-com The Flintstones, bridged the generation gap and created animation with across-the-family-appeal that paved the way for the later success of The Simpsons.

So, those who grew up with H&B cartoons salute the passing of one of the giants of television and say, “Yabba-dabba-doo! Thanks for all the fun!”


When I was a kid, I had an Archie Andrews Annual that contained instructions for a home-made card game featuring used Christmas cards --- NO, don't laugh! This was in the years of post-war austerity!

Anyway, the idea was this: you cut the fronts off lots of cards, turn them "face down", shuffle and deal them out to the players. Thereafter, the game proceeds as in 'Snap', with players laying their cards "face up" on top of one another. If you happen lay a card depicting a mail coach ploughing its way along a snowy road on top of a similar scene, you have instantly to shout "COACH!" and the first person to do so wins all the cards on the table...

Looking at the cards received this year, you'd have a job playing "COACH!" today... There's not a single one in sight! So, where did they all go? Is it down to the Congestion Zone charge? Or the efficiency of the British public transport system? Or, maybe, the popularity of the Chelsea tractor? Whatever the reason, there's not been one in sight of our mantlepiece for years!

I suppose you might still be able to play the game (just) as "ROBIN!", "CANDLE!" or (very occasionally) "MANGER!" but, anyway, it's probably a bit of a non-starter with all the DVDs needing to be watched and computer games that require playing...

Talking of cards, here's my nomination for 'Best Non-Christmas Card of 2006'. It comes from one of my publishers, HarperCollins, and whilst featuring a Christmas-tree-shape is actually less concerned with passing on the compliments of the season as with telling us how extremely green-conscious they are when it comes to the trees that get felled in order to print their books - and, yes, their Christmas cards...

Well, good for them - and, yes, good for the forests, the environment and us - but what happened to the message of Christmas (even suitably adapted for our pluralist society) that necessitated the sending of this eco-friendly card in the first place...?

In case you can't make out the detail (and in case you care!) here's what it says:
In 2006 all monochrome hard-backs and trade paperbacks published by HarperCollins in the UK were printed on paper sourced from well-managed forests certified in accordance with the rules of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) - just like this year's greetings card, in actual fact

If anyone's still awake, please pass the humbugs!

Sunday, 17 December 2006



It seems as if, with every passing year, the true meaning of Christmas is becoming increasingly elusive, concealed as it so often is beneath the wrappings and ribbons of commercialism.

But those of us who care simply have to try to keep the true spirit of the season alive. As Charles Dickens has Scrooge's nephew observe:
"I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that- as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"
And here's a carol for Christmas from another literary master...

G.K. Chesterton

The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down.

Saturday, 16 December 2006


The Lion constantly complained about the fact that he never got the lion’s share. He knew that everyone always spoke about the lion’s share, but to the best of his knowledge, he hadn’t even seen a hint of it, let alone actually had it!

One day, he was lounging on the edge of the African desert considering how badly off he was compared with all those other lions who presumably got their due, picked up their rightful share.

“Who knows?” he muttered to himself, “For all I know they may have had my lion’s share, in addition to their own!”

At that precise moment, a Bald Ibis flew down and sat on a nearby boulder.

“What’s your complaint, O Royal and Regal One?” he asked in a highly deferential tone.

So the Lion told him…

“If that’s all that’s troubling you,” replied the Ibis, “I can fix that for you!”

“You can?” said the Lion in some surprise.

“I am the keeper of the magical mysteries of the ancient pharaohs and can easily grant a little wish such as yours. But, first, tell me: of what, in particular, do you want the lion’s share?”

Food!” said the Lion without pausing to think.

“Anything else?” asked the Ibis.

“The affection of my lionesses,” he added, “and the respect of my cubs…”

“Is that it?” the Ibis enquired.

“Well,” went on the Lion, “good health, long life, peace of mind and freedom from worry…”

“All of that is possible,” responded the Ibis, “you have but to say the word and the lion’s share of all those things will be yours along with everything else!”

Everything else?” queried the Lion.

“Most assuredly,” replied the Ibis.

“Then I would also have the Lion’s share of hatred, jealousy and malice; hunger and thirst; pain, sickness, grief and death…?”

“Yes, that is so,” agreed the Ibis.

“Then,” said the Lion, “I will content myself with an ordinary share of all those things and forego the lion’s share.”

“You choose well,” said the Ibis, “and in making that choice you reveal that when it comes to wisdom you truly do have the lion’s share!”

© Brian Sibley 2006
Read more of my Likely Stories

Friday, 15 December 2006


I am recalling an event that happened forty years ago today...

I am getting ready for school and, suddenly, there is my father calling up the stairs: "Brian, Walt Disney has died..."

Downstairs I heard the murmuring drone of radio voices as my father - busy brewing early-morning tea - listens, as he does every morning, to the news programme, Today.

I ought, perhaps, to have dashed downstairs to listen to the reports, absorb the details, gather up the tributes. After all, Walt Disney was my hero. A strange idol for a teenage lad, maybe - but that is what he was.

I collected every book, magazine and trivial snippet that I could find about Disney and his studio. I was forever copying pictures of Disney characters in my sketch-books - in fact my youthful ambition was to be a Disney artist, to animate those fabulous beings that appeared in his films. I longed to be a part of that mystical process that created characters out of ink and paint and then imbue them with a power to move people to laughter or tears. I was, I admit, obsessed by the man and his movies.

Later that morning, on my way to school, I would buy the daily newspapers and - in a corner of the playground at morning break - pore over the obituaries; but, at the moment of first hearing the news, I had only one response: I sat on the edge of my bed and wept.

For the first time in my young life I experienced that bizarre phenomenon: a feeling of overwhelming grief at the death of someone whom I did not really know. Not only had I never met Walt Disney, I had - rather surprisingly - never even written him a fan-letter. Yet, I felt - as doubtless many others have felt on hearing of the death of some public figure, president or pop-star - that I had lost a friend, been bereaved of someone who held a unique place in my affections. The loss felt achingly huge; a void had yawned open in my life that I doubted could ever be filled...

In the forty years since that day, I have continued to study - and occasionally write about - Disney's life and work. I have also had the privilege of meeting many of those who knew, worked with, loved and loathed the man. Such encounters have brought me very close to feeling that I understand the personality and character of Walter Elias Disney.

But I have never been - never shall be - as close to him as I was on that morning when my father called upstairs to tell me the news that Walt Disney had died...

Thursday, 14 December 2006


When, a week or two back, I was writing about lists, I inexplicably overlooked one of the Best Lists Ever Drawn Up (and certainly THE Best Ever Christmas List) which was compiled by Charles Dickens Esq. in his A Christmas Carol.

It is a description of late-night Christmas Eve shopping, c. 1843, as witnesssed by Mr Ebenezer Scrooge on his perigrinations through the streets of London in company with the Spirit of Christmas Present.

It is clearly written by a lover of Christmas (and Christmas Fare) and, above all, LIFE!

Here it is...

The poulterers' shops were still half open, and the fruiterers' were radiant in their glory. There were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Friars, and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe. There were pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers" benevolence to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people's mouths might water gratis as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown, recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks among the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through withered leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner. The very gold and silver fish, set forth among these choice fruits in a bowl, though members of a dull and stagnant-blooded race, appeared to know that there was something going on; and, to a fish, went gasping round and round their little world in slow and passionless excitement.

The Grocers'! oh the Grocers'! Nearly closed, with perhaps two shutters down, or one; but through those gaps such glimpses. It was not alone that the scales descending on the counter made a merry sound, or that the twine and roller parted company so briskly, or that the canisters were rattled up and down like juggling tricks, or even that the blended scents of tea and coffee were so grateful to the nose, or even that the raisins were so plentiful and rare, the almonds so extremely white, the sticks of cinnamon so long and straight, the other spices so delicious, the candied fruits so caked and spotted with molten sugar as to make the coldest lookers-on feel faint and subsequently bilious. Nor was it that the figs were moist and pulpy, or that the French plums blushed in modest tartness from their highly-decorated boxes, or that everything was good to eat and in its Christmas dress; but the customers were all so hurried and so eager in the hopeful promise of the day, that they tumbled up against each other at the door, clashing their wicker baskets wildly, and left their purchases upon the counter, and came running back to fetch them, and committed hundreds of the like mistakes, in the best humour possible; while the Grocer and his people were so frank and fresh that the polished hearts with which they fastened their aprons behind might have been their own, worn outside for general inspection, and for Christmas daws to peck at if they chose.


I'm not sure whether Christmas Past ever, truly, WAS like that; but, if it wasn't, then it most certainly SHOULD have been!

Wednesday, 13 December 2006


It's got apparitions, transformations and all manner of scenes from the frenzied delights of a Christmas ball to ghostly goings-on in a graveyard.

A Christmas Carol might almost have been written for the stage and it certainly has been on the stage at sometime or other for pretty much every one of its 163 years.

Take this Christmas, for example: there will be revivals of Leslie Bricusse’s all-singing version and Christopher Gable’s all-dancing production; with famous former-Fagin, Ron Moody taking on a new Dickensian persona in Swansea as Ebenezer Scrooge and Michael Barrymore (above) reprising his portrayal of the role on tour.

It was in December 1843, that Dickens - angered by the terrible poverty of his day - published this little 'ghost story of Christmas', recounting the reformation of a mean-spirited man for whom December 25th and all associated with it is nothing more than "HUMBUG!" Though scarcely more than a novella, Dicken's Carol is crammed with memorable characterisations - living and spectral - and a series of rich descriptions of Christmas traditions and celebrations.

Within two months, there were no less than eight dramatised versions of A Christmas Carol being simultaneously presented on the London stage.

In order to avoid confusion, the titles were different - but only just! One was called A Christmas Carol, or the Miser's Warning; another A Christmas Carol, or Past, Present, and Future; a third A Christmas Carol, or Scrooge the Miser's Dream, or, The Past, Present, and Future...

One of the first performers to portray Scrooge was the celebrated Victorian actor, O. Smith, whose performance was described by Dickens as “drearily better than I expected”, adding that he found it “a great comfort to have this kind of meat underdone” - something which cannot be said of all his successors!

2006’s Scrooge’s - whether professional or amatuer - are the latest in a long line of performers to play the “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner” and distinguished humbugs have included veteran thespians Bransby Williams and Seymour Hicks who both began by playing the part in legitimate theatrical productions before transforming their performances into solo music hall turns and then ending up among the first screen Scrooges - succeeded by the likes of Alistair Sim (for many the greatest of Scrooges), Albert Finney, George C Scott and Michael Caine in the much-loved musical version The Muppet Christmas Carol.

There has been an Ebenezer Scrooge for every possible taste from Anthony Newley to Anton Rodgers; from the senior partner of Steptoe and Son, Wilfred Brambell, to Star Trek's Jean-Luc Picard, Patrick Stewart (right); and employing every conceivable medium from a mime performed by Marcel Marceau to an opera sung by Sir Geriant Evans.

'Scrooging' has long been a popular pastime among knights of the theatre: Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson and Alec Guinness all did it on radio, Michael Hordern did it on television and John Gielgud on record. Others who have read the story on disc, tape and CD include Geoffrey Palmer, Richard Wilson, Ronald Coleman, Vincent Price and Leonard Rossiter.

In America, where A Christmas Carol is equally - perhaps even more - beloved, Dickens' stony-hearted skinflint was portrayed or radio, for many years, by Lionel Barrymore and Orson Welles and on other occasions and in a variety of media by Basil Rathbone, Frederick March, Walter Matthau, Kelsey Grammer, Mr Magoo and Donald Duck's penny-pinching uncle, Scrooge McDuck!

From the outset, dramatists have tinkered with the original text: from small embellishments such as giving Scrooge's nephew, Fred, the surname 'Freeheart', to the invention of a sinister character called 'Dark Sam' who added to the Cratchit family's problems by stealing Bob's scant wages. One particularly free dramatization, Old Scrooge, staged in 1877, ended by reuniting the reformed miser with his lost love, Belle, who conveniently turns out to be Fred's wife's widowed mother!

Some of the more bizarre curiosities - Vanessa Williams as self-centered pop-star, Ebony Scrooge; Jack Palance as Ebenezer, a Western card-cheat and gunfighter; or Bill Murray as Frank Cross, the cynical TV executive who gets Scrooged - serve to indicate the extent to which Dickens' story has become part of popular mythology, a folk tale or fairy story which is perennially retold and reworked in the telling.

So well do we know - and love - Dickens' story that it's characters have had several sequels written about them with several amusing speculations on what might have happened if Ebenezer Scrooge had subsequently relented of his Christmas conversion and had gone back to his old miserly ways and some alarming accounts of how the angelic Tiny Tim might have turned out not so virtuous when he grew up and inherited Scrooge's business! Why, there is even a Jewish spoof on the story entitled Hanukkah, Schmanukkah!

Dickens' characters have been employed by several generations of political cartoonists from Punch's John Tenniel, who depicted Prime Minister William Gladstone as Scrooge, to Gerald Scarfe who drew the Ghost of Margaret Thatcher haunting a terrified John Major. They have also found their way into various advertising campaigns for, among other products, Hamlet cigars, Heineken lager and Absolut vodka.

In fact, so well known is A Christmas Carol that even people who have never read it, actually believe they have! Say the word “Humbug!” and someone will think of Ebenezer Scrooge; utter the phrase: “God bless us, every one!” and people at once recall the words of Tiny Tim.

Small wonder that William Makepeace Thackeray, reviewing the book in 1843, wrote: “It seems to me a national benefit, and to every man and woman who reads it a personal kindness.”

One hundred and sixty-three years on, there seems no reason to quibble with that verdict.

Tuesday, 12 December 2006


In case you missed it among the comments to my recent post about a cup of tea that turned out to be nothing like a nice cup of tea, my friend Phil alerted me to a wonderful web-site that is a MUST for all teaholics

Called Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down it is jam-packed with information on making and drinking tea and just about everything you could want to know about cakes and biscuits including what's in the new Rover Assortment box, why plain chocolate Hobnobs have crumbled out of existence and an up-to-date report on Jaffa Cakes...

Plus full instructions on how to make Underpant Toast...

A neat little time-killer in which the Apocalypse Rabbit eats up falling Kitchen Appliances to the tune of 'Bright Eyes' (check it out); and downloadable custard-wallpaper for your computer screen...

[Top image: Curious 3D]

Monday, 11 December 2006


Does nobody care about the traditions of Yesteryear any more? Clearly not! I was wandering round the Co-op the other day and thinking how good it was that the store has reverted to calling itself ‘The Co-operative’ (bringing back memories from the days of my youth when it was known as ‘The Co-operative Society’) when I was stopped dead in my tracks by a bag of Bassett’s FRUIT Allsorts with a notice splashed on the front of the bag announcing: NO LIQUORICE HERE!

Heresy! Especially since the denouncement of liquorice is being held by the company’s famous logo-character, ‘Bertie Bassett’, who is made out of LIQUORICE ALLSORTS! Now what kind of brand betrayal is that?

Apart from which, how can one possibly eat an ORANGE, BLUE or GREEN Allsort of any sort? All the more so when the GREEN one seems to be flavoured with some kind of bathroom disinfectant…

I hope ‘The Co-operative’ will note my serious displeasure and pause to ask themselves whether FRUIT ALLSORTS really deserve to have a place in their emporium!

Not that they really deserve for the story to be told, but the invention - or more accurately the ‘discovery’ of Liquorice Allsorts - is, in fact, a fascinating tale.

In 1899, one Charlie Thompson, a salesman of George Bassett’s Sheffield confectionary firm visited a wholesaler with various trays of sweets made from liquorice and cream paste. At the time, each variety was sold separately and went by such names as chips, rocks, buttons, nuggets, plugs and twists.

Failing to make a sale, Thompson was gathering up his samples when he dropped them all over the counter and in gathering them up, willy-nilly, created a jumbled assortment that immediately caught the customer’s eye. A new product was born and was called ‘Liquorice All-sorts’.

The edible logo, Bertie Bassett, first made his bow in 1929 and is, therefore, old enough to know better than to be pushing something as essentially unappealing - and downright un-British - as FRUIT Allsorts!

Sunday, 10 December 2006


Yesterday: The world of M C Escher rebuilt in LEGO Bricks. Today: The Gospel of Jesus Christ According to LEGO…

You can experience the whole story (complete with kings, shepherds, animals and angels) at...

The Brick Testament is the work of the self-styled ‘Reverend’ Brendan Powell Smith, who is (among other things) an atheist, “a closet heterosexual” and “the most trusted name in eschatology”. The 'Rev' is dedicated to the curious (yet curiously fascinating) project of illustrating the entire Bible using LEGO bricks.

Many of the most famous stories have already been built…

And the Reverend thoughtfully adds a ‘rating guide’ to each story utilising the letters N S V & C (for Nudity, Sexual Content, Violence and Cursing) which, one way or another, pretty much feature in every story…

And proving that we never outgrow our love of the plastic brick is the latest 250GB USB2 hard-drive from LaCie with that all-too familiar shape (available in three colours) and called The Brick Stack & Play hard disk.

And, if you want to know how it all started, and what happened along the way, well there’s ‘stacks’ of information on the Official LEGO site.

Saturday, 9 December 2006


The other week at The Magic Circle, I had the honour of introducing master magician David Berglas (depicted left by Derren Brown) to an audience made up of members of The Young Magician's Club...

Among the topics David touched upon in his talk was the work of the extraordinary Dutch draughtsman, M C (Maurits Cornelis) Escher, whom he met towards the end of the artist's life and whose remarkable graphic designs he greatly admires, representing as they do drawn equivalents of a magician's illusions.

I was reminded both of Escher's brilliance and my own youthful discover of his baffling realisations of optical illustions such as waterfalls that run uphill and never-ending staircases...

I also fell in love with Escher's many other stunning pieces that comment on the way in which we see, perceive and understand such as 'Three Worlds' with its trinity of images: beneath the water, on the surface and reflected in the water...

Whilst looking for examples of Escher's work to add to this blog, I stumbled across another amazing dimension to the Dutchman's fabulous conceits - the work of a LEGO enthusiast, Andrew Lipson, who has recreated Escher's drawings as three dimensional, perspective-gravity-defying models...

Visit Andrew Lipson's LEGO Page to marvel at his other outrageous creations that show just what you can do if you have sufficient LEGO bricks, enough (some might say, too much) time on your hands and a belief that you can make the impossible possible - such as this vertiginous version of Escher's 'Relativity'...

There are several sites devoted to showing (and selling) Escher's pictures including The Official M C Escher Website and one of the best books devoted to the artist is The Magic of M C Escher by J L Locker, published in 2000 by Abrams.

[Images: David Berglas © Derren Brown; Escher images © The Estate of M C Escher; LEGO Escher buildings © Andrew Lipson.]

Friday, 8 December 2006


Having once written a book about Guinness and its extraordinary advertising legacy, I am well aware that, during its long and distinguished lifetime, the great Irish beverage has produced not only some of the most memorable, stylish, funny and endearing adverts in the annals of commercial art, but that they have been at the forefront of skilful product placement - finding ways of marketing Guinness' creamy bitterness to a wide range of potential drinkers.

However, unlike other contemporary companies, they have fought shy of specifically targeting the drinker with a pink pound in his or her pocket...

In fact, when in 1995, they produced the television advert (below), featuring a gay couple, feared opposition from straighter-laced stout-drinkers resulted in its being pulled.

Personally, I think the jury's still out on whether this commercial was challenging or reinforcing homosexual stereotyping...

Anyway, a decade later, it seems as if attitudes at Guinness are possibly being relaxed. Certainly a new poster suggests that the Guinness Toucan has finally fluttered out of the closet and will, very probably, soon be behaving like a true squawking queen!