Wednesday 10 March 2010


Move over Tim! Let's have a look at another Burton - two other Burtons in fact - in a rather more conventional Wonderland.

In 1983, Richard and daughter, Kate (by first wife Sybil Williams) appeared together in an American TV version of Alice in Wonderland based on actress Eva Le Gallienne's celebrated Broadway adaptation of 1932, to which - for a time - Walt Disney acquired the film rights. That's Miss La Gallienne, on the right, as the White Queen in the original production.

Of course, the White Knight, is not a true Wonderlander, but an escapee from Looking-glass World, although as far as dramatists and filmmakers are concerned, Lewis Carroll's two books are pretty much interchangeable and invariably amalgamated!

Never mind, we never had many opportunities to enjoy Richard Burton singing (outside his Broadway cast recording of Camelot) so this performance of 'The White Knight's Song' about the "Aged, Aged Man A-sitting on a Gate" is a true rarity.

The music for that production was by Richard Addinsell who composed numerous film scores including Fire Over England, Goodbye Mr Chips, Gaslight, Blithe Spirit, Scrooge, The Prince and the Show Girl and, most famously, Dangerous Moonlight for which he wrote the 'Warsaw Concerto'. He also collaborated with Joyce Grenfell on a number of revues and one-woman shows. The lyrics, of course, are Lewis Carroll's "own invention".

Anyway, this is just an excuse to share another Carrollian rendition that is one of my personal favourites. From Jonathan Miller's haunting black and white BBC 'Wednesday Play' adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, first televised in 1966.

All the characters (including the animals) were portrayed as eccentric Victorians and the cast for a Brit TV show, was phenomenal: Peter Sellers as the King of Hearts, Michael Gough as the March Hare, Peter Cook as the Hatter, Leo McKern as the Duchess, and Michael Redgrave as the Caterpillar among others.

The film was filled with moments of inspired brilliance, of which the most memorable was 'The Lobster Quadrille', filmed along Pett Level on the Sussex coast with popular journalist and TV pundit of the time, Malcolm Muggeridge, as the Gryphon and John Gielgud as the Mock Turtle.

This YouTube clip is taken from the 'menu' of the DVD version, so you'll have to ignore the 'buttons' at the bottom of the screen, but the absurdity and poignancy of these two old men dancing among the rock pools, silhouetted against the wide vista of sunlit sea and heaped-up cloud is, I think, bliss...

You'll find some more pictures and another clip here.

Please note the Richard Burton Alice in Wonderland
advertised above is a Region 1 DVD only.


Suzanne said...

"Butterflies made into mutton pies"? - well that's a new take on Sweeney Todd! (and that's how you get all the Burtons together).
I loved the Lobster reel - I think I'll give that one a go next time I go to the seaside!
symorti: the rhythm of a Carroll song
P.S. When do we get the competition results?

Brian Sibley said...

The mutton pie recipe is Lewis Carroll's own, though would obviously be unacceptable today under the Trade Descriptions Act.

If you are going to attempt a Lobster Quadrille in a similar fashion to that performed by Gielgud and Muggeridge, it would probably be a good idea to make sure you are doing so with someone rather than on your own - or you might just get taken away in a padded van!

Competition results? The thing is, I'm rather snowed under with work just now and there are (as always) so many stunning submissions that they require adequate time for cool, consolidated consideration! But soon!

SharonM said...

Suzanne beat me to a prompt re the competition. Why not ask David to judge it - or has he got loads of entries in for it?

Re Alice - looking forward to your analysis of the 1998 Alice Through the Looking Glass Film one day. It starred Kate Beckinsale, Ian Holm, Penelope Wilton, Sian Phillips, Geoffrey Palmer and others and even included Ian R as the Wasp.

Brian Sibley said...

Good idea! He forgot to enter so he has no excuse!

I remember seeing the Beckinsale version and remember now that Ian R played the Wasp in a Wig, which was the character in the so-called "suppressed" chapter of Looking-glass rediscovered in galley-proofs in 1974. I think this was the first production to incorporate the Wasp into a dramatisation.

Suzanne said...

I shouldn't worry about the padded van... I often rehearse my lines when I go for walks by myself - with all the appropriate gestures!
pughtwo: a person performing a duo, solo on a crowded beach

Phil said...

Brian, I found some Carrollian letters on this blog page:

I thought you might find it interesting. (Actually, the whole Letters Of Note blog is quite fascinating.)

Rob Cox said...

Mandy and I saw Burton's 'Alice' on Sunday and I enjoyed it as a bit of escapism - not sure the 3D added much though. But nothing compares, in impact on me, to the Jonathan Miller 'Alice' of the 1960s. It would probably come over as slow and amateur to the modern eye but, at the time, it seemed to epitomise the absurdity of the adult world seen through the eyes of a child. As such it was more scary than Burton's Jabberwocky because it was so much more real to me. But such a treatment simply wouldn't put bums on seats these days. For all its faults the BBC can still deliver the goods in this way at times.

Brian Sibley said...

SUZANNE - OK, you know best. But make sure you give matron my address and I'll send some grapes! ;)

PHIL - Fascinating! I've got several books of Carroll letters but have never read those two before. Brilliant examples of his ability to conjure nonsense from the mundane. And, as you say, a very interesting blogsite. Thanks for sharing the link.

ROB COX - Yes, you are right about Jonathan Miller's Alice and the impact it made back in 1966. We were talking about it the other day with Sophie (whom you know and who is quite a bit younger than you and I) and she was recalling how (in an age before videos and DVDs) images from the film remained seared into her memory from that first one-off viewing.

It was released on DVD a few years back by the British Film Institute and is, I think, about to be re-released by the BBC. You'll find the Mad Tea-Party (with Peter Cook & Co) and a few other photos on this earlier blog post. I think - despite being in b&w and not being in 3D - that it remains an inspired piece of filmmaking.