Saturday, 28 May 2011


Back in January, we lost the prolific children's writer, Dick King-Smith, whose books included the utterly delightful The Sheep-Pig, which became the hugely successful movie Babe.

Among Dick's over 120 titles was the 1990 volume of verses, Alphabeasts: twenty-six alphabetical animal poems (from A for Anaconda to Z for Zambra) with illustrations by Quentin Blake.

In 1993, in collaboration with my good friend the composer, David Hewson, I worked on turning the verses into a kind of zoological revue.

Staged as part of a show entitled Stuff and Nonsense at The King's Head Theatre in London (the other half of the bill comprising David's settings for the nonsense verses of Edward Lear from our show, To Sea in a Sieve); I wrote introductions to each of the verses, added a lyric or two, and performed the numbers with Sue Bloomfield accompanied by David on the piano.

Dick King-Smith's verses have simplicity and charm and David's settings are full of delightful little melodies and a number of sly jokes on various musical styles from Gilbert & Sullivan via Aaron Copland to Kurt Weill.

Unheard by the world for 18 years – I wonder why?! – here is that musical menagerie. If you have some free time on your hands this bank holiday weekend, why not join me on this Alphabeastly safari?

Just click the 'play' button on the image below.

I hope you enjoy your visit, but – please remember – DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


The final electric words of Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan:

And there will be a flame-green daybreak soon. And love itself will cry for insurrection! For tomorrow is also a day – and Titus has entered his stronghold.

And tomorrow, a company of actors will begin a two week sojourn in a BBC studio, bringing to life my newly-written radio adaptations of Peake's Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone which will be serialised as six one-hour plays, under the title The History of Titus Groan, on Radio 4 in July to coincide with the centenary of Mervyn Peake's birth.

The Titus novels are often erroneously referred to as 'a trilogy', but they are such by accident rather than design, since Peake's intention was to write a cycle of books about his eponymous hero and had plans for at least two more volumes. Due to the protracted, degenerative illness that robbed us of Peake's sublime talents as a writer and artist, his vision was never realised.

However, as I reported on this blog in January, Peake's widow, the late Maeve Gilmore, completed a fourth volume, Titus Awakes, based on notes and a fragment of text left by her husband.

Titus Awakes will be published (with an introduction by me) in July and I was able to include elements of this new book in dramatising the story of Titus, sometime 77th Earl of Groan.

Details of the cast of actors who will be populating my radio Gormenghast are currently embargoed, but I will be blogging further bulletins as and when.

Meanwhile, interested readers can find out more about the many other events being staged to mark the Peake centenary at the official Mervyn Peake website.

Friday, 20 May 2011


Notice displayed on the communal breakfast table at London's Saville Club...

Conversation Piece

But what do you do if you just want to talk to yourself, I wonder...?

Tuesday, 17 May 2011



The photo I asked you to caption was of a somewhat demented-looking Hatter bearing down on an overdressed Disneyland visitor (hat, gloves and pearls) back in 'sixties...

Your suggested captions included references to the millinery high- (0r low-) lights of guests at the recent Royal Wedding; what I take to be allusions to Irish leprechauns (prompted, I guess, by the Hatter's "wearing of the green") combined with the ubiquitous reference to underwear; and the halluciagenic effects of magic mushrooms.

One or two other entries suggest that their authors were themselves under the influnece of substances that probably oughtn't to be investigated more closely!

This competition was graciously adjudicated – from an anonymous list of entries – by Guest Judge, GILL, and here are the results, beginning with the...


Boll Weavil

EDITOR'S PICK "The thing I love about Internet dating is you never know who you're going to meet. I just tapped in 'smartly dressed man' and I'm SO excited to see who turns up."

"Would you be ready for the underpants shots now. I have my foinest Shamrock's on for the lady so I do."

David Weeks

A rubber-head and a mannequin, in a fantasy setting. So where has reality gone?

Good Dog

“Back and to the left... Back and to the left... Back and to the left...”

“Will somebody please explain to this frightful little man that however sure he thinks he is, I’m not his, my name isn’t Heather, and I do not feel at all lucky!”

“And I thought that Sarah Palin and her Tea Party was just plain nuts.”


"You think that's a hat? THIS IS A HAT, LADY!"


Prince Andrew goes to his daughters' milliner.


Woman to Hatter: "I know a princess who would just love your hat for the next royal wedding!"


She (proudly): I've got a hat!
He (in an Australian accent): That's not a hat - now this is a hat!


HIGHLY COMMENDED "Alice? Oh! My! God! How many mushrooms did they give you?"

"Alice, you have to kick that mushroom habit"

"Can I be the porpoise to your whiting?"

Snow White Sanctum

Hatter to Woman: "Hey lovely, since your husband's busy birdwatching, how'd you like to come join me for some tea?"


"Hey, Mr. Hatter... coffee, tea or ME???"

And now – roll on drums, toot on trumpets – the FINALISTS!!


Boll Weavil

Woman: "These tabs ARE good stuff. Mine are kicking in already..."


Andy J Latham

Take the damn picture George, I do NOT wish to be hatted again!!



"Well hellooo! Wanna hunt some snark?

to Suzanne and the other finalists and thanks to Judge Gill and to everyone who threw their hats into the ring!

The photo was originally posted on the blog of the very excellent Mr Kevin Kidney

Saturday, 14 May 2011

A FIVE-YEAR-PLAN... exactly what there was not!

When I blogged for the first time on 14 May 2006, I would never have imagined that I would still be blogging (on several different blogs!) five years later. In fact, I doubted I'd make it to the end of a week!

But here we are 1,317 posts and 33,9895 hits later and it is time to say a big thank you to everyone who follows or reads this blog, leaves comments, enters competitions and sends photos and ideas of things to blog about. Without you, I'd have never lasted five months let along five years!

Here's to the next half decade!


Thursday, 12 May 2011


...Who was born at this time of the year.
This was the day
When friends would say
"Happy Birthday" to old Edward Lear.

To celebrate that old Derry down Derry and great panjandrum of nonsense (who was born in London on this day in 1812), I'd like to share a cartoon I came across recently on the entertaining blog by my pink half of the drainpipe...

I have long held Edward Lear in great affection and from childhood have had many of his verses by heart. As I grew older I discovered that these tales about owls and pussycats, jumblies, pobbles and a dong with a luminous nose were far more than just exercises in humorous rhyming. Beneath the apparent silliness and delightful word-invention, lay a deep and troubled sea of emotions: loneliness, despair, self-loathing and unrequited love.

It was that gradual realisation, followed by some research into the troubled life of a man who was not only a great nonsense poet but also a brilliant landscape painter, that led me, many years ago now, to collaborate with my composer friend, David Hewson, in writing To Sea in a Sieve, a musical exploration of Lear's life which was staged at the Edinburgh fringe and, subsequently, in London at the late Westminster Theatre.

I appeared in the role of the poet and Miss Polly March played everyone else in Lear's life (well, all the women anyway, from his mother to Queen Victoria whom Lear taught drawing) as well as being the Lady Jingly Jones to his Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo and, obviously, the Pussy Cat to his Owl – as well transforming herself into one of those spectacular parrots that he painted so gloriously.

Time for a revival, I think!

Meanwhile, I'm raising a glass of Marsala (Mr Lear's favourite tipple) to the man who wrote...

How pleasant to know Mr Lear,
Who has written such volumes of stuff.
Some think him ill-tempered and queer,

But a few find him pleasant enough.

DON'T FORGET: The CAPTION COMPETITION closes tomorrow at midnight!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


Wood you believe it...?

Friday, 6 May 2011



One of my favourite blogs is that of former long-time Disney designer and on-going, all-round renaissance guy, Kevin Kidney.

Last month, under the heading Storybook Fashions, Kevin reproduced a series of a dozen fashion photos outlandishly modelled against the fantasy backdrop of Disneyland, California. Unearthed by Tim Haack, the photos were taken for the April 9, 1961 issue of Midwest Magazine, a supplement to the Chicago Sun-Times.

One of these curious photos is the subject for this CAPTION COMPETITION...

The original caption read:

Why is a raven like a writing desk?
Who cares when you look like this!

However, going on past experience, I reckon readers of this blog can come up with one or two better offerings than that!

What is the Hatter, the woman or both of them (or even the guy in the background) thinking or saying?

Answers via comments below (or e-mail) by Friday 13 May.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011


I came across this wonderful simile in Charles Dickens' reminiscence, 'Night Walks'...

The wild moon and clouds were as restless as an evil conscience in a tumbled bed.

'Night Walks' was originally published in the weekly magazine edited by Dickens, All the Year Round, and was later reprinted in the collection of essays and sketches, The Uncommercial Traveller.

This evocative portrait of London after dark as viewed during Dickens' wanderings as an insomniac can now be found in volume 88 of Penguin Books' Great Ideas series, Charles Dickens – Night Walks.

Image: 'Hawaiian Moon' by Elizabeth Hoskinson