Monday, 29 August 2011

THE KING OF JESTERS

For any early-day readers of this blog I was rather caught (literally) napping by blogger when a part-completed post was 'published' instead of being 'saved'!

SO! What I was going to say was that the best bit of this Bank Holiday weekend for me was Friday night with a take-away Chinese meal watching one of my top ten favourite films, Danny Kaye's 1956 Hollywood hybrid – part-musical, part-romantic-comedy, part-swashbuckler – The Court Jester!

It is impossible – IM-POSSIBLE – to watch this film and not feel cheerier than you were before the Paramount Mountain gives way to the VistaVision logo and the tirelessly versatile Kaye comes dancing onto the screen in motley, reacting to the rolling credits of his distinguished co-stars: Glynis Johns, Angela Lansbury, Cecil Parker, Alan Napier, Mildred Natwick and, in particular, Basil Rathbone who plays Kaye's nemesis in the film and whose name menacingly returns again and again in an evil-looking type-face!

The plot is simplicity itself: Kaye plays Hubert Hawkins, a former troubadour, now part of a band of woodland outlaws, headed by the Robin Hood-like Black Fox, fighting to overthrow the usurping tyrant King Roderick I (Cecil Parker). The outlaws have the rightful heir to the throne in their possession – a baby boy bearing the hereditary birthmark of a purple pimpernel on its left buttock!

Aided by Maid Jean (the outlaw band's Maid Marian figure), Hawkins sets off to infiltrate Roberick's castle in the guise of Giacomo – "King of Jesters and Jester to the King" – an entertainer from the Italian Court.

The rest is blissful foolery.

Americans always claim to have no understanding of the British theatrical tradition of Pantomime, but this film is evidence to the contrary as some of its top-name players camp it up in a wonderfully silly romp with a score (by Sammy Cahn and Kaye's wife, Sylvia Fine) comprising a couple of ballads and a string of patter songs worthy of Messrs G&S.

There are also hilarious set-piece sequences of quick-fire, punning banter that must have been a nightmare to learn – let alone deliver with a straight face...



Probably the film's most famous sequence – at least its most quoted – is the one in which the hapless Hawkins is about to enter the lists opposite Sir Griswold (known as "the grim and grisly Griswold"), a man built like a brick out-house, in an attempt to win the hand of the Princess Gwendolen (Lansbury). Fortunately – perhaps – Gwen's witchy handmaid, Griselda, has spiked one of the pre-tournament toasting cups.

BUT –– which one has the pellet with the poison...?



One of the joys of the film is seeing Basil Rathbone, a superb swordsman who crossed blades with the best, spoofing his famous sword-fight with Errol Flynn in Robin Hood this time round with Hawkins who is currently under one of Griselda charms so that when anyone snaps their fingers he becomes – SNAP! – a brave as Douglas Fairbanks or – SNAP! – once again the inept buffoon he truly is...



Anyway, if you've never seen The Court Jester don't just take my word for it: get the DVD and see it for yourself. And if you have seen it then you'll now that, like an old friend, reunion is always pleasurable. So, why not watch it again? Go on – you know you want to!

So, what do you say...?



Saturday, 27 August 2011

SHORT CARTOONS

The fact that this is a spoof is as plain as the nose on Pinocchio's face.

Oh, I see......


These, on the other hand, are a genuine product: just £9.51 a pair!



Still, at least Messrs Milne and Shepard got a credit!


Thursday, 25 August 2011

NOTHING TO BE DONE


Yesterday's Plays
revised for
Today's Playgoers...


# 1:

waiting_4_go.com





Image: Waiting for Godot by Roger Cumminskey

Monday, 22 August 2011

THE ILLUSTRATED MIND

Today my favourite author (and dear friend) RAY BRADBURY is 91 years young!

It is no exaggeration to say that the book on the left changed my life. I can still remember the day in the 'sixties when I saw it on a twirling rack of paperbacks outside the stationers shop in Chislehurst village – that's back in the days when local villages had stationers!

I had never heard the name Ray Bradbury, but I was excited by the cover: the title (although I didn't recognise it as a quotation); the startling combination of black, red and purple; the monstrous grotesques depicted (I didn't know then that they were by Goya and other dark visionaries); and the promise of what lay within its pages: Stories of weird, beautiful and wonderfully improbably people, places and things...

How could I resist? I read the book in a day and was overwhelmed! I had never read anything like it: the style, the ideas flooded my imagination...

Years later, I dramatised a story from this book for radio ('The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl') and I was reminded how much this book is part of my psyche when I was pulled up short in front of a display case in the current British Library exhibition Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as we know it by a copy of Collier's magazine (28 June, 1952) containing the first appearance of another of those golden apples, 'The Sound of Thunder', a fantastic tale combining time-travel and dinosaurs!

Ray Bradbury ‘A Sound of Thunder’, first published in Collier’s Weekly, 28 June 1952

I looked at the powerful illustration by Frederick Siebel and was a kid again!

Back to my youthful discovery of of The Golden Apples of the Sun: the very next day I was hot-footing it to the library in search of more volumes bearing the open sesame name, Ray Bradbury...

I have written elsewhere (and those interested can follow some of the links at the end of this post) about how those books led, years later, to a correspondence and friendship that has continued to this day.

But, for now, to celebrate Ray's birthday, here are a couple of portraits of the man who hurled me into outer space with The Martian Chronicles; transported me back in time with a glass of Dandelion Wine; lifted the tent-flap of the dark carnival and told me Something Wicked This Way Comes and struck a match in the dark and warned me against the Fireman who burn books at Fahrenheit 451.

The first portrait was made back in 1963 by Ray's long-time illustrator (of, among other books, The Golden Apples) Joseph (Joe) Mugnaini

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (May 1963)

The second was created, forty-seven years later, in 2010 to mark Ray's 90th birthday by a huge Bradbury fan, Lou Romano, production design artist on the Pixar animated films Up, The Incredibles and Monsters Inc.


On his blog, Lou Romano explains the genesis of the piece and how he created it

As for the little doodle on the left, it is one I made many years ago to accompany an article I wrote about Ray for a magazine that I've forgotten and which is, anyway, probably now defunct!

If you've time for another coffee...

There's a terrific video portrait of Ray on the website of The National Endowment for the Arts.

My blog, The Works, has a prose portrait of him, The Bradbury Machine.

And you might enjoy seeing some of Ray's letters to me in last year's blog post, Ninety Years from Mars.

Oh, yes, and there's more Bradbury stuff over on my Ex Libris blog.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY, RAY!


"Remember this: Love is at the centre of your life.
The things that you do should be things that you love

and things that you love should be things that you do."

Saturday, 20 August 2011

TITUS FUGIT

Time is running out! According to the BBC iPlayer, all six episodes of The History of Titus Groan (see last post below) will vanish from the audio bookshelf at 4:02PM Sun, 21 Aug 2011. Why wait that long?!

Friday, 19 August 2011

THE END OF HISTORY

With the repeat of 'Titus Alive', the final episode of my radio Classic Serial, The History of Titus Groan tomorrow, Saturday (BBC Radio 4 at 21:00) my most ambitious project for very many years will come to an end.

If you have missed any or all of this cycle of plays based on the books by Mervyn Peake and featuring a cast headed by David Warner, Luke Treadaway, Miranda Richardson, James Fleet and Carl Prekopp, you've still got a day in which to catch up on any or all of the six episodes on the BBC iPlayer.



It's been a week of mixed fortunes as two national radio critics passed judgment on the series. First was Gillian Reynolds in The Daily Telegraph.

Back in 2004, reviewing my serialisation of The Pilgrim's Progress, Ms Reynolds had written: "Sibley dramatised The Lord of the Rings, did excellent versions of C S Lewis's Narnia stories, got Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast better than BBC TV (and for two ounces of that other version's megaton budget), and all for Radio 4..."

Now, however, she wrote:
Titus Groan, the first Radio 4 Classic Serial in ages to be given six parts, ended on Sunday. I have listened to every episode, admiring the acting, Brian Sibley’s adaptation of a complex work, the pace of Jeremy Mortimer’s direction. I still couldn’t understand what was going on. At all. The minute I thought I had, off it would go again into another dimension of fear, temptation, betrayal, each so vivid it flooded the mind’s eye, all adding into a dream I didn’t want to enter. If anyone can offer me the key into this version, pray tell. Just don’t say “the book”. If the book is the key, what’s the point of a radio version?
Hmmmm...

Well, yes, I admit I was momentarily cast down, but then came along the wonderful Elisabeth Mahoney in The Guardian and gave me one of the most fantastic reviews I have ever received:
In 1985, Brian Sibley adapted Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan and Gormenghast for Radio 4. I had only recently discovered both Peake and Radio 4, but I wasn't sure I wanted them to meet. Peake's extraordinary writing it felt to me then, was all about a solitary, personal flight of imagination where the reader makes the pictures to match the soaring, peculiar prose. Someone else's version would surely feel like an intrusion.

In fact, it was brilliant, so much so that I quite got the jitters on hearing that Sibley was tackling Peake again. Instead of worrying about my images while reading Peake being replaced by radio ones, I was concerned about the two radio ones competing. And it was a hugely ambitious project: Peake's three novels plus the concluding volume by Peake's wife, Maeve Gilmore, rediscovered last year, made into six hours of Classic Serial.

The terrific new adaptation ended at the weekend (but the whole series can be heard online until Saturday), and shows just what radio drama can do in the right hands. It captured every brilliant thing about Peake: the glorious writing; the strangeness; the collision of voices and realities; the satire of now – whenever now is as you read or listen – and the beautiful, vivid conjuring of fragments of the past.

And actually, it added to the brilliance, which in Peake's case takes some doing. Roger Goula's music and Peter Ringrose's sound production are outstanding, as memorable and transporting as the exquisite words. Luke Treadaway, as Titus, has the exact voice Titus always had as I read, while David Warner as The Artist has just the right weary omnipotence yet glittering turn of phrase, drawing you into scenes; very movingly indeed in the last moments with Titus.

I listened to these alongside whatever each weekend presented (lashing rain, allotment duties, coastal walk) and they were a huge treat. With really good writing, and an exceptional adaptation such as this, it does rather occlude everything else.

I smiled and, in dark realm of Gormenghast – unlikely as it may seem – the sun came out, birds sang, little children laughed and flowers blossomed!


Time is also running out to catch the last in the current series of Quote... Unquote... in which Nigel Rees puts questions on quotations to Shealagh Fogarty, Ardel O'Hanlon, Martin Jarvis and Moi! There's two days left to listin in on BBC iPlayer.

Images: The Estate of Mervyn Peake

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

ROYAL RESULT


CAPTION COMPETITION
THE RESULTS!

A right regal turn-out of caption entries resulted from the photo (left) of Her Maj turning up at Eton at tea-time.

HM having declined to judge the entries, we turned (not for the first time) to Ms Polkadots & Moonbeams who undertook the task of assessing the (uncredited) submissions with all due seriousness and an appropriate (i.e. essential) quantity of vino.

First, however, I would like to share with you the Editor's Picks, four honourable mentions for personally tweaking my aging funny-bone...


Sharon M:

"My husband and I were just saying, 'here today, scone tomorrow'"


Andy J Latham:

"THAT's how it's pronounced?!"


Good Dog:

"Ew, look, one has two!"


And Michael G:

"Damn, I've just been given a wedgie!"


Now, to the RUNNERS UP...

Anonymous:

"If I'd known there'd be free grub, I could've saved 20p on me cornflakes!"


Boll Weavil:

"Ma'am, I'm sorry if you thought a pair of lovely buns was a cue for another Sibley Caption Competition with men in underpants !"
[This was Highly Commended by the Judge for "Sibley-blog-awareness"!]


"Straight from Swelter's School Dinners Recipe Book Ma'am."

"Sorry about the racket Ma'am. Another Brian May on the roof!"


David Weeks:

"That jam's not from Fortnums!"

"Margerine?!"

"One has just finished one's lunch, it can't be time for tea, yet!"

"'We invite you to see us crowned at Scone,' is how the play ends... Not with scones!"


Sharon M:

"Who served them before the Sovereign? Off with their heads!"

"One isn't Rupert Murdoch, you know!"


A Snow White Sanctum:

"Egads, man! Something's still alive in there!"


Suzanne:

"What? Philip made those?"


And so to the–– WINNERS!

THIRD PLACE

ROGER:

"No, No, No, jam first then the cream! Chavs get everywhere nowadays!"


SECOND PLACE

DAVID WEEKS:

"Scones, on plastic plates?!"

FIRST PLACE

BOLL WEAVIL:

"Yes, Ma'am, I'm afraid the cooking has all gone downhill since Steerpike left the kitchen."


Many congratulations to the winners and thanks to everyone who entered!


Sunday, 14 August 2011

FULLY AWAKE

A copy of the American copy of Maeve Gilmore's Titus Awakes arrives in time for the final episode of The History of Titus Groan (Radio 4, today at 15:00) which brings to a resolution the the double-narrator device that I used in the series and which was inspired by a highly personal episode in Maeve's book.

How and why did it happen that American publishers still manage to market elegantly produced books while, by comparison, their British counterparts look cheap and tawdry?

In the UK you can only get Titus Awakes as a dull-looking paperback; American readers have a hardback printed on quality paper with untrimmed page-edges and a dramatic Peake-illustrated dust-jacket...


Oh, yes, and I get my name on the cover, too!

Anyway back to the radio series: we have been wonderfully feted by the press including the Radio Times which, in its current issue, lists the concluding installment of the serial both in its PICK OF THE WEEK round-up at the front of the magazine and in the MISSED IT? section at the back ("Catch up on the best of recent TV & radio") where it is described as a RADIO GEM:
A triumphant sprawl of a dramatisation , celebrating 100 years since the birth of acute English fantasy novelist Mervyn Peake... Lavishly mounted and delivered with relish by a fine, fine cast including David Warner, Tamsin Greig, Miranda Richardson and Luke Treadaway, the series is available in full on iPlayer, ready to be binged on.
And, finally on this self-aggrandising topic, when you hear a poor unfortunate soul being subjected to some fiendish experiment in the Scientist's 'factory', the agonized scream you hear is a chilling Hitchcockian cameo by Yourstruly – and to prove it, here I am mid-scream...

Brian screaming

Photo: Islay Bell-Webb

Saturday, 13 August 2011

HISTORY FINALS

If you missed, 'Titus Abroad', the fifth part of my play cycle, The History of Titus Groan, based on the novels of Mervyn Peake, you can catch it tonight on BBC Radio 4 at 21:00.

And you can hear Part 6, 'Titus Alive', also on Radio 4, tomorrow, Sunday 14 August, at 15:00.

In the sixth and final play, Titus is entranced by the beautiful but manipulative Cheeta, played by Morvern Christie..

Cheeta

Falling foul of her machinations, he finds himself – can it possibly be? – back in Gormenghast...

My Titus play cycle concludes with episodes drawn from Titus Awakes, a fourth 'Gormenghast' novel written by Mervyn Peake's widow, the late Maeve Gilmore, and recently published with an introduction by myself. In this new material, Titus encounters an Artist (David Warner) and discovers his destiny...

Titus and Artist

All of the episodes, as they are broadcast, will remain accessible via the BBC iPlayer until the series is complete. Then, eight days later, it will be possible to download and purchase all six hours of drama to relive at your leisure.

And (if you're not Sibleyed-out) you can stay tuned to BBC Radio 4 for the repeat of my second appearance on Nigel Ree's much-loved panel-game, Quote... Unquote... at 23:00.

Photos: Islay Bell-Webb

Thursday, 11 August 2011

ROYAL REMINDER


The closing date for entries for the current

CAPTION COMPETITION
is fast approaching!



Please tell me (via comments, below), not later than midnight GMT tomorrow, what Her Maj is saying or thinking on being accosted by a phalanx of young Etonians proffering scones!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

WEIGHTING AROUND

When you think of the Canadian city of Calgary, you probably think of the Calgary Stampede and cowboys on galloping horses rounding up cattle.

What you are probably unlikely to think of is hippopotami...

But, as Sheila and Roger discovered on their recent travels, each of the luggage carousels at Calgary Airport features a different animal and, in the vicinity of Oversize Baggage, you will find a hippopotamus who seems to be saying, "Guess where your missing suitcase is?"


Anyway, I am reminded that Mitch Hedberg once astutely asked: "Is a hippopotamus a hippopotamus, or just a really cool Opotamus?"

Photo: Sheila Shrigley © 2011

Monday, 8 August 2011

DON'T QUOTE ME

You may recall that I was foolhardy enough to display my Ignorance Quotient by taking part in Quote... Unquote... the warhorse of panel games devoted to the quoted and misquoted words of the famous and infamous. Well, today is my second appearance.

Here's pretty much the same picture of the talent line-up as I posted last time but with one difference...

'Quote... Unquote...' Ardal O'Hanlon, Nigel Rees (Chairman), Shelagh Fogarty, Brian Sibley, Peter Jefferson (Reader & Announcer) and Martin Jarvis

Left to right: actor and comedian, Ardal O'Hanlon; the show's creator and chairman, Nigel Rees; broadcaster, Shelagh Fogarty; Yours Truly; the new addition – Quotes Reader and Announcer (and one of the veteran voices of the BBC) Peter Jefferson; and actor, Martin Jarvis.

You can hear how we all got on and catch some of our favourite quotes and anecdotes by tuning
in to BBC Radio 4 at 13:30 today.

The show will be repeated on Radio 4 next Saturday evening at 23:00 and, thereafter, can be listened to via BBC iPlayer for the following seven days. And don't take any notice of the fact that the people at iPlayer have chosen to drop my name from the list of performers – they will regret it when they get my solicitor's letter!

If you'd like to know more about the show (and the whole quoting game) visit the official website: Quote... Unquote...

Saturday, 6 August 2011

COMING FIFTH IN HISTORY

If you missed, 'Titus Departs', the fourth part of my play cycle, The History of Titus Groan, based on the novels of Mervyn Peake, you can catch it tonight on BBC Radio 4 at 21:00.

And you can hear Part 5, 'Titus Abroad', also on Radio 4, tomorrow, Sunday 7 August, at 15:00.

Having deserted his ancestral home, Titus finds himself in an alien world with many enemies, but fortunately a couple of caring friends: the eccentric Muzzlehatch and loving Juno, played by Gerard Murphy and Maureen Beattie...

Muzzlehatch and Juno

It was an unexpected delight to work with Gerard who thirty years ago this year (in what was his first ever radio role and in the very same BBC studio) narrated my dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings!

You can read my thoughts on the challenge of taking Titus out of the crumbling confines of Gormenghast into the wider world on the BBC Radio 4 blog.

All of the episodes, as they are broadcast, will remain accessible via the BBC iPlayer until the series is complete. Then, eight days later, it will be possible to download and purchase all six hours of drama.

Photo: Islay Bell-Webb

Friday, 5 August 2011

MAN OF MAGIC

BIRTHDAY GREETINGS
to
Master Magician, Illusionist, Actor, Showman, Yachtsman, Pilot, Death-defying Stunt Artist...


JOHN CALVERT


100
years old today


still performing magic and booked to appear at the London Palladium in September!






Thursday, 4 August 2011

ROYAL REACTION

CAPTION COMPETITION TIME!

It was clearly an alarming moment for Her Majesty when she encountered scone-bearing Etonians...


What was she thinking or saying? Let me know...

Answers via 'comments' below. Closing date for submissions Friday 12 August.

Monday, 1 August 2011

WHO ART

As every telly-addict knows, 23 November 1963, saw the first recorded visit to earth of a Time and Relative Dimension in Space (Tardis) cunningly disguised as a Police Box, when the iconic TV series, Doctor Who debuted on the BBC.

Almost a year after Doctor Who premiered, the Time Lord began a parallel series of adventures in the pages of TV Comic and he has continued to appear in comics for every one of the successive 47 years, gaining his own title in 1979 with Doctor Who Weekly, and is still going strong today in Doctor Who Magazine.

The rich heritage of British comic-book art represented in the pages of these various publications (as well as books and annuals) are currently being celebrated at London's Cartoon Museum in an exhibition DOCTOR WHO in COMICS: 1964-2011 which features art by a pantheon of British comic greats including Frank Bellamy, Martin Geraghty, Dave Gibbons, Dave Lloyd, John Ridgway, Andrew Skilleter and Lee Sullivan who specially created this piece – 'The Usual Suspects' – for the exhibition...

There are some fascinating time-travelling anomalies like the fact that during the wilderness years when BBC TV was 'Who-less', his comic personae (multiple Doctor stories were not uncommon) were still enjoying all manner of exploits often in the company of characters from the series like Sarah Jane-Smith, the Brigadier and K-9 as well as exclusively comic-book compatriots such as his first black companion, Sharon, created in pen-and-ink twenty-five years before the flesh-and-blood Mickey or Martha Jones joined the Doctor on screen.

There there are the ever-present, ever-menacing enemies: The Master, the Cybermen, Davros and, of course ("EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!"), the Daleks...

From Dalek Omnibus, 1976, Artist unknown

Clearly, this is an exhibition aimed at the Doctror's legions of faithful followers, but anyone with an interest in half-a-century of British graphic art will not want to miss this truly fabulous collection of over one hundred pieces of classic Who-art of which these are just a few examples...

TV Action and Countdown, 28 October 1972
by Dennis Hooper


Promotional image for Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks
1975, Artist unknown

'City of the Damned' by Dave Gibbons
Doctor Who Weekly, 12 December1979

'Tides of Time' (detail) by Dave Gibbons
Doctor Who Monthly, 1982


'Voyager' (detail) by John Ridgway
Doctor Who Magazine, 1994


'The Crimson Hand' (detail) by Martin Geraghty, David Roach, James Offredi
Doctor Who Magazine, 2010


The Brilliant Book of Doctor Who 2011, Martin Geraghty


The exhibition DOCTOR WHO in COMICS: 1964-2011 remains on show until 30 October

The Cartoon Museum, 35 Little Russell Street, London WC1A 2HH

Telephone: 0207 580 8155
Email: info@cartoonmuseum.org
Check at www.cartoonmuseum.org for details of special events

OPENING TIMES:
Tuesday-Saturday: 10:30–17:3; Sunday: 12.00–17:30
(Closed on Mondays including Bank Holiday Mondays)

ADMISSION
£5.50 Adults; £4 Concessions; £3 Students with valid student ID
Free to Under-18s, Art Fund Members and Friends of the Cartoon Museum
Children 12 or under must be accompanied by an adult

Images: © BBC © Doctor Who Magazine.Panini UK

Click on the 'Dr Who' tag below for previous Who postings on this blog