Monday, 30 January 2012


I am thrilled that at last night's inaugural BBC Audio Drama Awards, I picked up the award for Best Adaptation for The History of Titus Groan, my serialisation of Mervyn Peake's 'Gormenghast' novels.

The awards were presented by David Tennant at a ceremony held in the Radio Theatre at Broadcasting House and here I am clutching it, shortly after the event...

Although Titus was unsuccessful the other two categories for which it was nominated (Best Use of Sound in a Audio Drama and Best Supporting Actor for Carl Prekopp who played Steerpike), the citation for the Adaptation Award praised all aspects of the production:
The judges described this as "a brilliant piece of radio drama. It was a hugely ambitious undertaking to adapt the darkly comic, surreal and visual world of Mervyn Peake's novels for sound and this adaptation is faithful to both the spirit and the landscape of the originals.

The almost Dickensian characters (wonderfully realised by an outstanding cast), the exquisite language and a rich and original soundscape works for both Peake aficionados and new listeners."
The award is engraved with a profile of Prospero taken from Eric Gill's famous statue, 'Prospero and Ariel' which has stood above the front doors to Broadcasting House for the past 80 years.

"The isle is full of noises..." and I've just won an award for adding to them!!

Post-Script on 2 February 2012:

It has been revealed that The History of Titus Groan was runner-up in the Best Use of Sound category in Sunday's Audio Drama Awards and the citation is a credit to the work of Peter Ringrose and his team of Studio Mangers: Anne Bunting, Martha Littlehailes, Jenni Burnett, Mike Etherden, and Alison Craig and the series' Composer Roger Goula:
A sumptuous listen in which the sound montage draws you into the location and psychological aspects of the drama, from the personal to the phantasmagorical, rendering each ambiance in almost forensic detail and beautifully capturing the spirit of the Gormenghast novels.

Images: BS by David Weeks; 'Prospero and Ariel' from R/DV/RS's Photostream

Friday, 27 January 2012


Today is the 180th anniversary of the birth of Lewis Carroll on 27 January 1832.

To mark the occasion, here is one of his less-well-known nonsense poems with another of those rediscovered drawings made by my much-younger self...


I painted her a gushing thing,
With years about a score;
I little thought to find they were
A least a dozen more;
My fancy gave her eyes of blue,
A curly auburn head:
I came to find the blue a green,
The auburn turned to red.

She boxed my ears this morning,
They tingled very much;
I own that I could wish her
A somewhat lighter touch;
And if you ask me how
Her charms might be improved,
I would not have them added to,
But just a few removed!

She has the bear's ethereal grace,
The bland hyaena's laugh,
The footstep of the elephant,
The neck of a giraffe;
I love her still, believe me,
Though my heart its passion hides;
"She's all my fancy painted her,"
But oh! how much besides!

Like so many of Lewis Carroll's verses, this is a parody of a popular poem of its day, now pretty much forgotten. The parodied poem here was 'Alice Gray' by William Mee:

She's all my fancy painted her,
She's lovely, she's divine,
But her heart it is another's,
She never can be mine;
Yet lov'd I as man never lov'd,
A love without decay,
Oh! my heart, my heart is breaking
For the love of Alice Gray!

Her dark brown hair is braided
O'er a brow of spotless white;
Her soft blue eye now languishes,
Now flashes with delight;
Her hair is braided not for me,
The eye is turned away;
Yet my heart, my heart is breaking
For the love of Alice Gray.

I've sunk beneath the summer's sun,
And trembled in the blast;
But my pilgrimage is nearly done,
The weary conflict's past;
And when the green sod wraps my grave,
Oh, his heart, his heart is broken
For the love of Alice Gray.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012


Back to those lost Hobbits...

In 1967, the year after Gene Deitch's heavilly-condensed (and wildly re-envisioned) film version of Tolkien's tale of Mr Baggins and his journey 'there and back again', America's greatest contemporary illustrator, Maurice Sendak – the man who took us to Where the Wild Things Are – was invited by Tolkien's American publisher to produce new illustrations for the upcoming 30th anniversary edition of the book.

Maurice Sendak's self-portrait with one of his heroes who
would not have endeared him to Professor Tolkien!

Tolkien, who was 75, asked to see some sample illustrations from the 39-year-old Sendak, who grudgingly produced two pieces of art: one showing wood-elves dancing in the moonlight; the other depicting Bilbo sitting outside Bag End, smoking his pipe, as Gandalf arrives to disrupt his morning.

Writing of this latter (and only surviving Sendak Hobbit drawing) Tony DiTerlizzi wrote in the Los Angeles Times last year:
Here is a real passion and understanding of content and audience in these spec pieces. Sendak rendered these in a detailed pen-and-ink style similar to that of the illustrations for Higglety Pigglety Pop! and Little Bear. It hearkens back to epic pastoral imagery seen in etchings by the likes of Rembrandt and Samuel Palmer. If you look closely, you will discover a master at work in the art of subtlety: Notice the heavy crosshatching used to weigh down a world-weary Gandalf contrasted with the open, airy line work that renders the jovial Bilbo. These depictions speak in an artistic conversation that has been ongoing for centuries, yet they are immediate and approachable by the child of today.

Art samples were prepared for Tolkien’s consideration but, unfortunately, due to an error in labelling, the dancing wood-elves were erroneously identified as hobbits. Tolkien, apparently not best-pleased at what he supposed to be the artist's failure to pay adequate attention to the text, refused to approve the commission.

Desperately hoping to resolve the misunderstanding, the publisher arranged a meeting in Oxford between author and artist while Sendak was in the UK for the British publication of Where the Wild Things Are.

But, alas, it was not to be: on the day prior to the planned meeting, Sendak suffered a major heart attack and spent several weeks in a hospital in Birmingham. The meeting was never rescheduled and Sendak never illustrated The Hobbit.

One can only regret that this wonderful illustrator was denied the opportunity to depict the wild things of Middle-earth...

Images: © Maurice Sendak

Saturday, 21 January 2012


Busily writing, as I am, about Peter Jackson's forthcoming film of The Hobbit, I was intrigued, recently, to read about two forgotten attempts to visualise – on film and in book form – J R R Tolkien's story about the mild-mannered, stay-at-home Mr Bilbo Baggins whom Gandalf the wizard inveigles into accepting the role of burglar in the employ of a company of dwarves who set out to recover their lost treasure-hoard from the clutches of the dragon Smaug...

Today, I am telling the adventures of one of those lost Hobbits...

In 1964, three years before the Sendak debacle, a Hollywood movie-chancer, William L ('Bill') Snyder snapped up the film rights to The Hobbit for peanuts and passed it to Oscar-winning Czech animator, Eugene Merril ('Gene') Deitch (right) who animated various animated series (including Popeye and Tom & Jerry) and who began work on a screenplay for an animated film with three-dimensional model backgrounds.

The script played fast and lose with the original text (the company of dwarves were dropped and a Princess was introduced!); however, had the project gone ahead it might have developed into something quite intriguing, since Deitch planned to collaborate with the legendary Czech illustrator and puppet film-maker, Jiří Trnka.

But that was not what happened: Snyder and Deitch pitched the film to 20th Century Fox, who turned it down partly because the asking price was too high and the craze for Tolkien (that might have justified Snyder's budget) was still in the future – though nearer than anyone imagined. A matter of months later, Snyder was demanding that Deitch produce a one-reel film of The Hobbit within thirty days. The original contract was for the production of “a full-color motion picture version” of Tolkien's book by June 30, 1966.

Since there was no stipulation that the film had to be animated or of any particular length, Snyder wanted a 12-minute, single reel of 35mm film so that it could be screened in New York before those rights, picked up for a song, ran out. Working with his close friend, the Czech illustrator, Adolf Born, Deitch created a storyboard and filmed the illustrations with a few very-limited animation effects. Herb Lass, an American broadcaster working for the English service on Czechoslovak Radio, narrated the film.

It was finished and shown in a private screening room in New York City with the audience (pulled in from passers-by on the street) who were given a dime a-piece with which to 'pay' for their seats! Snyder secured his hold on the rights which he then sold back for almost $100,000!

You can read the full, crazy story, on Deitch's blog, genedeitchcredits and, below, you can watch the 12-minute, whistle-stop version of The Hobbit – with its Groans and Gablins (instead of Trolls and Goblins), the subterranean owner of the Ring, Golloom, and a dragon named Slag the Terrible...

After watching this supremely succinct first-ever film of The Hobbit, it must, surely, raise questions about Peter Jackson's indulgent two-movie project!

My next post will feature the saga of another forgotten Hobbit...

My thanks to Jen Miller for telling me about this extraordinary cinematic curiosity.

Top image: 'Conversation with Smaug' by J R R Tolkien

Wednesday, 18 January 2012


One of the nicer things about having to shift stacks of books and papers for the pending move has been the finding of things long forgotten, including a small cache of Sibley drawings that have recently come to light.

As a young man, one of my ambitions was to become (in addition being an actor) a cartoonist and caricaturist. My drawing board idols were three artists who dominated my imagination and whose names began with an 'S': Searle, Scarfe and Steadman.

Here is a caricature I made in my late teens of the poet (and glorious eccentric) Dame Edith Sitwell...

I think, when I made this cartoon, I had only recently discovered Facade: An Entertainment, the work that Dame Edith created in collaboration with William Walton and which, to a young enthusiast of the nonsense literature of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear seemed to have more than a little in the way of kinship to the lands where Tulgey Woods and Bong Trees might grow!

Here is a short selection of numbers from Facade, performed on a 1953 British Decca recording by the poet and Peter Pears with Anthony Collins conducting The English Opera Group Ensemble...

Sunday, 15 January 2012


Today, the hit-counter on my blog went from this...

To this...

So, since a little celebration is clearly called for, I thought some fireworks might do the job!

Below is how, two weeks ago, the Venetians saw in 2012 on the Bacino San Marco.

There's a slightly overlong, boring, bit about 1:30 in when there seems to be nothing much going on except a puddle of light on the waters of the lagoon (about as effective as reported accounts of the 'river of fire' on the Thames at the Millennium), but it soon picks up again and ends with the usual blitzkrieg of dazzling whiteness that everyone expects.

An amusing postscript: the 31 December 2011 edition of Venice Word made the following announcement...
NEWS - To avert the annual risk of animals being frightened, literally, to death by the deafening noise of fireworks, major Italian cities are limiting traditional midnight fireworks displays or, as in Turin, banning them entirely. There is also hope that the reduction will lower the number of injuries to humans due to the improper use of the gunpowder. Venice will be among those imposing limitations.
I didn't see this year's firework display (it was too far for me to walk to a vantage point, so David went and filmed it), but sitting in our favourite restaurant, I certainly heard them - as, presumably, did the city's animal populace!

Quiet fireworks? Hmmm... Not sure – even in our politically correct society – that they're ever going to catch on!

Saturday, 14 January 2012


Tonight, the temperature is just 1 degree and this is a vintage Damart advertisement.

Any further comment would be superfluous...

Thursday, 12 January 2012


Thanks to Michael and SCB for sending me a link to a wonderful little film animated by Sean and Lisa Ohlenkamp.

It had all started innocently enough when the Ohlenkamps decided to creatively (and repeatedly) rearrange their bookshelves at home and photograph the process with a stop-frame camera...

But then they got a bit more ambitious and started spending numerous sleepless nights moving, stacking, and animating books at Type bookstore in Toronto. The result is a magical glimpse into the private night-life of a bookshop.

If Mr and Mrs O are free just now, there are some bookshelves here that could do with a bit of clearing!

Monday, 9 January 2012


Last autumn, the BBC announced that it was launching an annual Audio Awards ceremony and the short-listed nominees for the first of these events have just been announced.

I am thrilled to find that The History of Titus Groan, my six-part serialisation of the novels of Mervyn Peake has been nominated in three categories:

Best Supporting Actor/Actress in an Audio Drama for Carl Prekopp who played Steerpike

Best Use of Sound in an Audio Drama for Producers David Hunter, Gemma Jenkins and Jeremy Mortimer


Best Adaptation for Me!

The winners will be announced at a ceremony in the BBC Radio Theatre at Broadcasting House on Sunday 29 January, when the awards will be presented by David Tennant.

The competition in all three categories is very strong, but, whatever the outcome, it is very satisfying indeed to have had a piece of my work nominated - and the only one in the competition to have receive three nominations.

I'm also delighted that it led to my stumbling on the following review by Bella Todd from Time Out, which I missed when it first appeared:

Dark, angular and haunting, the portraits Mervyn Peake sketched for his Gormenghast series were integral to the evocation of a fantasy kingdom hewn from stone. And they’re given a presence in Brian Sibley’s star-studded BBC radio dramatisation of all four books The History of Titus Groan. In an idea borrowed from Titus Awakes, the recently discovered ‘final novel’ written from fragments of a draft by Peake’s widow Maeve Gilmore, this epic radio play is framed by a meeting between the hero, Titus Groan (Luke Treadaway), reluctant Earl of Gormenghast, and ‘The Artist’ (a world-weary David Warner). He welcomes his protagonist into a canvas-filled studio and describes drawing as ‘a way of holding back some fleeting, line, rhythm, mood or shape from the blink of oblivion’. Moving and sensual as well as funny and grotesque, this is perfect listening for Peake’s centenary year.

All six hours of The History of Titus Groan can be downloaded here – and for just £7.86!

Saturday, 7 January 2012


How did you do with our Musical Film Quiz?

There were fewer entries than I'd imagined: more of you must have a life than I'd supposed! And whatever became of the entry from the supremely confident Polkadotsoph, I'll never know!

However, the speed with which those who did enter entered was staggering!

First home with a full set of 60 correct answers (and within less than three hours of the quiz being posted, too!) was GOOD DOG. Congratulations!

Only a few hours later, came another complete and accurate set of answers from SHEILA & ROGER – who were angling for bonus points for offering, in addition to the correct solution, an alternative to DD/AN - Derby Day / Anna Neagle (above left), but which was not, I think, a musical!; and then, shortly afterward (but from the other side of the Atlantic) came a third correct set from MICHAEL.

So, well done to you three, too – and to EUDORA and SCB for creditable, if not quite entire, entries.

And for those who care, here are the answers...

1. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang / Dick Van Dyke

2. The Wizard of Oz / Bert Lahr

3. Doctor Dolittle / Anthony Newley

4. Mary Poppins / David Tomlinson

5. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory / Gene Wilder

6. The Slipper and the Rose / Richard Chamberlain

7. Star! / Daniel Massey

8. Hans Christian Andersen / Danny Kaye

9. The Sound of Music / Eleanor Parker

10. Singin' in the Rain / Donald O'Connor

11. Meet Me in St Louis / Margaret O'Brien

12. Camelot / Vanessa Redgrave

13. Caberet / Joel Grey

14. Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street / Helena Bonham Carter

15. Royal Wedding / Fred Astaire

16. Hello Dolly! / Louis Armstrong

17. Song of Norway / Harry Secombe

18. Top Hat / Ginger Rogers

19. Thoroughly Modern Millie / Mary Tyler Moore

20. Million Dollar Mermaid / Esther Williams

21. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland / Fiona Fullerton

22. Fiddler on the Roof / Chaim Topol

23. Man of La Mancha / Sophia Loren

24. Goodbye, Mr Chips / Peter O'Toole

25. Bedknobs and Broomsticks / Angela Lansbury

26. A Star is Born / James Mason

27. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes / Jane Russell

28. Babes in Arms / Mickey Rooney

29. Finnian's Rainbow / Tommy Steele

30. Kiss Me Kate / Howard Keel

31. Show Boat / Kathryn Grayson

32. The Broadway Melody / Bessie Love

33. Gigi / Louis Jourdan

34. South Pacific / Rossano Brazzi

35. The King and I / Deborah Kerr

36. West Side Story / Natalie Wood

37. Oklahoma! / Gordon MacRae

38. Carousel / Shirley Jones

39. Chicago / Renee Zellweger

40. Funny Girl / Omar Sharif

41. On the Town / Frank Sinatra

42. An American in Paris / Gene Kelly

43. Moulin Rouge! / Ewan McGregor

44. Yankee Doodle Dandy / James Cagney

45. Evita / Madonna

46. Grease / John Travolta

47. All That Jazz / Roy Schneider

48. Jesus Christ Superstar / Ted Neeley

49. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers / Jane Powell

50. My Fair Lady / Stanley Holloway

51. High Society / Bing Crosby

52. Annie / Albert Finney

53. White Christmas / Rosemary Clooney

54. The Muppet Christmas Carol / Kermit the Frog

55. Mamma Mia! / Pierce Brosnan

56. Oliver! / Ron Moody

57. Guys and Dolls / Stubby Kaye

58. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum / Buster Keaton

59. Paint Your Wagon / Clint Eastwood

60. On a Clear Day You Can See Forever / Yves Montand

And the answers to Sheila's follow-up selection submitted via the comments section to my original post:

1. Gypsy / Ethel Merman

2. The Young Ones / Robert Morley

3. Help! / Leo McKern

4. The Boy Friend / Christopher Gable

5. Blue Hawaii / Angela Lansbury

6. Some Like It Hot / George Raft

7. The Producers / Gene Wilder

8. A Chorus Line / Michael Douglas

9. A Night At The Opera / Harpo Marx

10. Call Me Madam / George Sanders

Friday, 6 January 2012


A little Wordle – remember Wordle? – for Epiphany...

If you don't know Wordle - check it out!

For a more spiritual celebration of the day, here's 'The Adoration of the Magi' painted in 1542 by Jacopo Bassano and now hanging in the National Gallery of Scotland...

I do love the fact that even when painting a sacred subject these Italians can't resist adding a good bottom – or, in this case (if you count man and horse), two bottoms!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012



The 'Master' is gone: unquestionably one of the all-time great cartoonists, illustrators and graphic artists has died at the age of 91.

As the tributes to his work are already showing (and as he knew they would) Ronald Searle will be labelled and pigeon-holed as the creator of St Trinian's – despite his best endeavours to distance himself from that heinous establishment – but there was so very much more to the man and his work.

The British gave him a CBE, but the knighthood he ought to have received came in the form of a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur from the people of France, among whom he lived and for whose journals he was still drawing long after his homeland had all but forgotten his reputation as a master of comic art and social comment.

The diversity of his work is staggeringly impressive: cartoons with jokey captions; trenchant satires; brilliant caricatures; stunning exercises in graphic reportage; humorous advertising art; posters and title cards for movies and dramatic and dynamic book illustrations (from war stories to kid's fables) all executed left-handedly in a variety of media and styles, but chiefly in the scratchy, spidery, pen-and-ink line (with sombre shadows – created using wood-stain – and occasional flurries of ink spatters) that became the instantly recognisable hallmark of his work.

Searle was the very first cartoonist under whose spell I fell as a young boy and whose work I have adored ever since and ever will do.

A man of wit and wicked humour (no one has captured the essence of 'cat' quite like Searle), his art is often leavened by disturbingly dark undertones.

Perhaps it was the fact that he survived the infamous Japanese POW camp, Changi Gaol – where matters of life and death were a daily lottery – that informed his frequently caustic, jaundiced take on the absurdist buffoonery of our world and fired what seems an often obsessive fascination with the frailties of humankind and the cruelties of human unkindness.

For those who would like to read more about Ronald Searle, click on the coloured links below to go to a few of my previous posts:

Last year's birthday tribute: Searly Days: Ronald Searle at 90

An introduction to some of my favourite Searly Folk

Ronald Searle - Looking at London (1)

A few notes on those St Trinian's cartoons (and films) Hell's Belles and the St T cartoon that is a prized exhibit in the Weeks-Sibley Collection...

From Searle's sojourn in the US, there are his TV Guide cartoons inspired by Bewitched

Ronald Searle - 'Bewitched' (Sam in Make-up)

Mr Searle & Mrs Mole celebrates Searle's last published work, Les Très Riches Heures de Mrs Mole.

This series of forty-seven drawings were made for his wife, Monica, when she was diagnosed with cancer in 1969.

Never originally intended for publication, they were exhibited last year to help promote breast cancer charities and made a powerful impact because of Mrs Mole's joyous delight in the world around her and her innocent optimism.

A limited edition book followed along with prints of the drawings signed by Ronald and Monica, although, sadly, the trade edition of the book appeared after Monica's death last summer.

And, finally...

A memory of the first Searle-illustrated book I ever owned: James Thurber's The 13 Clocks & The Wonderful O.

Last year, through the good offices of a couple of animator friends who were visiting the Searles, I sent my treasured copy of The 13 Clocks with a request that the artist might consider signing it for me. The book came back with a fulsome and very personal inscription that makes it all the more precious.

– for Brian Sibley
with not only kind regards but with regards for your
kindness and, as they say,
Ronald –
Ronald Searle
long after the date of
these Clocks
September 2010

Monday, 2 January 2012


This is, without question, the freshest salad I've ever been served!

Photo: David Weeks

Sunday, 1 January 2012


This illustration of tree branches making up the words, “Happy New Year” was published in 1876 by Currier and Ives. The black and white lithograph was then hand-coloured by a series of Currier and Ives production artists, each artist colouring one item or items receiving the same colour.

The popularity of Currier and Ives prints depicting Christmas and winter themes was immortalised in a line in the lyrics of the seasonal song, 'Sleigh Ride':
There's a happy feeling
Nothing in the world can buy,
When they pass around the chocolate
And the pumpkin pie
It'll nearly be like a picture print
By Currier and Ives
These wonderful things are the things
We remember all through our lives!
You can read more about Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives here and here.

With Every Good Wish for Love, Joy,
Health and Happiness in


Image from The Stock Solution