Tuesday, 31 July 2012


So –– rumour and speculation are over!

Yes, it's now official: Peter Jackson's  two-picture release of The Hobbit is to become a three-picture release; the prequel to Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy is to be ––– another trilogy!

Those of us with a nose for such things expected nothing less!

What now remains to be seen is whether my two books on the making of the films will become three books or whether the second title (originally scheduled to coincide with the second movie) will now be delayed until the release of the third.

As this photo shows, I am not the only one with questions on my mind...

Bilbo checks his contract to see what it says about
the number of movies in which he's been engaged to appear

Meanwhile, I've been re-reading the passages in my book Peter Jackson: A Film-makers-Journey relating to the history behind the filming of The Lord of the Rings and, in doing so, I was reminded that, early on (long before Jackson and, indeed, long before even Ralph Bakshi), WALT DISNEY sought to obtain the film rights.

If The Hobbit had ever got beyond simply being on Uncle Walt's 'wish list', what would such a film have been like?

A possible answer is provided by

Sunday, 29 July 2012


Wasn't it just? Unforgettable!





The trouble is, even if we remember the facts about events we are always perilously in danger of forgetting the accompanying feelings...

As G K Chesterton astutely observed: 
'The world will perish not from lack of wonders, but for want of wonder.'
Which brings  another quote to mind from P L Travers' Mary Poppins...
"You'll forget because you can't help it," [said the bird] "There never was a human being that remembered after the age of one – at the very latest –- except, of course, Her." And he jerked his head over his shoulder at Mary Poppins...

Mind you, I'm pretty sure that PLT would have been far from amused by the sight of an army of Mary Poppinses. 

She was always quite adamant that she was strictly one of a kind.

Friday, 27 July 2012


With the Olympic Games 2012 almost upon us, sporting competitiveness is running high, so this is a good day for announcing the results of our recent caption competition...


This, you will recall, was the picture which I invited you to caption and a good number of you entered into the spirit of with a fair number of similarly-themed responses.

The entries were judged on this occasion by Mr David Weeks (without knowledge of who was responsible for the submissions) and here are the results starting with the highly creditable runners-up:

Andy Latham:

With his latest batch of CG additions, George was really taking the Mickey. 

Boll Weavil:

Disney deny forcing script changes after buying the Star Wars franchise.

"Sir, under the laws of this blog you must change to your battle underpants and prepare to dual"

"Use the mouse Luke-as!"

"Crap the Phantom Menace was, with no rodent interest, George"

Mickey: I am your father!
George: OK, that explains my cheese fixation at least.

"I've changed me mind. I AM going to make episodes 7-9 after all AND I've got an idea for some innovative new casting..."

Birgit Reichholf:

"Smile and wave boys, smile and wave!"


George is ambivalent about Mickeys' new show-whitening service but grudgingly admits that his trainers are really really white.  

Early Yoda prototypes did not impress George Lucas... 

George Lucas is unconvinced by early light sabre prototypes...

Rani Bean:



Yoda looks slightly different after a couple of beers. 

May the Mouse be with you!


George: I'm not sure this is going to work. Darth Mouse just doesn't do it. 


Disney took over the Star Wars franchise and retired Yoda in favour of their own star!

"Say Cheese, Mickey!"

Alfred von Cervera:

George: Give me Pixar back!


Roger & Sheila Shrigley:

George Lucas:  ... and the winner gets to meet Brian Sibley!
Mickey: What's the second prize?

Andrew Webb: 

George realised that outsourcing the CGI to save money on Episode VI hadn't been one of his wisest ideas…



Auditions for the part of Obi Wan Kenobi, after the death of Alec Guinness, did not go well...


"Harrison, will you please take this seriously and get out of that stupid costume"


Boll Weavil:  

"When I decided to launch an attack on Pluto, I wasn't expecting such reprisals."

Congratulations to the winners and thanks to all of you who entered. Another competition will roll round as soon as another weird photo shows up crying for a caption!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012


It is often described as one of Hollywood's greatest turkeys and the film that almost destroyed 20th Century Fox, but my teenage memories of Doctor Dolittle are still rose-tinted.

As a youngster who had grown up reading (and loving) the original Hugh Lofting books with their extraordinary – often surreal – adventures and the wonderful menagerie that comprised Doctor John Dolittle's family: Polynesia the parrot, Jip the dog, Gub-Gub the pig, Che-Che the monkey, Dab-Dab the duck (and housekeeper) and Too-Too the owl, who acts as the Doctor's accountant.

When the film came out in 1967, the critics generally panned it, especially carping about the fact that it was almost three-hours long; but what did I care? As a budding gay (who adored musical extravaganzas) I was perfectly happy to spend however many hours it ran in company with (to quote one of the lyrics) 'my friend the Doctor'!

I had the soundtrack LP and knew the songs by heart: I could do – and still can, if it comes to that (and, yes I know, it needn't come to that!) – a particularly spirited rendition of Dicky Attenborough's number (on being confronted by the Pushmi-Pullyu), 'I've Never Seen Anything Like it in My Life'.

I also knew someone in it: my friend, the wonderful Peter Bull, who played Samantha Eggar's father, General Bellows (that's Ray Aghayan's design for his costume, left). As result, I heard all the goss about how difficult Rex Harrison was and how he and the animals shared a mutual, undying hatred for one another with them biting and kicking him at every opportunity, sharing their fleas with him and, frequently, peeing on him!

However, there were a lot of things that I didn't know that I have only just discovered thanks to Mark Harris' book Scenes from a Revolution: The Birth of the New Hollywood in which he charts the troubled history of, among other movies, the phenomenally over-budgeted flop that was Doctor Dolittle.

I discovered that when a misbehaving Harrison was sacked for a week, Christopher Plummer was given the role and was paid a non-returnable $87,500 for not playing the role until Harrison pleaded his way back onto the film. In contrast, Peter Bull got his role after Fox had passed on Donald Pleasence and Robert Morley who both wanted some $60 and $50k respectively, whereas Peter did the job for a mere $11k!!

I also found out that Alan Jay (My Fair Lady) Lerner had been originally touted as lyricist and that, later, when Leslie Bricusse had been engaged to write the score, the ever-tricksy Harrison decided that he wasn't being given numbers worthy of an Oscar-winning Professor Higgins. As a result, the star insisted that Fox contract British musical comedy duo Michael Flanders and Donald Swann (famous for their At the Drop of a Hat shows and recordings) to write some songs for him – although none of them ended up in the film.

One of Flanders and Swann's offerings was a song for Dolittle to sing when the natives of the floating Sea-Star Island want to make him their monarch:
Lash me to an eagle,
I won't be regal.
Lock me in an attic
I shall still be most emphatic that 
I wont be,
I can't be,
I daren't be,
I shan't be a king!
And another thing: I couldn't bear being called 'Rex'!
The idea of F&S writing the score was not so wide of the mark when one considers how many great animal songs they penned for themselves and others: 'The Hippopotamus Song' ("Mud, mud, glorious mud"), 'The Rhinoceros', 'The Armadillo' and this one performed–– not by Michael and Donald, but by....

...The Muppets!

Monday, 16 July 2012


Celeste Holm, who has just died aged 95, was one of Hollywood's less likely stars. Though a talented actress capable of playing all kinds and shades of drama she most notably had – whenever she got the opportunity to demonstrate it – the happiest knack for making us smile...

Saturday, 14 July 2012


Here's to me (today) at––––


'Glass of sixty three' Fine Art Print by Will Bullas

Friday, 13 July 2012


Just two days to go in which to enter the current Caption Competition! Closing date and time: Saturday 14, midnight BST.

I've already received quite a few submissions – am I just waiting for yours now?

Click on the link above (or scroll down on the blog) to see the picture you're supposed to be captioning.

The one below is just for FUN!

It must have seemed like SUCH a good idea at the time!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Saturday, 7 July 2012



What is going down with these two guys?

What are they saying or thinking?

You tell me! Submissions via the comments section below (or by e-mail or facebook).  Closing date: 15 July, 2012.

Thursday, 5 July 2012


Thirty years ago, I had the delight of interviewing the late Eric Sykes for a TV documentary (that was never made) about Peter Sellers.

My friend, Pete Bigg, who accompanied me that day, was recalling on Facebook yesterday, how – knowing that Eric was stone deaf, 'we giggled our way to some hotel room, in the expectation that we'd be knocking at a door that was never answered.'

In the event, the door was opened by someone else. Eric shook our hands and then delivered what Pete rightly refers to as 'an immortal line':

"Hold on, let me find my glasses, then I can hear you!"

Actually, this was both joke and no-joke because Eric  wore spectacles with built-in hearing aids; but – and, this I did not know at the time – they were just frames with no lenses.

Following one of my questions – probably a tad too long and possibly a mite too pretentious – Eric thoughtfully removed his specs, took out a handkerchief and 'cleaned' the lenses before passing it through one of the eye apertures and pulling it back and forth. The interviewer collapsed in hysterics and took some time to recover his equilibrium!

Sykes was, without question, my favourite TV comic – I loved his brilliance as a script-writer (fantastic work for Frankie Howerd, The Goons, Archie Andrews and others), his gentle (but also surreal) style of comedy and the physicality and immaculate timing of his playing. Supported by co-stars Hattie Jacques ('Hat'), Richard Wattis and Derek Guyler, the show Sykes and... was – for a staggering 20 years – a perennial joy.

Of course, the show's premise alone was funny: 'Eric and Hattie – identical twins'!

When we met, he gave me a copy of his recently published first book: a novel based on his alter ego's life in Sebastopol Terrace...

Indeed I did!

The book is full of his quaintly quixotic humour:
[Hat has] always been good with names – for instance, Peter for the cuckoo clock, Jaws for the goldfish. There was a time when she wanted to call the settee Ernest, but I soon quashed that. I mean, there's no end to it once you start that lark – everything has to have a name.
'Where's my socks?'
'I've put them in Wilfred and you look in the drawer.'
'Not Nellie, Wilfred's upstairs next to Albert.'
That's the straight road to madness.
And here are Eric and Hattie in playful mood at the Royal Command Performance of 1963...


Image: Caricature of Eric Sykes by Stuart Buchan

Wednesday, 4 July 2012


Apologies to those readers who are Alice-phobes, but it is that day of the year again on which (in addition to saluting my American friends on their independence) I invariably draw attention to the fact that 4th of July is the day on which that rare and enchanted realm of Wonderland was discovered.

150 years ago today, on 4 July 1862, the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (better known subsequently as Lewis Carroll) with his friend Robinson Duckworth rowed three young sisters up-river from Oxford for a summer picnic. As they rowed, Dodgson extemporised a fantasy about a young lady (called 'Alice', after one of the party) who followed a White Rabbit down a rabbit-hole into a land of wonders.

At the end of the outing, the real Alice (daughter of Henry Liddell, Dean of Christ Church) begged the storyteller to write out for her the story of her namesake's adventures. This Dodgson did in November 1864, entitling the story, Alice's Adventures Under Ground. A year later, expanded and embellished, it was published to the wider world as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

The original handwritten manuscript, now in the British Library, contained illustrations by the author...

...but when it came to publication, Dodgson wisely engaged the services of a professional, the great illustrator and Punch cartoonist, Sir John Tenniel.

Despite Tenniel's consummate draughtmanship (and his ability to depict the characters in a way that has ever since been imprinted on our cultural psyche) Dodgson's efforts have their own charm as can be seen from his spirited visualisation of the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle demonstrating the Lobster Quadrille...

...which has a quality of excited abandonment not found in Sir John's immaculately drawn (but somewhat staid) perambulation...

Many subsequent illustrators have depicted this – and all the other curious moments from Alice's bizarre dream – and, of course, it has been featured in theatrical, balletic, operatic, musical and filmic versions of the book.

One of the most imaginative and haunting interpretations (and I make no apology whatsoever, for mentioning it – yet again – on this blog) is Jonathan Miller's iconic 1966 TV film, Alice in Wonderland.

The film featured a star-laden cast – among them Peter Sellers, Peter Cook, Leo McKern and (below) Michael Redgrave playing all the characters (human and talking-animals alike) as dotty Victorian ladies and gents.

One of the most memorable sequences (in a consistently unforgettable film) is Alice's encounter with the Gryphon (played by journalist, pundit and '60s TV celebrity, Malcolm Muggeridge) and the Mock Turtle (a world weary John Gielgud) that ends with the most enchanting Lobster Quadrille to ever be danced...

Happy 150th Birthday, Alice!

The entire manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground is just a click away on the British Library website.

And you'll find more Carrollian delights  here and also here.

Image: Caricature of Lewis Carroll by Lesco Griffe 2011

Monday, 2 July 2012


...moving were this easy!

Amazing animated film by Mandy Smith using paper sculpture...