Monday, 2 October 2017

THE FULLNESS OF TIME


The poem below is by James Stephens (1880-1950), the Irish poet and author of The Crock of Gold, and comes from his 1912 volume of verse, The Hill of Vision.

I heard it for the first time yesterday, when it was sung to the tune of the Welsh folk-song, 'Tros y Garreg' (well, 'Irish' and 'Welsh', they're both Celtic!) at the Mass for The Feast of Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and All Angels at St John the Divine, Kennington.

Twenty-four hours later, this profoundly mystical proposition is still rattling around in my mind...

The Fullness of Time
On a rusty iron throne
Past the furthest star of space
I saw Satan sit alone,
Old and haggard was his face;
For his work was done and he
Rested in eternity.

And to him from out the sun
Came his father and his friend
Saying, now the work is done
Enmity is at an end:
And he guided Satan to
Paradises that he knew.

Gabriel without a frown,
Uriel without a spear,
Raphael came singing down
Welcoming their ancient peer,
And they seated him beside
One who had been crucified.


[Illustration: Gustave Doré for John Milton's Paradise Lost, c. 1866]

Monday, 25 September 2017

SCARFE STAGED & SCREENED


When I was 14 and dreaming of a career as a cartoonist, I had many heroes – Searle, Emett, Hoffnung, Steadman, Trog – but only one true idol: Gerald Scarfe!

I used to cut out his cartoons from papers and magazines and study every pen-stroke: the placing, weight, thickness and trajectory of his line; the audacious angularity of his images; the intensity of his cross-hatching; the relationship between ink and naked paper; the seemingly effortless way in which he conjured all these talents.

It was difficult to know what I admired more about Scarfe: the assuredness of his draughtsmanship or the unrelenting savagery of his excoriating –– for example (a persaonl favourite) Mrs Thatcher's 'Belgrano' nightmare...


Over fifty years later, my idol remains securely atop his pedestal – the Master of his craft, wielding his pen courageously, unflinchingly pinning the fools, hypocrites and trumped-up monsters and demons of our age to his drawing-board and using their splattered blood to provide the ink for his next assault.

This is the Scarfe we all know. Less familiar, to some, will be the Scarfe currently on show in House of Illustration's latest exhibition: Gerald Scarfe: Stage & Screen, where we find the caricaturist at play in theatre and cinema.

Gerald Scarfe in the exhibition 2 © Paul Grover.jpg 

The intimate space at House of Illustration becomes, here, more spacious than might be expected as display cases are transformed into decorated toy-theatre-like boxes containing Scarfe's fantastical designs for opera, ballet and film – drawings, models, props and costumes; while the walls around overflow with his dynamic, literally larger-than-life, drawings.

Orpheus in the Underworld - character design © Gerald Scarfe.jpg

The projects represented here are those revolutionary productions of The Magic Flute, Orpheus in the Underworld (above) and The Nutcracker that he designed along with his iconic contributions to Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982) and his spiky assault on the cuteness of Disney which the studio astonishingly permitted, having invited him to style their 1997 animated feature, Hercules.

The exhibition opens with Scarfe's stunning designs for Peter Hall's 1993 production of The Magic Flute dominated by a giant bisected pyramid.

 Seattle Opera - The Magic Flute - publicity poster © Gerald Scarfe.jpg

In this interpretation, Pagageno and Pagagena were bird people and the stage was invaded by a bizarre menagerie of cross-mutated creatures – an giraffe-headed-ostrich, a crocodile-cum-penguin – escapees from ancient panels of Egyptian hieroglyphs via a Victorian heads-and-tails book. Scarfe's colour palette is alternately rich in the burnished gold of sand and sarcophagus and a deeper-than-deep-blue characterised by the Queen of the Night. 

The designs for the ENO's Orpheus in the Underworld (1999) is an elaborate Scarfe burlesque, presided over by a Hades in a horned top-hat and a livid pink and green scaled tail-coat tipped with cartoon barbs – just one of the extraordinary examples of the artist's designs realised in three-dimensions by brilliantly talented costumiers.


Orpheus in the Underworld - costume design © Gerald Scarfe (1).jpg

Equally stunning are the costumes for the English National Opera's 2002 production of Tchaikovsky's ballet, The Nutcracker: Herr Drosselmeyer's cloak, a vast swirl of material embellished with mystic symbols; the Mouse King, a menacing skeletal mask and a costume of tattered rags, and entourage of terrorist mice wearing black Mickey-Mouse-eared gas masks.


The films of Walt Disney were a vital influence on the young Scarfe – in particular the richly illustrative Pinocchio – so his eventual collaboration with the Disney Studio on Hercules is less surprising than it might seem. The examples of his work for this film reveal something of the inevitable tension between the collision of an animation style built on softness and roundness and an artist who is known for his spikes and angles.

However improbable, the collaboration resulted in a striking film and all the examples of his designs itch and twitch with incipient movement: Cerberus, a trio of red-eyed, slavering heads; the rearing, reptilian-eyed Hydra; the black bulk of the Minotor hurtling headlong down a cliff against a blood-red sky; Pegasus, springing into winged flight and yet another Scarfe interpretation of Hades, this time fringed with hellfire.



The exhibition also salutes Scarfe's work on a very different animated project Pink Floyd: The Wall – with its powerful imagery and dynamic energy that has haunted our memories for thirty-five years: the menacing 'Schoolteacher' marionette with educational mincing machine, the brick-solid 'Mother', the incendiary 'Ex-Wife', the metallic bird of prey and the goose-stepping hammers. And, of course, the Wall itself...


Pink Floyd - The Wall © Gerald Scarfe.jpg

House of Illustration continues to stage exhibitions celebrating the extraordinary breadth and diversity of the illustrator's art; if there are still any Londoners who have yet to discover this unique venue, then this opportunity to savour the art of Gerald Scarfe 'in performance' should provide an irresistible invitation.


House of Illustration is located at 2 Granary Square, a few minutes' walk from King's Cross station.  

Opening times:
10am-6pm, Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday). Final admission is at 5:30pm.

For full programme details, admission prices and on-line booking visit House of Illustration. Also check out some of the publications and gifts available from their shop.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

BACK TO THE FUTURE


"Sir Humphrey"

"Yes, Minister?"

"Those chaps that converted their Civil Partnership to a Marriage, yesterday..."

"Yes, Minister?"

"What is the date on their Marriage Certificate?"
 

"Well, yesterday of course, Minister."
 

"August 30th, 2017"
 

"Correct, Minister."
 

"So, they were married yesterday?"
 

"Only in a manner of speaking, Minister."
 

"Oh?"
 

"You see, Minister, by section 9(6) of the Marriage Same Sex Couples Act 2013 (subject to any contrary provision made by or under that Act for any particular purpose) the marriage is to be treated as having subsisted from the date on which the Civil Partnership was formed."
 

"Which was when, Sir Humphrey?"
 

"On October 4th, 2007."
 

"So, they were actually married when they became Civil Partners?"
 

"Oh, no, Minister! Same sex couples weren't permitted to marry in 2007!"
 

"But you just said–––"
 

"What I said, Minister was that, 'by section 9(6) of the Marriage Same Sex Couples Act 2013 (subject to any contrary provision made by or under that Act––––'"

"Yes, yes, I heard that, Sir Humphrey! So, are you saying that although they didn't get married in 2007 – because  they couldn't get married – an Act of Parliament passed six years later made it lawful for them to subsequently be considered as being married even though, at the time, it wasn't lawful?"

"In a manner of speaking, Minister, yes." 

"Then, if I understand you correctly, even though their marriage certificate is dated yesterday, 30th August, 2017, they are now said to have become married ten years previously – despite the fact that such a union, on that date, was an impossibility?"
 

"Exactly so, Minister: your grasp of the matter is exemplary."
 

"Which means on 4th October 2017 – just five weeks after the date on their Marriage Certificate, they will be celebrating their 10th Wedding Anniversary?"
 

"Indeed, Minister."
 

"Then, maybe we should send a card to congratulate them?"
 

"Yes, Minister!"



by Brian Sibley & His Husband (from an idea by David Weeks!)
and with respectful apologies to Jonathan Lynn & Antony Jay

Cartoon © Gerald Scarfe

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

"MY HUSBAND AND I"


What a day! We turned up at Lambeth's temporary Register Office this morning intending to give notice that we we wanted to 'convert' our decade-old 'Civil Partnership' status to 'Marriage' only to find that it was not a future event, but one that happened right there and then!

So, dressed somewhat casually for Our Big Day (as you can see!) we did the deed and – a tad sooner than we'd quite expected – were duly 'converted'!

By a very happy happenstance the Registrar was the same woman who officiated at our Civil Partnership ceremony back in 2007!

Then arriving home – still trying out the sound of "husband" in relation to one another – we bumped into our local vicar (we live next door to a church, you know) who, on hearing the news, instantly laid on an extempore Wedding Breakfast for us in the vicarage –– Gin & Tonics served with hot sausage rolls and tomato sauce dip!!

You know, sometimes, Life just seems to plan itself!

Monday, 28 August 2017

WINDOWS OF ASTLEY CASTLE

The Landmark Trust's Astley Castle in Warwickshire is a miracle in architectural design: encasing a modern-day residence within the ruined shell of moated fortified 16th century manor house. During our four day stay there with our friends Roger and Sheila, a great many photos were taken.

This is a photographic blog essay looking at (and through) the windows of Astley Castle...
































Photos: © David Weeks and Brian Sibley, 2017

Friday, 18 August 2017

A KNIGHT TO REMEMBER

The passing of Bruce Forsyth (aged 89) marks the end of an era of British TV light entertainment. Forsyth was one of those celebrities to whom words such as 'Legendary' and 'Iconic' can be applied without accusation of hyperbole.


Sir Bruce Joseph Forsyth-Johnson, CBE, is remembered best as a TV host whose shows became inextricably linked with his name: Sunday Night at the London Palladium, The Generation Game, The Price is Right, You Bet! and Strictly Come Dancing, but there was much more to Bruce than a witty compere: he was a singer, a mean hoofer, an occasional actor in films (Star! and Bedknobs and Broomsticks) and memorable for his multi-character performance in the 1964 stage play, Little Me. In 2012, he was recognised by Guinness World Records as having the longest television career for a male entertainer.

On the occasion of Bruce being given his knighthood in 2011, I posted a recollection of having me and interviewed him a few years earlier. In a bad pun on his famous catchphrase, "Nice to see you! To see you –– nice!", I called the piece...  

"KNIGHT TO SEE YOU! TO SEE YOU – KNIGHT!"

How delighted we all were when Bruce Forsyth finally became Sir Bruce in the Queen's Birthday Honours last week.

I realise that this post will be largely inexplicable to my overseas readers, but here, in the UK, Brucie is nothing short of a National Treasure. He made his TV debut, aged 11, in 1939 ("Was there television in 1939?" asked one media commentator), before going on, three years later, to become 'Boy Bruce, the Mighty Atom' playing the variety theatres with a song, dance, and accordion act.

Full-on stardom came in 1958 when he began hosting the hugely TV variety show, Sunday Night at the London Palladium with his famous maxim, "I'm in charge!"

As a TV host, he was the reason, in the 1970s, that we tuned-in in our millions every Saturday night to watch Bruce Forsyth and the Generation Game with its nationally adopted catch-phrases ("Good game! Good game!", "Didn't he do well?" and, of course, "Nice to see you! To see you – nice!") and having adopted him, via 'the box', into our extended families, we followed his later successes on stage, occasionally on film, and on a succession of game and talent shows, Play Your Cards Right, You Bet, Bruce's Price is Right and, most recently, Strictly Come Dancing.

Bruce has been part of British life for as long as most of us can remember and I've always been an admirer: because he is one of that tough breed of multi-talented entertainers who got their break in vaudeville and can truly be described as 'survivors' – able to endlessly reinvent themselves.

I was delighted, therefore, back in 2009, to have the chance to meet and interview Brucie when I was making a duet of radio programmes as a tribute to the BBC impresario, the late Bill Cotton.

I visited the Forsyth home (just over the hedge from the famous Wentworth Golf Club!) and spent a couple of hours talking about various aspects of his long career. At the end of the interview, I asked him to sign my copy of his autobiography, Bruce, which he did, adding: "Try to believe it!"


Then I produced something else, tucked in the back of the book: a fan photo that I had requested in the 1960s and which, on its arrival, I had been bitterly disappointed to find had a printed signature!

"Now, I've finally got to meet you," I said, "would you mind if I asked you to do the job properly?!”

Laughing, Bruce explained how, when he first experienced stardom, he was totally unable to cope with the extensive fan mail. He recalled how, on arriving at his agent’s office one day, he saw a line of GPO mail-sacks stacked up along the hallway. When he asked what they were, he was told him, they were all for him! As with a number of stars, printed fan cards were an inevitable solution and, in many ways, a more honest option than those signed for others by agents' secretaries.

Anyway, Bruce was much amused that I had kept the photo (however unsatisfactory) for fifty years and happily did the deed, adding a dedication and a second signature – this time, as he noted, "in real ink”!

Brucie

Thank you, Sir Bruce! Rest in peace.