Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Signed Books: PURE IMAGINATION by Leslie Bricusse


This post – in an occasional series devoted to signed books in my 'library' (as I grandly refer to a great many piles of assorted volumes!) – is prompted by the death, at the age of 90, of Leslie Bricusse, the brilliantly gifted British composer, lyricist, and playwright.

Leslie Bricusse's prolific career ranged across stage musicals from Stop the World – I Want to Get Off and The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd (both with Anthony Newley) to Pickwick and musical films from Doctor Dolittle via Scrooge to Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory as well as providing unforgettable music and songs for films, among them Goldfinger, Goodbye Mr Chips and, perhaps surprisingly, Superman!

Leslie's career is chronicled with charm and a sly wit in his 'Sorta-biography', Pure Imagination.


With Leslie's lavish signature (we collectors love an author with a distinctive hand over the careless scribbler!) on the theatrically-purple front free end-paper.

Over the years, I had the enormous pleasure of visiting with Leslie and his lovely, much-loved wife 'Evie' at their homes in London and Los Angeles in order to quiz his encyclopedic memory in preparation for several of my (now vintage) BBC Radio 2 series on aspects film and stage musicals and performers.

Always a welcoming, gracious host and one of the easiest and most accommodating interviewees who would always deliver the purest of  gold!

I have two particular mementos... 

Firstly in LA where, after giving him a copy of The Unsung Story, my book on A Christmas Carol (in view of his interest in Dickens and Ebenezer Scrooge!) he jumped and rushed from the room calling over his shoulder: "I've got something for you that you absolutely won't have in your Dickens collection!" He momentarily returned with a copy of the Japanese libretto for the Tokyo production of Scrooge to which he added a typical inscription...




Then in London in 1989, meeting up with Leslie after the premiere of his stage production of Doctor Dolittle along with Phillip Schofield (playing the Doctor) who was contributing to a programme I was making about Julie Andrews (the voice in the show of the Doc's parrot, Polynesia). Phillip inscribed the cover of my souvenir programme to which Leslie couldn't resist adding his added his own idiosyncratic addition... 


Many thanks for all the music, Leslie – and the memories!

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Signed Books: LORD OF MISRULE by Christopher Lee

I own signed books that simply feature the author's name; many (from a long career of interviewing) that have such additions as 'Nice to meet you...' or 'Thanks for the interview'; and there are some inscribed to me or to others (where I bought the volumes from booksellers or at auction) with lengthy, sometimes florid, essays!

In signing this particular book, Lord of Misrule, the seldom taciturn Christopher Lee used very few words (and a number!); but his very personal inscription is charming and delightfully pleasing. 

Modesty forbids, but if you have a copy of Lord of Misrule, you can look up the reference!  



Sunday, 5 September 2021

ERIC FRASER'S 'Radio Times' art for the BBC's THE LORD OF THE RINGS


This post is for all you aficionados of
the BBC 1981 radio serialisation of The Lord of the Rings who have been following my six-monthly Blog and Facebook journey across the original twenty-six weekly episodes as they were first broadcast on Sundays from 8 March to 30 August, forty years ago.

Here, all in one place, is the complete set of Eric Fraser's black-and-white illustrations made to accompany the credits to the weekly episodes in the BBC's listings magazine, Radio Times

All images, except that for the second episode ('The Shadow of the Past'), are reproduced from Fraser's original art now in my collection; in this one instance, the image used was scanned from its printed reproduction in Radio Times. (I would, incidentally, be grateful for any information about the ownership of this 'missing' piece!)

The three images made for episodes 15-17 ('The Voice of Saruman', 'The Black Gate is Closed' and 'The Window on the West') are published on this blog for the very first time since, during that three week period, there was an industrial dispute at the print-works responsible for producing Radio Times and the magazine was issued only in an slimmed-down emergency format with few, if any, illustrations. The additional image at the top of this post was a generic design Fraser made featuring Gandalf, Frodo and Sam which was used on the BBC souvenir poster for the series and, subsequently, as a decoration for the box containing the cassette-tape release of the recordings. 


1.  The Long-awaited Party



2.  The Shadow of the Past


3.  The Black Riders


4. Trouble at the Prancing Pony

5. The Knife in the Dark


6. The Council of Elrond


7. The Fellowship of the Ring


8. The Mines of Moria


9. The Mirror of Galadriel


10. The Breaking of the Fellowship


11. The Riders of Rohan


12. Treebeard of Fangorn


13. The King of the Golden Hall


14. Helm’s Deep


15. The Voice of Saruman


16. The Black Gate is Closed 


17. The Window on the West


18. Minas Tirith


19. Shelob’s Lair


20. The Siege of Gondor


21. The Battle of Pelennor Fields


22. The Houses of Healing


23. Mount Doom


24. The Return of the King


25. Homeward Bound


26. The Grey Havens


Monday, 30 August 2021



This comic pastiche, first published here in 2107, resulted from a curious anomaly arising from our decision, four years ago, to 'upgrade' our Civil Partnership to a marriage. I'll let Sir Humphrey explain...



"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."


"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

© Gerald Scarfe



Four years ago, Mr David Weeks and I became... well... Husband-and-Husband here's what happened as recorded on The Day! 

(Glad to say I've lost some weight since then!)

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!

Sunday, 29 August 2021

FORTY YEARS ON... Eric Fraser's LORD OF THE RINGS radio art: Week 26


I wept writing this final episode of the BBC radio dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings, I wept again as the actors recorded it in the studio and I wept once more when I heard it first transmitted on this Sunday, forty years ago. I still weep every time I hear it...

My plan was always to include 'Bilbo's Last Song' in the final episode as the Ring-bearers sail into the West but – since it did not appear in the novel and Tolkien had gifted the copyright in the poem to Joy Hill, his secretary at George Allen & Unwin – the negotiations for its inclusion were long and tricksy. But it was finally achieved and Stephen Oliver's elegiac setting powered the closing moments of the dramatisation, representing not only the end of Frodo's journey but also that of everyone involved in writing, performing and producing the serial.

Eric Fraser's final illustration for the BBC's weekly listings magazine, Radio Times shows the bittersweet image of Sam, Merry and Pippin watching the boat slip from the harbour into the Firth of Lune...

"And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air  and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that ... the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise."

For the moment of Frodo's parting from Sam at the Grey Havens, I transferred a few lines from an earlier conversation in the book as a leave-taking valedictory:

"Do not be too sad, Sam. You cannot always be torn in two. You will have to be one and whole, for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do."

Words that I used again, heard by Sam – as an echo in his memory – the moment before opening the door to Bag End and announcing to Rosie and baby Elanor: "Well, I'm back."

Thank you for sharing this pictorial journey with me across the six months and twenty-six illustrations by the magnificent, Eric Fraser. 


Sunday, 22 August 2021

FORTY YEARS ON... Eric Fraser's LORD OF THE RINGS radio art: Week 25


'Homeward Bound' was the title I gave to the penultimate episode of the 1981 BBC radio dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings, originally broadcast on this Sunday, forty years ago. 

The great challenge of the serialisation – after the crisis-after-crisis driven story that reaches its narrative peak in episodes twenty-three and twenty-four with the destruction of the One Ring and Sauron's power and the coronation of Gondor's returning King – is the lengthy and anticlimactic homeward journey with its serial partings and farewells.

All of this textual material had to be ruthlessly compressed to work within the tight structure of weekly half-hour episodes. Despite the demands of condensing Tolkien's rich text, I remained determined that – although heavily edited – the Scouring of the Shire and the Grima's murder of Saruman on the doorstep of Bag End – would be retained since, without those events, the whole drama would be less meaningful.

"The very end of the war, I hope," said Merry.

"I hope so," said Frodo and sighed. The very last stroke. But to think that it should fall here, at the very door of Bag End! Among all my hopes and fears at least I never expected that." 

But Tolkien knew that, in some way or another, battles – large and small – all end at our own front door... 

Eric Fraser's original illustration for Radio Times takes the sober, haunting image of the sadly despoiled Shire found by the heroes on their return from war. 


Sunday, 15 August 2021

FORTY YEARS ON... Eric Fraser's LORD OF THE RINGS radio art: Week 24


After the epic drama of Sauron's fall comes the triumphant and long-awaited coronation of Aragorn, King Elessar. So, for obvious reasons, the twenty-fourth episode of the BBC's 1981 dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings – first broadcast forty years ago today – was titled 'The Return of the King'.

Equally obvious was Eric Fraser's choice of the Crown of Gondor as the subject for his illustration accompanying the episode-billing in Radio Times with a design based on Tolkien's description in the novel: 

"It was shaped like the helms of the Guards of the Citadel, save that it was loftier, and it was all white, and the wings at either side were wrought of pearl and silver in the likeness of the wings of a sea-bird, for it was the emblem of kings who came over the Sea; and seven gems of adamant were set in the circlet, and upon its summit was set a single jewel the light of which went up like a flame." 


Sunday, 8 August 2021

FORTY YEARS ON... Eric Fraser's LORD OF THE RINGS radio art: Week 23


And so we come to 'Mount Doom', the twenty-third episode of the 1981 BBC serialisation of J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, originally broadcast forty years ago this Sunday.

In so many ways this is the climax (although not the end) of the quest which began in Episode 6 when, at Rivendell, the Council of Elrond determined that the war with Sauron could only be won if the One Ring were to be returned to fires of Orodruin. 

This episode was the second of the final five episodes that I personally dramatised for the serialisation, taking over from Michael Bakewell's brilliant dramatisation of the epic battles that precede the intense, intimate drama that is played out by Frodo, Sam and Gollum on the very edge of the Cracks of Doom.

As a dramatist, this was one of my favourite episodes to have written and I have unforgettable memories of watching Ian Holm, Peter Woodthorpe and Bill Nighy, gathered around a radio microphone, act out their characters' desperate struggle on Sammath Naur, playing out the narrative device that Tolkien described as a 'eucatastrophe'. Writing in a letter to his son, Christopher, Tolkien explained: "I coined the word 'eucatastrophe': the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce)."

This original piece of art created by Eric Fraser for the Sunday programme page in the BBC's weekly magazine, Radio Times, is, without question, my favourite of the twenty-six weekly illustrations the artist made to accompany the series: stunningly dramatic and powerfully cataclysmic.


Sunday, 1 August 2021

FORTY YEARS ON... Eric Fraser's LORD OF THE RINGS radio art: Week 22


'The Houses of Healing' was the title of the twenty-second episode of the BBC's 1981 radio dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings, broadcast forty years ago this Sunday. 

In this episode the chatterbox of Ioreth the wise-woman healer (a cameo appearance by Pauline Letts) tells Gandalf of the legend of Gondor that says: "The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known," leading to the Christ-like verification of Aragorn as the true King.  

Eric Fraser's original art, created for the programme page in Radio Times shows a pair of leaves of the healing herb called athelas (or 'Kingsfoil') about to be crushed and steeped in boiling water.