Friday 15 December 2006


I am recalling an event that happened forty years ago today...

I am getting ready for school and, suddenly, there is my father calling up the stairs: "Brian, Walt Disney has died..."

Downstairs I heard the murmuring drone of radio voices as my father - busy brewing early-morning tea - listens, as he does every morning, to the news programme, Today.

I ought, perhaps, to have dashed downstairs to listen to the reports, absorb the details, gather up the tributes. After all, Walt Disney was my hero. A strange idol for a teenage lad, maybe - but that is what he was.

I collected every book, magazine and trivial snippet that I could find about Disney and his studio. I was forever copying pictures of Disney characters in my sketch-books - in fact my youthful ambition was to be a Disney artist, to animate those fabulous beings that appeared in his films. I longed to be a part of that mystical process that created characters out of ink and paint and then imbue them with a power to move people to laughter or tears. I was, I admit, obsessed by the man and his movies.

Later that morning, on my way to school, I would buy the daily newspapers and - in a corner of the playground at morning break - pore over the obituaries; but, at the moment of first hearing the news, I had only one response: I sat on the edge of my bed and wept.

For the first time in my young life I experienced that bizarre phenomenon: a feeling of overwhelming grief at the death of someone whom I did not really know. Not only had I never met Walt Disney, I had - rather surprisingly - never even written him a fan-letter. Yet, I felt - as doubtless many others have felt on hearing of the death of some public figure, president or pop-star - that I had lost a friend, been bereaved of someone who held a unique place in my affections. The loss felt achingly huge; a void had yawned open in my life that I doubted could ever be filled...

In the forty years since that day, I have continued to study - and occasionally write about - Disney's life and work. I have also had the privilege of meeting many of those who knew, worked with, loved and loathed the man. Such encounters have brought me very close to feeling that I understand the personality and character of Walter Elias Disney.

But I have never been - never shall be - as close to him as I was on that morning when my father called upstairs to tell me the news that Walt Disney had died...

No comments: