Thursday 30 April 2009


The Sun newspaper has long been noted for its high standards of taste and decency: a fact endorsed by Tuesday's front-page headline...

Courtesy of Sun Headlines: a blog-spot entirely devoted to headline gems from this journalistic paragon.


Half-price in Sainsbury's this week...


BONKERS, more like!

Wednesday 29 April 2009


I vividly remember the launch on British television of Hanna-Barbera's The Huckleberry Hound Show in 1961.

Huck was a fantastic character. A laid-back blue dog with a southern drawl and a penchant for singing "Oh, My Darlin' Clementine", Huck could be anything he wanted to be: caveman, gladiator, knight-in-armour, cowboy, farmer, fireman, taxi-driver, police officer, rocket scientist. Whatever the job - historic or contemporary - Huck would try his hand - I mean, paw!

I can still recall spending hours - probably days if I'm honest - filling a sketch pad with drawings of Huck and his animated repertory company of players: Yogi and Boo Boo Bear (and the long-suffering "Mr Ranger, Sir") as well as Pixie, Dixie and Mr Jinks.

"That's not going to help you get a job!" grumbled my Mum (aware that I was neglecting my math homework) and do you know what? She was right!

But I was unrepentant! I cut out and wore my Kellogg's Corn Flake box Huckleberry Hound mask (right), my love for H&B's animated stars undimmed by parental disapproval!

Of course, even then, I knew that the animation wasn't a patch on the stuff done by Disney - the films of Uncle Walt & Co were transcendent - but, unlike the Disney product, it were 'on the box' and pretty much every week.

After Huck Hound, came the meteoric rise of his co-star, Yogi Bear who (like Donald Duck with Mickey Mouse) eclipsed in popularity the founding father of the group, then there was Snagglepuss, Quick Draw McGraw, Touche Turtle, Augie Doggie (and Doggie Daddy), Top Cat (later re-named Boss Cat) and a host of others not forgetting, of course, The Flintstones.

Like Disney, H&B started their own record label and began issuing albums telling stories that were already well known through rather more famous Disney versions!

Cheeky, perhaps, but irresistible and - putting charges of plagiarism on one side - what wouldn't one give, today, to listen to any of the following...?

Click on images to enlarge

And I'm still rummaging through boxes of LPs in charity shops, hoping against hope to find a rogue (unscratched) copy of this undoubted masterpiece...

If you happen to spot one you will let me know, won't you?

Tuesday 28 April 2009


The May 2009 issue of SFX magazine carries an article by Damien McFerran in their 'Time Machine' section on the 1981 BBC radio dramatisation of J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings which is, basically, an extended interview with yours truly.

For those who do not know what Mr McFerren refers to as "the genesis of this radio classic", you can read all about it here.

And for those who don't know the series itself, well..............

Monday 27 April 2009


We've been making a bit of a habit lately of going to exhibitions on the last day of exhibiting. The most recent example of this cultural brinkmanship was Andrea Palladio: His Life and Legacy at the Royal Academy.

Palladio (1508–1580) was one of the greatest Italian architects whose work has continued to resonate down five centuries and whose name lives on in the architectural term, 'Palladian'.

Working in Vicenza, Venice and the Veneto region, Palladio (depicted, above, by El Greco) designed churches, palaces, villas and public buildings, crafting what has been described as "a new architectural language" based on classical Greek and Roman sources but adapted to meet the functional demands and aesthetic aspirations of his own age.

Among the buildings discussed in the exhibition, and represented by paintings and architectural models, were his unbuilt design for Venice's Rialto Bridge and two of the city's most famous churches: Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore (Church of the Most Holy Redeemer) built in thanksgiving for deliverance from the plague of 1575-6, in which some 46,000 people died...

...and the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore which is situated on an island immediately facing the Piazetta, thus providing the classic backdrop for a zillion photo-opportunities...

Even if you've never visited Venice, you will have been exposed to Palladio's art because the architectural rules that he laid down were later followed in the design of thousands of buildings all over Europe.

Anyway, when we visited the adjacent Byzantium exhibition with our friends Roger and Sheila the other month, we began toying with the thought that Palladio - pronounced 'Pa-lad-io' would provide a challenging name for a limerick writer.

Sheila was first off the mark...

There was a young man called Palladio
Who built a house near the Limpopo
Upon its completion
It looked very Grecian
But the hippos had wanted Rococo.

There was a young man called Palladio
Who listened to sport on the radio.
When his team won the cup
He always jumped up
And ran round shouting 'ee-ay-addio'.

Since when, David and I have added a few of our own...

There was a young man named Palladio
Whose buildings became quite a fadio
Each column and pediment
Expressed what he said-'e-meant
But were over the top by a tadio.

There was a young man named Palladio
Whose hats were a bit of a fadio,
He invented a kitfer
Constructing a titfer
Which drove all the milliners madio.

There was a young man named Palladio
Who behaved like a terrible cadio
The girls of Venezia
Soon had regretzia
And their offspring were calling him 'Dadio'.

The architect Signor Palladio
Built a really sumptuous padio
But the elaborate loggia
With its northern exposure
Was deemed by the critics as badio.

Any further offerings will - possibly - be much appreciated!

Image of San Giorgio Maggiore © Brian Sibley, 2009

Sunday 26 April 2009


Bea Arthur

Farewell to one of the great characters in showbusiness and a wickedly funny lady.

Beatrice Arthur's roles on stage included Lucy Brown in the 1954 Off-Broadway premiere of Marc Blitzstein's English-language adaptation of Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera, Yente the Matchmaker in the 1964 premiere of Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway, and her 1966 Tony Award-winning portrayal of Vera Charles to Angela Lansbury's Mame - a role she reprised in the 1974 film version, opposite Lucille Ball.

On TV she achieved success (and won Emmys) as Maude Findlay in the '70s sitcom Maude and, a decade later, as Dorothy Zbornak in The Golden Girls, Susan Harris' unflaggingly brilliant comedy about four older women sharing a home in Miami, Florida.

Here she is with her co-stars, Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty in a few Golden Moments...

And finally, here's Bea Arthur with her other 'bossom-buddy', Angela Lansbury, giving it hell in a reprise of that show-stopping, high-camp number from Jerry Herman's Mame...

Thanks for all the laughs, Bea!

Saturday 25 April 2009


"All we, like sheep, have gone astray..."

But these guys (who've obviously found ways of overcoming the duller aspects of rural living) know how to get the flock back together again...

Friday 24 April 2009


For those who missed my (and David's) appearance on Matt Duggan's radio show, Smoke & Mirrors, you can catch the repeat this evening at 10:00 pm on Resonance 104.4 FM or listen in live on line...

Thursday 23 April 2009



St George's

And for anyone not familiar with the legend of England's patron saint, here's a version as penned by Bert Lee and R P Weston in 1935 and told by the incomparable Stanley Holloway...

Image: St George and the Dragon by Peter Paul Rubens


A couple of years ago, I posted some ingeniously eye-catching advertisements that made the most of where they were located.

Here are some more...

Click on images to enlarge

Tuesday 21 April 2009


Some years ago, I presented a six-part radio series on the history of magic.

"Ho, ho!" everyone laughed, "Magic on radio! That's like ventriloquism on radio!"

Of course, that's like ignoring the fact that one of the biggest American radio shows in the 1940s starred ventriloquist, Edgar Bergan and his dummies Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd while the biggest British radio show of the 1950s featured Peter Brough and Archie Andrews.

As it turned out, my series - rather unimaginatively entitled It's Magic! - was successful and, indeed, earned me my membership of The Magic Circle.

* Pause for cries of astonishment and muted applause *

Anyway, now there's a new radio series with the much better title of Smoke & Mirrors that has just started on Resonance: 104.4FM in London or online anywhere in the world.

Smoke & Mirrors
is presented by fellow Magic Circle member, Matt Duggan, and I'm delighted to be his guest on this evening's programme, talking about the history of magic and some of its colourful characters like Chung Ling Soo, the famous non-Chinese Chinese Magician, one of whose posters (above) carried the somewhat immodest legend: A GIFT from the GODS to MORTALS ON EARTH to AMUSE and MYSTIFY.

We'll also be talking about two of the early masters of British magic, John Nevil Maskelyne and (below) the Magic Circle's first president, David Devant... well as the man often referred to as 'The Father of Modern Magic', French conjurer, Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, whose many wonders included the Marvellous Orange Tree (shown below) which bore flowers and then fruit and from which two butterflies emerged holding a previously borrowed (and vanished) handkerchief.

You can read more about the show on the Smoke & Mirrors website and to hear the programme online tonight at 6:00 pm or the repeat on Friday 24 April at 10:00 pm...

Sunday 19 April 2009


While driving along Horseferry Road in London the other day we saw a great many umbrellas...

What could this mean?

A puzzle! But having driven on a little further, the seemingly random arrangement of brollies formed themselves - like an optical illusion coming into focus - into the figure FOUR...

Quite why the corporate symbol outside the Richard Rogers designed headquarters of Britain's television network, Channel 4, is currently decorate their with umbrellas is hard to figure - except, of course, that all broadcasting companies are finding survival in these difficult financial times pretty heavy weather...

Images: Brian Sibley © 2009

Saturday 18 April 2009


Oh, hell...

Image: Mike Baldwin, © 2009

Friday 17 April 2009


The blog posting you've all been waiting for...


This was the photograph - of one of the New York Central Park carriage horses looking at an incomplete, parked bicycle - for which I requested suitable captions.

As usual, the Sibleyblog readership rose to the occasion with a plethora of amusing suggestions for what the horse might be thinking or saying.

Judging the entries on this occasion was She of Polkadots & Moonbeams, mainly as a punishment for not having entered the competition herself!

As always, the entries were judged anonymously.

There were, not surprisingly, some common threads: not just on the obvious theme of transportation but also on the subject of eating...

Anyway, here first of all, the runners-up in the order in which their entries were received...


"Well, if that's the competition these days I don't know what all the fuss is about..."

"Brrfff - I knew I shouldn't have eaten that Wagonwheel!"

"Hey there, gorgeous; do you come here often?"


"Not even a mule could get between the shafts of that carriage."

"Damnedest carriage I ever saw, no wonder the little fella did a runner!"

"Leave anything lying around for even a few minutes and parts get taken."


"So - trade's even bad for a New York bike, huh?"


"Horseless transport ? Do me a favour ! It's got no chance !"

"OK, I'm going to count to three and we'll see who makes the end of the road first then, matey..."


"If God had intended us to cycle, he would have given us 2 legs and 2 wheels, not 4 legs and 1 wheel."


"I know times are tough but he’ll never get his kingdom with that!"

"'Harold,' he said. 'I’ve got it,' he said. 'Why don’t you train Hercules to go out and pick up the scrap by himself. That way we can stay home, put our feet up and have a nice pickled onion...' You dirty old mmmmhhhhaaaaaaannnn!"


"Hay! Who left that there?"

"The front tyre would have tasted a bit better with a sprinkling of salt and pepper."

"I wonder if Chris Hoy is in town."

And so to the winners!

Fourth Place


(with apologies to George Orwell)

"Four legs good, one wheel bad!"

Third Place


"Hmm yes, very nice, but do you have anything with four pedals
and possibly even a front wheel?"

Second Place


"I'm just wondering if eating that wheel was such a good idea"



"Great! I have the dexterity to get the cap off
the Super Glue and then this happens."

Congratulations to the winners and thanks to everyone for entering. There'll be another caption competition in a few week's time!


Just Children's Books?

If you missed last night's broadcast of The Narnia Code, the documentary based on Dr Michael Ward's controversial book, Planet Narnia and it's interpretation of C S Lewis' septet of fantasy novels beginning with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, you can catch it for the next seven days on the BBC iPlayer.

Wednesday 15 April 2009


Talking of Narnia...

I wrote, some years ago, that C S Lewis was now one of those authors - like Shakespeare, Dickens and Lewis' chum, Tolkien - whose collected works have been vastly outnumbered by works about them.

Indeed, new books on Lewis appear, it seems, almost every month, but none has been quite so radical or has stimulated quiet so much debate as Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C S Lewis by Dr Michael Ward...

The author of Planet Narnia argues that Lewis' celebrated cycle of children's novels, 'The Chronicles of Narnia', is based on an understanding of medieval cosmology.

Lewis was a medievalist and was, indeed, fascinated by astronomy which is no doubt why there are so many astronomical/astrological references within his books about Narnia.

And it is from these facts that Michael Ward has extrapolated a theory that each of the seven volumes has a mystical connection with a different planet that, in turn, provides the key to its meaning and symbolism.

Dr Ward developed his theory in 2003 after reading Lewis' poem, 'The Planets', which refers to the influence of Jupiter with the words: “winter passed/And guilt forgiv’n” - which are two of the themes in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

From this beginning, Ward has gone on to propose a thesis in which the seven planets known of in medieval cosmology provides the theme for the seven Narnian Chronicles, So, for example, Prince Caspian is seen as essentially a war story and, therefore, inspired by Mars. Similarly, The Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader' is the solar novel full of references to gold and light as well as another sun symbol, the dragon, while The Horse and His Boy is based on Mercury, the planet ruling the star sign Gemini, and features characters who are twins.

The Planet Narnia theory is now to be explored in an hour-long television documentary, The Narnia Code, broadcast on BBC 1 tomorrow evening - Thursday 16 April - at 10:35 pm

The programme is the work of Norman Stone who directed the original television play about C S Lewis, Shadowlands, and, as you will see from this advance peek into the cracking of the code, I am one of the contributors to the programme...

You may, like me, remain skeptical about Michael Ward's claims, but The Narnia Code is fascinating if, for no other reason, than because it reminds us what another Oxford don, Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll), once observed:

"Words mean so much more than we mean to express when we use them: so a whole book ought to mean a great deal more than the writer meant."

You can read more about Michael Ward's book and his cosmic theories on his official web-site, Planet Narnia.

Tuesday 14 April 2009


"You're Norma Desmond," says Joe Gillis in Billy Wilder's classic 1950 movie, Sunset Boulevard, "You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big."

"I am big," the aging star replies, "it's the pictures that got small!"

But in the advertisements for the new production of the musical based on the film, it's the PRINT that got small --- at least when it comes to the names of the writers of the book and lyrics, Don Black and Christopher Hampton, and the story's 'onlie begetter', Billy Wilder...

Click image to enlarge
(unless you're Andrew Lloyd Webber!)

Monday 13 April 2009


C S Lewis once said, "For me, all fiction begins with pictures in my head," and that was particularly true of his seven books for children that are collectively known as ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’.

For example, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe grew out of two recurrent pictures that the author had been carrying in his head for some time: one was of a queen riding in a sledge (born, perhaps, from memories of childhood reading of Han Andersen's The Snow Queen) the other was of a faun carrying parcels and an umbrella in a snowy wood and pictured here by Lewis' first illustrator, Pauline Baynes...

When I was given the opportunity to adapt these stories for radio, I really wanted the resulting broadcasts to create pictures in the minds of my listeners.

Later, when those programmes were marketed as audio cassettes, they obviously needed the help of pictures to sell them to a new audience. At that time, most of Pauline Baynes' illustrations were in black and white and I considered myself very fortunate to have had Andrew Skilleter, the well-known fantasy/Dr Who artist create a new series of pictures which adorned the cassette cases for some years and which are currently on display at Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum as part of The Wonder of Illustration exhibition,

Although the title of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe tells you, at once, that the lion in question - Aslan, of course - is central to the story, the lion's role in the remaining volumes is sometimes less clearly defined and, in one or two of the books, he seems at first glance to play hardly any part at all, perhaps only making an appearance in the concluding chapters.

What becomes obvious, however, as the history of Narnia unfolds, is that underlying all the stories is the nature and power of Aslan. And this is something that Andrew Skilleter intuitively grasped in making the artwork for these audio versions.

It is most evident in his symbolic designs for the first two adaptations. For The Magician’s Nephew, the artist depicted Aslan bringing life to the barren environment of Narnia, the musical notes of his creation song becoming trees, birds and stars in the new world.

Similarly, for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan is shown straddling two landscapes: one covered in snow from the perpetual winter imposed by the White Witch, the other a verdant spring garden freshly awoken to new life by the returning Lion.

The other five paintings reflect Aslan’s constant presence in the drama: appearing almost as a vision in the desert dust behind the eponymous characters of The Horse and His Boy...

As an heraldic image on the sail of the ship in The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’...

As an ever-watchful (but unseen) observer of the action in Prince Caspian and The Silver Chair...

And, for the final volume, The Last Battle, he is shown standing upon the threshold of the doorway between the dying land of Narnia and the inner world of Aslan’s Country...

Andrew Skilleter brought to these pieces of artwork - together with the slipcase for the collection in the form of an elaborately carved wardrobe (lined with fur coats!) - an intelligence and a sympathy that complimented the telling of these much-loved tales, coupled with a sensibility as a designer for creating intriguing images that invited the listener to discover the story behind the pictures.

The exhibition The Wonder of Illustration remains on show at the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, The King's House, Wiltshire, until Saturday 4 July; Monday-Saturday 10:00 to 17:00; Sundays (July only) 12:00 to 17:00.

There's more of Andrew's work on his official web-site, including his cover art for my radio adaptation of J R R Tolkien's Tales of the Perilous Realm.

Today, the CDs of my Narnia adaptations are decorated with examples of Pauline Baynes line illustrations subsequently coloured by the artist, but it is good that Andrew Skilleter's visions of the land betond the wardrobe are being seen once more.

I'm actually rather proud of these dramatisation (an even longer project - in terms of its 15 hours of air-time - than the epic serialisation of The Lord of the Rings and which was also undertaken single-handedly) as well as of the productions themselves with their star-studded casts that include Bernard Cribbins, Richard Griffiths, Frances Tomelty, Tom Wilkinson, Sylvester McCoy, Timothy Bateson, Martin Jarvis, Fiona Shaw, John Sessions, Robert Eddison, Maurice Denham, Mary Wimbush, Robin Bailey, Rosemary Martin, Melvyn Hayes, David Collings, Timothy Spall and (in all seven plays) one of the great radio voices, Stephen Thorne, as Aslan.