Tuesday 30 June 2009


I ordered tea and toast in a café the other morning and the waitress' response was "Awesome!"

Awesome? It was tea and toast, for pity's sake!

What the hell would she have said if I'd ordered the Full English Breakfast??

For details of the Toaster Teapot, shown above (yes, it's a real gadget and just £29.85!), check out The Uber Review: Gadgets and Wired Madness.

Saturday 27 June 2009


Mentioning Walt Disney's original Alice in Wonderland yesterday, put in mind of that song lyric from the film that begins...

Now, statistics prove, prove that you've one birthday.
Imagine, just one birthday every year!
But there are three hundred and sixty four unbirthdays!
Precisely why we're gathered here to cheer...

However, as it happens, today is the real (as opposed to un-) birthday of my good friend, KATHRYN BEAUMONT, the voice of Disney's Alice...

Alice in Wonderland (Kathryn Beaumont)
Click on image to go to my flickr album for the option to view at a larger size

I love the enterprise of the Hollywood (or, in Disney's case, Burbank) studio: in addition to providing the voice for Alice and acting out the entire scenario of the film in live-action for the animators' reference, Kathryn was also photographed posing with the film's merchandise!

Not only that, she also provided Alice's voice in a couple of TV commercials, including this one for Jello featuring two Carrollian characters who never made it into the film - the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle. As you will see, the child in the opening shot who is about to consume an entire plate of Jello is not Kathryn, but she is the one extolling the product's virtues to the two Wonderlanders and the voice-over narrator is none other than Sterling Holloway, who gave a memorable vocal purr-formance in the film as the Cheshire Cat...

I can't help thinking Tim Burton missed a trick in not giving Kathryn a cameo role in his film of Alice's newest exploits!


today and on all your unbirthdays, too!

To read more about Ms Beaumont and her roles for Disney (she was also the voice of Wendy in Peter Pan) click on the 'Kathryn Beaumont' tag below.

Image via Disney History uploaded using flickr

Friday 26 June 2009


When Walt Disney's animated Alice in Wonderland, was first released in 1951, the film critics in Alice's homeland gave it a pretty hostile reception.

How times have changed!

Fifty-eight years on, the British press are enthusiastically greeting the early press releases and photos from Disney's latest foray into Lewis Carroll's nonsense realm with Hollywood's resident enfant terrible (though he's hardly an enfant any more), Tim Burton as tour guide.

Of course, unlike Walt and his 'fifties artists and story men who attempted to follow the Carroll text while giving it Disney-appeal, Burton - aided and abetted by screenwriter Linda Woolverton (who penned the scripts for Disney's animated features Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and Mulan) and, naturally, his joined-at-the-hip composer Danny Elfman - are using the original as an inspiration for what probably ought to be called Alice's NEW Adventures in Wonderland.

The premise is that Alice (now aged 17) revisits the dreamworld of topsy-turvydom where she find that she is not the only one who has changed during the years since her last excursion...

Anyone familiar with the look of such previous Burton films as Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and, most recently, Sweeney Todd, will not be phased at the brooding, gothicky settings depicted in the artwork which has gone on show...

Inspirational artwork

Alice and the Tweedle Twins

Alice and the White Rabbit

Garden of Live Flowers
Click on images to go to my flickr album for the option to view at a larger size

As for the cast, there are some predictable presences notably Burton's leading leading man, Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter - and judging by the eye make-up that is even more excessive than Jack Sparrow's - mad certainly seems to be the word...

The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp)

Nice liquorice All-Sorts bow tie, though...

Burton's real life leading-lady, Helena Bonham Carter appear (despite the accompanying heart motif) as The Red Queen, who seems to be a cross between the strict-but-benign Looking-glass monarch and Wonderland's blood-thirsty despot, the Queen of Hearts, resulting in a somewhat pinker version of the Wicked Witch of the West...

The Red Queen (Helana Bonham Carter)

Maybe the taste for butchery that she picked up in Mrs Lovett's pie shop has equipped her for all those essential beheadings...

Other players who have been shown in costume include Anne (The Princess Diaries) Hathaway as Glinda the Good --- sorry! The White Queen...

The White Queen (Anne Hathaway)

And Little Britain's Matt Lucas is doubling-up as Tweedledum and Tweedledee...

Tweedledum & Tweedledee (Matt Lucas)

It is pretty much de rigueur that every Alice-in-Wonderland has to be played by an actress who has been selected after a long, world-wide search that is the casting office's equivalent of the Quest for Holy Grail. In her latest incarnation she is portrayed by (if the picture is to be believed) a very small Mia Wasikowska, who comes from Australia or, as Alice once said, the "Antipathies"...

Alice (Mia Wasikowska)

Yet to be revealed are the likenesses of the ubiquitous Michael Sheen as the White Rabbit (Brian Clough via David Frost and Tony Blair out of Kenneth Williams? Yes, I can, sort of, imagine that) and Alan Rickman (last seen chewing the scenery as Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd) as the Caterpillar that, despite the passage of time, seems to have avoided turning into a butterfly.

Then there's the newly elevated Sir Christopher Lee to look forward to as he comes whiffling through the Tulgey Wood as the Jabberwock - will he, I wonder, be sporting even longer fangs than those he used to bare as D******?

And it might also be fun to watch the omnipresent Stephen Fry in his feline persona as the Cheshire Cat disappearing - momentarily at least - from sight!

However, we've got to contain our enthusiasm - or, as the case may be, our skepticism - for over nine months until 5 March 2010, when the film opens. In the meanwhile, you can visit the official website and, by clicking on the price-tag attached to the Hatter's topper, you can register for updates...

Website image II

There's a lot more Burton-Alice news, gossip and some additional pix to be found on Tim Burton Collective News.

Images uploaded via flickr.

And my thanks to Good Dog for the heads-up (as opposed to the heads-off) on this fascinating farago...

Wednesday 24 June 2009


Would you, honestly, let these people anywhere near your teeth?

Loose Fittings

Photo: © Brian Sibley 2009

Sunday 21 June 2009


I'm still recovering from the huge let-down over the revelation of that one millionth word.

Since Master Wm Shakespeare was vaguely implicated in the hoop-la surrounding what was, as it turned out, a non-event, it's worth remembering that the Bard of Avon coined (or, at least was the first to use in writing) a number of common-or-garden words (perhaps as many as 1,500) including abstemious, alligator, bedroom, eyeball, farmhouse, jaded, label, marketable, obscene, sanctimonious, tranquil and zany.

Personally, I doubt he actually 'made up' some of those. I mean, if he had, how would anyone in the audience at the Globe have known what Romeo was referring to when he talked about an apothecary in whose "needy shop a tortoise hung, / An alligator stuff'd, and other skins"; or what Prince Hal meant in calling Falstaff a "whoreson, obscene, greasy, tallow catch," although, in that instance, they'd probably have got the general drift!

However, the fact remains that Will's the lad to whom we can trace back the use of such words as 'employer', 'manager', 'investment', 'retirement', 'negotiate', 'petition', 'protesters' and 'violations'.

And he gave us such useful phrases as 'not budge an inch', 'green-eyed jealousy', 'eaten out of house and home', 'neither here nor there', 'to play fast and loose', 'to be tongue-tied', 'to be a tower of strength' or 'to knit your brows'.

Not to mention such everyday expressions 'a method in my madness', 'insist on fair play', 'make a virtue of necessity', 'stand on ceremony', 'too much of a good thing', 'seen better days' and 'living in a fool’s paradise'.

When we describe someone as 'a laughing stock', say something is 'a sorry sight', that we are 'in a pickle', or 'in stitches' and that something happened 'in the twinkling of an eye' we are, whether we know it or not, quoting Shakespeare.

He was even the man responsible for the phrase (spoken by Jack Cade in Henry VI) 'as dead as a doornail', that, centuries later, prompted another of Britain's great wordsmiths, Charles Dickens, to write...
Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

It's also worth noting that - for such an oft-quoted writer - Shakespeare was the first person to use the word 'misquote'!!

Cartoons: Court Jones and Cox & Forkum

Friday 19 June 2009


One man's meat is another man's poussin...

Soup d'jour

Saturday 13 June 2009


Congratulations to


on his much-deserved and long-overdue


Being aware of Sir Christopher's well-known sensitivity to indiscriminate reference being made to his having played a certain film role based on a character created by Bram Stoker, we will limit ourselves to mentioning one or two of his other 258 film appearances - in itself an astonishing tally that has earned him a place in The Guinness Book of Records.

There is, for example, his performance as the creepy Lord Summerisle in the cult-classic, The Wicker Man, as the coldly calculating Francisco Scaramanga, title character in the 1974 James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun...

And as Gandalf's corrupt wizard-boss, Saruman the White, in The Lord of the Rings...


I have fond memories of working with Sir Christopher and in case you missed it the first time I blogged it, here's an ac-count of some en-count-ers with the sometime Count!

And, if you haven't yet discovered the joys of Sir Christopher the singer, well here's a reminder of his musical prowess in the 1983 musical-comedy-fantasy, The Return of Captain Invincible...

And a rather more recent operatic performance...

So, Sir Christopher, what can one add, except---

BLOODY well done!

Cartoons: Scaramanga by Peter Emslie; Saruman by Court Jones

Wednesday 10 June 2009


I'm not sure what that word is, but at 10:22 am (Stratford-on Avon Time) today, the English language will, apparently acquire its one millionth word.

Yes, seriously, it will, Will!

I have this on the (possibly) good authority of The Global Language Monitor in Austin, Texas - although that in itself may come as something of a surprise to those of you were unaware that they actually speak English in Texas!

Anyway, according to Paul J J Payack, president and chief word analyst of the Global Language Monitor, "The Million Word milestone brings to notice the coming of age of English as the first, truly global Language."

One proof of this is, says Mr Payack, is the fact that 14.7 new English words are being minted every day. How anyone manages to dream up .7 of a word I've no idea - as to how they do it on a daily basis is utterly beyond me! Maybe they've been counting all those word verifications that get so deftly defined on this blog!

Anyway, you can read all about it here.


Here are the fourteen runners-up for the one millionth English word, all of which "have met the criteria of a minimum of 25,000 citations with the necessary breadth of geographic distribution, and depth of citations."

999,999: Jai Ho! – The Hindi phrase signifying the joy of victory, used as an exclamation, sometimes rendered as “It is accomplished”. Achieved English-language popularity through the multiple Academy Award Winning film, “Slumdog Millionaire”.

999,998: N00b — From the Gamer Community, a neophyte in playing a particular game; used as a disparaging term.

999,997: Slumdog – a formerly disparaging, now often endearing, comment upon those residing in the slums of India.

999,996: Cloud Computing – The ‘cloud’ has been technical jargon for the Internet for many years. It is now passing into more general usage.

999,995: Carbon Neutral — One of the many phrases relating to the effort to stem Climate Change.

999,994: Slow Food — Food other than the fast-food variety hopefully produced locally (locavores).

999,993: Octomom – The media phenomenon relating to the travails of the mother of the octuplets.

999,992: Greenwashing – Re-branding an old, often inferior, product as environmentally friendly.

999,991: Sexting – Sending email (or text messages) with sexual content.

999,990: Shovel Ready – Projects are ready to begin immediately upon the release of federal stimulus funds.

999,989: Defriend – Social networking terminology for cutting the connection with a formal friend.

999,988: Chengguan – Urban management officers, a cross between mayors, sheriff, and city managers.

999,987: Recessionista – Fashion conscious who use the global economic restructuring to their financial benefit.

999,986: Zombie Banks – Banks that would be dead if not for government intervention and cash infusion.

After some of those - especially 'Sexting', 'Greenwashing' and 'Defriend', the millionth word comes as a bit of a disappointment...

1,000,000: Web 2.0 – The next generation of web products and services, coming soon to a browser near you.

But that's not just a word, it's a word - and a number! So, if you'll pardon the pun, go figure...

At the risk of getting tedious, I can reveal that the 1,000,00-and-1st word(s) is/are Financial Tsunami – The global financial restructuring that seemingly swept out of nowhere, wiping out trillions of dollars of assets, in a matter of months.

In the words of Master O Twist & Co: "Was it the worth waiting for...?"

I think not!

Monday 8 June 2009


Having said, earlier today, that I would be reducing the number of postings on this blog, I hadn't expected to post twice in one day! However...

I wanted to tell readers that today's Guardian carries my obituary to Wayne Allwine (left), the voice of Mickey Mouse.

I wrote this piece three weeks ago and it has been waiting in the newspaper's equivalent of the morgue until there was a chance to finally lay it to rest in print. Since I had an even longer wait for the appearance in The Independent of my recent obituary to actor, Peter Dennis, it would seem that far too many people dying right now!

Anyway... Outside the world of Disney, most people won't have heard of Wayne Allwine, but everyone, of course, has heard of the character to whom he lent his voice.

Mickey Mouse is, arguable, the most famous animated character of all time (partly because in addition to a significant film career dating back to the first-ever sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie in 1928) the Mouse became the iconic symbol of one of America's most enduring and successful corporations.

During Mickey's 80-year career he was only ever offically spoken for by three people: firstly Walt Disney who, despite having a natural baritone voice, decided to give his creation an excitably high-pitched falsetto.

Disney continued provided Mickey's voice (and, in the very early days, the voice of Minnie as well) until 1947 when - halfway though working on the 'Mickey and the Beanstalk' sequence in the feature film, Fun and Fancy Free - he handed over the task to Jimmy MacDonald who was responsible for the studio's audio post-production department and provided numerous voices and sound effects for Disney cartoons.

MacDonald carried out Mickey's vocal duties for another thirty years until, in 1977, the role passed to his protégé in the sound department, Wayne Allwine. Here they are: master and apprentice...

Wayne began voicing the Mouse in various TV shows as well speaking for the character when he made his big screen comeback in 1983 in Mickey's Christmas Carol.

I first met Wayne, together with his mentor, Jim MacDonald, in 1988 at a 60th birthday-bash for Mickey in Disneyland. I was struck by his modest, self-effacing charm, lively wit and his obvious sense of pride in playing a role that was known and loved throughout the world.

It was some years later that we met again when I was making a couple of radio series for the BBC: Ain't No Mickey Mouse Business, which explored the commercial history of the Mouse Factory, and Disney's Women, examining the role of women in Disney's life and the female characters in his films.

On these programmes I had the sheer joy of twice interviewing Wayne (in character as Mickey) with Russi Taylor, who had taken on the role of Minnie Mouse and had subsequently become Mrs Wayne Allwine. Since the studio has always maintained that - despite their advancing years - Mickey and Minnie were still just boy-and-girl-friends it was initially a source of some concern that the characters voices were getting wed. What if the Mice were to end up in the divorce court? What would that do to the reputation of the characters for whom they spoke? Their relationship became referred to as "The love that dares not squeak its name".

Anyone who encountered the Allwines would have been in no doubt that the couple were totally devoted to one another as well as to the heritage of the company for whom they worked and the characters they portrayed.

When Wayne and Russi began ad-libbing as Mickey and Minnie, it was impossible not to be caught up in their infectious sense of fun and - suspending disbelief - imagine yourself talking, in person, to those famous mice. It was, in fact, almost impossible to conduct an interview without collapsing in paroxysms of laughter at their hilarious repartee.

I last met the Allwines in 2001 (on the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney's birth), when I interviewed the couple beside World Showcase Lagoon in Epcot, Walt Disney World. At the end of our session, I left them sitting on a bench side-by-side, hand-in-hand gazing out across the Lagoon, clearly blissfully happy in each other's company and in the fantasy kingdom where they worked.

Here's the photograph of Wayne and Russi at last year's Disney Legends ceremony which accompanied my obituary in the paper, though not on-line...

...and you can read my tribute in full at Guardian.co.uk, although, sadly, it doesn't end in quite the way I had intended.

As you will see, it concludes with the words: "Allwine is survived by his wife, and by two daughters and three sons from an earlier marriage." But, as submitted, it went on "...and by a mouse who is, temporarily, lost for words."

And I'll leave you - and say farewell to Wayne - with his performance (alongside Russi's Minnie) in the 1995 short cartoon, Runaway Brain...


One Thousand and One Posts!

Like the tales recounted by Sheherazade, the storyteller of The Arabian Nights, the Sibley blog has (I hope) entertained and amused my visitors over 1001 reads.

It has also (most certainly) kept me - or, at least, my writing - alive during a time when hardly anyone wanted to make professional use of my craft.

Of those 1001 posts, many - the majority, probably - have been trivial fripperies, but they have, wonderfully, created a small international community (some have come, some have gone, others have found a life!) with a number of you regularly sending me ideas, links and photos for blog material and many more of you contributing observations and exchanges via the 'comments' facility that have frequently provided more fun than the posts themselves!

Every now and again, for example, Gill would post about the distress caused to her dear friend, the Duchess, by various posts of dubious taste; and it was on the pages of this blog that Boll Weavil came up with the brilliant idea of creating definitions for the words thrown up by the Word Verification codes - a game that many of you are still playing.

To date, those comments total more than 5000 with hits on the blog currently in excess of 142,000.

At various times I've threatened to stop blogging (most recently the other week!) and every time you've managed to egg me on by playing equally on my ego and my easily affected sense of guilt!

On an earlier occasion - in response to anguished pleas from readers (my hyperbole) - I compromised by changing the rate of posting from every day to every other day.

Now I am, once again, having to rethink the future of the blog in order to put more of my energies into attempting to earn a living and focus on what an old actor friend of mine used to refer to as "garnering a few baubles"!

So, whilst it would be a shame to pull the plug on the dear old blog, it's no longer practical - at the moment - to maintain the same regularity of posting. Here, then, is the (sort of) deal...

I'll do my best to blog (at least) once a week and, maybe, offer some intermediary entertainment by selecting and linking to some of the my favourite blogs from the past three years. After all, with 1001 of them in the archive there's bound to be some of them that a few of you won't have read the first time around.

There are also, remember, my other blogs to explore: Window Gazing, a collection of more than 280 photographs of windows from around the world; Ex Libris, a digest of pieces about books and authors; Likely Stories, an anthology of Terrible Tales and Freaky Fables; and, as many of you know, I also host button's blog: a rabbit's ramblings for a good (if somewhat temperamental) friend. And, in addition to all of those (representing over 400 additional posts!) there's my pseudo-website, The Works, which carries whatever constitutes my 'news' and has its own archive of features and photographs.

Hopefully, there will come a time when Normal Service Will Be Resumed, meanwhile, let's not desert one another and - as I've said on several previous occasions - very many thanks to all of you for helping to make the Sibley blog what it is --- whatever that is!

Saturday 6 June 2009


I've recently become aware of a new franchise elbowing its way into the nursery...

According to the Peter Rabbit ™ Naturally Better blurb - sorry, charter - Stephanie Barton, MD of publisher, Frederick Warne ('and herself a mother of two') says:

For example, you can purchase: Kitchen towels and facial tissues, made from recycled paper pulp with biodegradable packaging.

And you can stock your kitchen larder with: A range of organic food for the whole family to enjoy. All of the products are based around organic fruit, vegetables and grains, do not contain added sugar or salt and are free from hydrogenated fats and artificial additives.

Not only that, but when it comes to books (which is, after all, what we associate Beatrix Potter most closely with) you can buy a new range of Peter Rabbit ™ Naturally Better titles...

However, when it comes to the artwork, I have just one question...

...Naturally Better???

Thursday 4 June 2009


The age of miracles is not dead!

Only last week, Clare Allen from Rhondda, South Wales, took the lid off the family jar of Marmite, in order to put some on her son's toast, when she noticed the face of Jesus Christ in the lid!

Mrs Allen's husband Gareth, 37, said he could not believe his eyes when he saw it. "When I first looked at it," he told reporters, "I wasn't sure, but when I moved it away from me it started coming out. I thought yeah, she's right - that's the image of Jesus."

Mrs Allen said her 14-year-old son Jamie had also remarked on the likeness. She told the South Wales Echo: "Straight away Jamie said 'that looks like God', and my other boys (Robbie, four, and Tomas, 11) even said they could see a face. People might think I'm nuts, but I like to think it's Jesus looking out for us. We've had a tough couple of months; my mum's been really ill and it's comforting to think that if he is there, he's watching over us."

Mrs Allen went on, "I often see Jesus’ face in a lot of things I do. And there are a few times I can think of when I’ve seen the face of Jesus in a window. But he’s never appeared in my food before."

Hmmmm... (or, in this case, more appropriately, Mmmmm...)

And what's happened to the miraculous Marmite?

"The kids are still eating it," said Mr Allen, "but we kept the lid."

That, of course, is how all the best relics get a start in life - or after life - or whatever...

Scarcely, you might argue, on a par with the Turin Shroud, but apparently it's not just through Marmite jars (or, at least, their lids) that the Almighty is making his divine presence felt in our modern world.

Oh, no!

Roger & Sheila have alerted me to the fact that there are many powerful manifestations taking place - often in seeming mundane setting of the domestic kitchen...

In 1994, for example, a Florida woman, Diane Duyser, made herself a toasted cheese sandwich which turned out to be embellished with an image of the Virgin Mary...

The fact that it has never gone mouldy - despite being kept in a plastic box - has been credited as proof of its unquestioned holiness and the fact that, a decade after being grilled, Ms Duyser sold her blessed sandwich to a casino for $28,000 is proof that, as P T Barnum said, "There's a sucker born every minute." Or, at least, once every ten years!

Prompted by the Duyser holy-toastie - or, maybe, inspired by the better-known miracle of the loaves and fishes - Ontario man, Fred Whan, revealed that he's got a fishstick in his freezer that, when it was being cooked (well, actually, over-cooked) in 2003, got another of those Jesus portraits seared on to it's underside...

One can only marvel that such revelations can still occur in an age of reason and non-stick pans.

Then there's the church in Bangalore where JC turned up on a chapati which, fortunately, was saved before it got totally immersed in potato and pea sagu.

Then there's the case of Italian bar manager, Matteo Brandi, who, two years ago, found Jesus' face on an oyster shell...

Highlighting - by way of a change - a non-food manifestation, there was a wooden fence in a caravan park in Port Germein, Australia, where a tree and a street light provide a nightly apparition of Mr Nazareth that, in 2000, was drawing crowds of wondering site-seers...

And returning to the Mother of Jesus, she put in an unscheduled appearance in a Chicago underpass in the form of a curious stain on the wall that soon became the site of a shrine. Whilst the devout saw the BVM, the local authorities put the appearance down to a "build-up of salt..."

Oh, ye, of little faith!

Visit the BBC News website to read more about the Marmite Master and other revelations including the story of non-practising Hindu, Sewdutt Maunick, who saw the image of Jesus on a hawthorn tree as he relaxed in his garden in Burgess Hill, Sussex.

Martin Luther, where art thou when we need you most?


New wonders have come to life (via that 'gospel' authority, The Daily Mail): in May 2008, a drinker spotted the face of Jesus in the foil of a bottle of larger...

...though whether the drinker is now on the wagon is not disclosed.

Here he is again, this time inside a Kit Kat bar...

On a dirty shower curtain (I immediately went and checked my own)...

And finally, for now, an alleged appearance on a pavement last month in Greensboro, North Carolina. Personally, my faith fails me here and I can't help wondering if the Mail published a photo of the wrong pavement...

Or maybe it's just upside down... Who knows? Anyway, if you can see it you may be the very prophet this age of uncertainties is waiting for.

Wednesday 3 June 2009


to Sibley-blog-regular

I must say it is very comforting to know that there's someone older than me - if only by a few weeks! - and I'm sure everyone hopes that the Duchess will reward your loyal devotion by laying on a super-duper afternoon tea (with cucumber sandwiches and croquet) on the lawn of her beautiful Berkshire estate.

You may even get a glimpse of Her Grace's new gardener, the dashing young Mellors (whose grandfather was, I believe, a gamekeeper to another lady of title), hoeing the herbaceous borders...

If you do, then be most careful not to let on to the Duchess or she'll be required to feign one of her fainting fits. (Although, from what James the butler tells me, Mellors can revive her a lot quicker than the usually application of sal volatile.)

Enough of gossip! Have a lovely day, Gill, and...

Very Many Happy Returns!

Incidentally, for Gill and any other crossword fiends, there's a diverting site Anagram Genius with an archive of thousands of entertaining anagrams.

Among the literary offerings, for example, Oliver Mellors, the gamekeeper is rearranged as Premise: "Hello!" Make love. Regret.

Tuesday 2 June 2009


When I was a young, struggling writer, I eked out my scanty income by writing obituaries for The Times. These were not tributes to people who had died, but to people who were going to die - at some point in the future.

All newspapers keep obituaries of notable people on file against the day when they are required and I cornered the market in preparing obits on a number of illustrators, cartoonists and animators. What was especially good about the arrangement was that they paid for the pieces up-front, then and there - you didn't have to wait until the person died to collect your fee!

Every now and then one of these early obituaries still surface. For example, when Charles (Peanuts) Schulz died, a few years ago, I was pleased to see, that the Times obituary was mine, even though the paper's policy of anonymity for its obit-writers meant that only I (and the Times obits editor) was aware of the fact.

Nowadays, as an aging, struggling writer, I find that I am, once again, writing obituaries, though, sadly, these tend to be tributes to personal friends. Happily, at least, they usually now appear in the pages of newspapers where authorship is credited.

The latest of these appeared in last Saturday's edition of The Independent and was a tribute to the actor Peter Dennis who became a friend thirty years ago when we both attended an event at the London Zoo where a sculpture was unveiled commemorating the sometime presence on the Zoo's famous Mappin terrace of a bear called Winnie who very kindly loaned her name to another bear (of Very Little Brain) called Winnie-the-Pooh - or Pooh for short.

I was there by virtue of the fact that I was something of a Milne/Pooh expert (Joan Bakewell once referred to me on a TV programme as *shudder* a "Poohologist") and Peter was there because he had made a name for himself with a one-man show based on the Pooh stories called Bother!

The unveiling was performed by the incredibly shy Christopher Milne (the original - poor chap! - 'Christopher Robin') and Peter read a chapter from one of Christopher's father's books. At lunch afterwards, Peter and I found ourselves seated on either side of Mr Milne and it was to be the beginning of a long friendship.

As an actor, Peter played in just about everything from Shakespeare to panto as well as many modern dramas. J B Priestly, after seeing him as Stanton in his play Dangerous Corner, wrote to say he had given the finest ever performance in the role, and he became well known for his TV roles such as the family butler, Sutton, in Hadleigh, the popular series, starring Gerald Harper.

However, it was his readings of the Pooh stories that endeared him to audiences at the Edinburgh Festival, at private soirées in the Palace of Westminster and before vast audiences at the Hollywood Bowl.

What is fascinating about Peter's success is that it came about almost accidentally. It was in 1969 that a friend took the then 36-year-old actor to an exhibition of the work of Milne’s illustrator, E H Shepard, at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and, somewhat belatedly in life, he was introduced to Christopher Robin and his fiends in the 100 Aker Wood.

Click image to enlarge

Having lived what he described as a “joyless childhood” without the companionship of books, Peter had never encountered the Milne classics but, when he did, it was love at first reading and the seed was sown for what would become a career bringing the stories and verses alive for others.

As I note in my obituary...

Many actors have recorded Milne’s stories [among them Alan Bennett, Willie Rushton, Lionel Jeffries, James Stewart, Robert Shaw and Carol Channing] but none have captured the author’s sharply defined characters and sly, ironic wit as successfully as Dennis. His vocal characterisations were a delight: the ponderous thought processes of Pooh; the jumpily anxious conversation of Piglet (peppered with grunts and snorts); the lugubrious melancholy of Eeyore; the clipped, efficient, tones of Rabbit and the pompous grandiloquence of Owl. Equally successful was his matter-of-fact delivery, devoid of both the cloying sentiment often associated with the books and the strident brashness that came with their Disneyfication.

Peter made an acclaimed series of broadcasts and then recordings of all the Pooh stories and Christopher Robin verses and, during the last months of his life - while heroically fighting cancer - he recorded readings of Christopher Milne's remarkable autobiographical volumes, The Enchanted Places and The Path Through the Trees.

Peter was a very particular talent and a very particular friend and I already miss his irrepressible Tigger-like exuberance for life.

You can read the full obituary here.

And you can find out more about Peter (and listen to extracts from his recordings) here and (at the bottom of the page) here.

Images: Photo by David Weeks; Map of Pooh's World by E H Shepard