Monday 28 September 2009


It can't be possible! Tell me it isn't! Wallace and Gromit are celebrating their 20th birthday?

Well, time marches on and it is an inescapable fact that Wallace and Gromit have been delighting film and television audiences for two decades.

This event is being celebrated with a multi-media exhibition at The Illustration Cupboard (opening tomorrow and running until 24 October) devoted to Wallace and Gromit's creator Nick Park and his original Wallace and Gromit artwork as well as a selection of the original Plasticine props used in the making of their films.

Also on show - and for sale - are several new pieces of colour artwork produced especially for this exhibition...

Pluto's Republic! Great gag! And note the penguin on the book spine.

And a limited edition anniversary full-colour silk screen print, signed and numbered by Nick showing the intrepid duo with their famous motorbike and sidecar...

The gallery is also offering signed first edition copies of the new book published by Egmont entitled The Art of Wallace and Gromit...

And it here that I come - tangentially - into the story.

It only feels like yesterday - certainly not almost twenty years ago - that I read in my morning paper that a young Bristol animator had received Oscar nominations for two films.

At the time I was one of the presenters of the BBC Radio 4 arts programme, Kaleidoscope, and I immediately suggested we ought to interview this British film phenomenon! The idea fell on deaf editorial ears, probably because the films were only animated movies: Creature Comforts and the first Wallace & Gromit adventure, A Grand Day Out.

A couple of months later, however, when Creature Comforts won the Oscar for animated short subject, the Beeb realised it had missed a scoop and I was dispatched, post-haste, to the Bristol studio of Aardman Animation to interview the shy, modest Mr Park...

Within a few months I was working with Nick on the script for what would be the next Wallace & Gromit caper, The Wrong Trousers. Our collaboration was huge fun and I have memories of crazy sessions in which we concocted elements for the storyboard what would never finally be seen on screen.

One such episode was the film's planned finale in which Wallace's house was surrounded by police, following the theft of the gem from the museum, so that they had to make their getaway in the moon rocket from A Grand Day Out - only to crash land on a ice floe in the Antarctic in the midst of vast flock of penguins!

My abiding memory of those scripting sessions is of Nick sitting with a sketchbook, filling it from margin to margin with wonderfully inventive doodlings.

Our partnership, unfortunately, didn't result in a filmable screenplay (though some scenes in the eventual film - such as the train chase ending with the Penguin in the milk bottle - were well on the way to their final form) and so we amicably parted company and the project was, if you'll pardon the pun, temporarily parked.

Nick later returned to the story with former Dr Who scriptwriter, Bob Baker, who has continued as his collaborator on the subsequent Wallace & Gromit films from The Wrong Trousers (1993), via A Close Shave (1995) and the feature length Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) to last year's A Matter of Loaf and Death.

I remained on great personal terms with Nick and Aardman and produced two books based on the storyboard for The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave, as well as collaborating with Aardman's founder Peter Lord (creator of their first Plasticine superstar, Morph), on Cracking Animation, a book about the art and craft of stop-frame model animation.

I also got to tell the behind-the-scenes story of the making of Aardman's first feature-length film in Chicken Run: Hatching the Movie.

Then, a few months back, I was invited to write an introduction to the aforementioned new book celebrating the 20 years of the Wallace & Gromit double-act.

Now available from all good literary emporia (and signed from The Illustration Cupboard), The Art of Wallace and Gromit is stuffed with amazing drawings from Nick's sketchbooks...

Along with inspirational and storyboard art and pictures from film's storyboards...

There's also an opportunity to get a closer peep at the various cracking contraptions devised by Wallace and so often employed with disastrous results...

There are several surprises, such as discovering that Wallace started out life with a moustache and that Gromit began as an enormous dog with huge gnashers!

As well as tracing how the characters have developed over the years, the book catalogues all the friends and foes that they have acquired along the way including Penguin (aka Feathers McGraw), Wendolene Ramsbottom, Shaun the Sheep and Preston the Cybodog, Lady Tottington, Piella Bakewell and Fluffles.

Readers get a chance to scrutinise the amazing detail that goes into the creation of any Wallace and Gromit film but which often passes too quickly to be taken in on first viewing - like the paintings hung on the walls of Tottington Hall in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, one of which appears to be a portrait of Lady Campanula painted by Picasso...

It is also a testimony to the huge affection which we feel for these characters. As I note in my introduction:
Of course, we laugh at the heroic (or, perhaps, I should say, 'dogged') dedication, unsinkable optimism and utter seriousness with which Wallace and Gromit approach their various outlandish endeavours and confront the perils that, inevitably, follow.

But we also admire the indestructible nature of their relationship and their knack for co-existing in comparative peace and harmony, tolerating each other's faults and foibles with a loyalty and patience that are, surely, the hallmarks of true affection.

And since they clearly love one another - albeit in their reserved, British way - it's hardly surprising that we love them...

Check out the Official, Wallace & Gromit Website; and visit The Illustration Cupboard blogspot

The Illustration Cupboard is at 22 Bury St, London, SW1Y 6AL.
Gallery Hours:
Monday to Friday: 10am to 6pm; Saturday: 12pm to 5pm
Closed Sunday and Bank Holidays

For map click here

All images © Aardman Animations

Friday 25 September 2009


Walking down Wimpole Street in London the other week, I noticed - on the wall of the house at No 6 - a plaque to surgeon, Sir Frederick Treves.

Though the plaque does not mention the specific fact, this is the physician who famously took care of Joseph Merrick, the severely deformed individual whose life story was told in David Lynch's 1980 film, The Elephant Man, starring John Hurt as Merrick and Anthony Hopkins as Treves.

As a reminder of this wonderful movie, here's the original trailer...

And the heart-rending scene in which Joseph Merrick displays the human soul within the seeming monster by reciting the 23rd Psalm...

Wednesday 23 September 2009


Just in case (however unlikely) you happen to have a yen to meet this blogger - that's blogger - face-to-face, he is appearing in the flesh (but mercifully fully clothed) tomorrow. Here are the dire details:

in the Library at The Naval and Military Club, 4 St James's Square, London, SW1, on Thursday 24 September 2009 at 7:00 pm

I will be interviewed by JAMES NORRIS about my associations with (among others) J R R Tolkien, C S Lewis, Mervyn Peake, A A Milne, Lewis Carroll, Roald Dahl and Walt Disney.

Tickets cost £15, to include a glass of wine (well, there has to be something good about the event), and can be booked from or by phoning 0207 564 2688.

Tuesday 22 September 2009


I once wrote a book entitled Shadowlands and I've always been fascinated by the world of shadows and those who can use them to conjure magical images for our amusement and entertainment - the ancient art of what is known as shadowgraphy, demonstrated here by the great Arturo Brachetti...

Similarly appealing are those exquisite early animated shadow puppet films by the brilliant Lotte Reiniger...

In the light - or shadow - of the above I'd also like to share yet another souvenir of our visit to the Venice Biennale in July: a wonderful installation of moving images and shifting shadows by the German artist, Hans-Peter Feldmann.

Entitled Schattenspiel (Shadowplay) it comprised a line of tables in a darkened room on which were arranged a series of small, revolving platforms piled with toys, models and miscellaneous objects including figures of Charlie Chaplin, Betty Boop, Jerry Mouse and Woody the Cowboy, skeletons, gnomes, dinosaurs, Eiffel Towers, kitchen implements and guns.

As they rotated, the objects on these platforms were illuminated by bright lights that cast beguilingly mysterious silhouettes on the bare walls where they danced in a constantly shifting, overlapping, interweaving dance of light and shadow...

Images: Brian Sibley and David Weeks © 2009; Photo unloaded by flickr.

Saturday 19 September 2009


Full Moon


Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth,
And ever changing, like a Joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?

- Percy Bysshe Shelley

Blu Moon
These two moons - one rising full, the other, a few days later about to set - were phgotographed in the village of Emporios on the Greek island of Kalymnos.

The word for moon in classical Greek was selene, named after the Titan goddess of the moon and probably derived, originally, from the word selas, meaning 'brightness'.

In modern Greek, the word for moon is fengari, 'the thing that gleams' as immortalised in Harry Belafonte's recording of George Petsilas' song, Fengari Moo (My Moon).

Images: Brian Sibley © 2009 unloaded by flickr.

Tuesday 15 September 2009


Give a magician enough rope they say and he'll cut it up and restore it! Give an artist enough rope and he fills a room with it - at least Tomas Saraceno does...

Our number one favourite exhibit at the 53rd International Art Exhibition in Venice was Saraceno's 'Galaxies Forming along Filaments, like Droplets along the strands of a Spider's Web', an entire room woven full of spider-webbed constellations made of elastic ropes.


Visitors wandered amongst the strands, climbing over and through, ducking under and to a man, woman and child - wondering at the geometric perfection and the the complexity of construction.



Personally, I was intrigued not only by how Mr Saraceno managed to string it all up, but also by the challenges posed by the issue of how such a work is stored when it's not on show...

I kept thinking, "What do you do with it all when you take it down?"

In fact, I had sudden painful memories of trying to untangle our friend Sophie's string of 50 Christmas tree lights a few years ago: a process that took several hours and tried one's patience (and one's seasonal spirit) to near breaking point!

Anyway, if you happen to find yourself in Venice, you've still got best part of three months to check out this and the rest of the Binennale.

And if you're not an art-fancier, then there are still plenty of other things to look at and enjoy in the Giandini della Biennale: for example...



Images: Brian Sibley and David Weeks © 2009 unloaded by flickr.

Sunday 13 September 2009


Whenever we visit Kalymnos we take various items for ex-pat friends who can't survive in a foreign land without such necessaries as Cheddar cheese, Bovril and Galaxy chocolate.

I suppose it's different when you live overseas (as opposed to just visiting) and I often speculate on how I would get by on a long-term sojourn in one of the countries where I've repeatedly stayed for short periods - America, New Zealand, Italy or Greece.

For example, I admit to missing marmalade and when, one week into our stay (and just as I was suffering marmalade-withdrawal symptoms), our friend Elaine from Edinburgh came to stay in Emporios, she brought me an emergency supply of St Dalfour's exceedingly yummy Orange and Ginger marmalade! Though there is, of course, something frightfully eccentric (and utterly British) about a French-made English preserve being purchased in Scotland and exported to Greece!

Curiously (not knowing that marmalade rescue was on its way), I'd just managed to pick of a jar of St Dalfour's Raspberry and Pomegranate jam - exclusively made in France for Greeks, for whom the Pomegranate is pretty much a national fruit!

Greek Jam
For me, one of the joys of foreign travel is being able to enjoy those things that you can't get at home: the Greek version of Walls, for example, offer a wide range of ice creams that we never get to taste and I discovered that Kellogg's All-Bran in Greece is - as you can see below - quite different from the dessicated hardboard that we get in the UK...

All-Bran Golden Bakes

And it's not just interestingly shaped...

All-Bran (but not as we know it, Jim)
It is also tantalizingly flavoured with cinnamon and nutmeg!

In a kind of reversal of the ex-pat's desire to still enjoy abroad their much-missed pleasures from the Old Country, I actually contemplated bringing home a box or two of All-Bran Golden Bakes.

But then I realised that it would be like that bottle of ouzo that one returns with but which never tastes quite the same in Surbiton or Slough as it did when sitting in the sun in a Greek taverna by the sea...

Thursday 10 September 2009


We say it often enough whenever coincidence strikes and we meet unexpected people in unlikely places: "Well, well, what a small world!"

Over the last couple of months I've had several uncanny experiences of this kind.

On 19 July, halfway across the pontoon bridge that - for one day only - spans the Canale della Giudecca as part of the Festa del Redentore, I am accosted by Robert and Kerry, a couple of Australian yachts-people whose boat has dropped anchor a couple of times in Emporios harbour on the Greek island of Kalymnos when we have been holidaying there.

Ponte de Redentore

From a remote corner of one small island to a singular, transient spot on another small island... What are the chances?

Then, a month later, I'm sitting in the bar at Artistico in the said Kalymnian village of Emporios and my voice is recognised by another visitor (on a day trip from neighbouring Telendos) who turns out to be actress Cathy Bass whom, fourteen years ago in 1995, I interviewed when she was appearing in an open-air, walk-about production of The Hound of the Baskervilles and I was presenting Radio 4's arts magazine, Kaleidoscope.

Here's Cathy (right) as the formidable and rather spooky Mrs Barrymore, with Catriona Martin as Symonds the maid, in a more recent production at Peel Castle on the Isle of Man...

I can, happily, report that Cathy doesn't look anywhere near as scary when she's on holiday!

Then, the following week, just as I'm emerging from the sea and on my way to shower and dress before being collected for a day out with some friends on the island, a guy comes up to me and said, "Hello, I'm Pooh!"

"Who?" you ask. Pooh!

I'll explain: in my final year at school, I wrote, directed and appeared in a vaguely satirical adaptation of A A Milne's 'Winnie-the-Pooh' stories. Entitled The Lost Childhood, this conceit - inspired by Jonathan Miller's 1966 revisionist TV version of Alice in Wonderland - had the toy animals of Christopher Robin's nursery translated into eccentric human characters with myself (left) in the role of Eeyore.

Pooh had been played by Brian Denton (he's the one in the middle with the 'P' on his jumper) with fellow cast members, David Boulton (Rabbit), Ian Carter (as a rather mature Christopher Robin) and, sitting, Robert Hendry as Piglet.

Brian had read my blog and knew that I visited Emporios and, since he was staying at another resort on the island, had come to see whether I was currently in residence. And so there was Pooh (sans jumper) face to face with a dripping wet Eeyore...
It was the first time we had met in 43 years!

Obviously I must have retained enough of my lugubrious Eeyore expression for him to recognise his fellow thesp over four decades later.

Now, what exercises my mind is the fact that if Brian had arrived just fifteen minutes later we would missed one another.

In fact, I often wonder whether these so-called 'small world' encounters might not potentially happen very much more often but for those quirks of timing that cause us to miss possible connections because we are simply too early or too late or change our plans or, as the poet, Robert Frost put it, take the road less - or, perhaps, more travelled...

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Images: Redentore bridge by Brian Sibley; scene from The Hound of the Baskervilles by John Phipp, IOM Photographic Society; scene from The Lost Childhood, unknown photographer!

Monday 7 September 2009


In a couple of days we'll be leaving Kalymnos and heading back home. Once again we will have to face the multiple anxieties of air-travel...

For, example, there is something intrinsically pathetic about the sight of a couple of abandoned suitcases...

But, depending on the context, it can be totally and utterly TRAGIC!

That was Marco Polo Airport in Venice. I'm sure things like that never go on in Greece.............

Image: David Weeks, 2009

Friday 4 September 2009


Someone recently sent me this photo from the colourful past of the wonderful Mr Stephen Fry...

Hmmm... Yes, well, it probably seemed a lot funnier at the time.

But it reminded me of seeing a performance by the equally droll Mr Eddie Izzard (left), shortly after he emerged from the cross-dressing closet.

As he walked on stage the atmosphere in the theater was electric. It was as if the entire audience was asking itself "How am I supposed to react?" This was understandable. After all, Izzard was no conventional drag artiste, this was very, very obviously a man dressed in perhaps not the most alluring choice of female garb and a tad too much make-up. The pressure of several hundred people trying not to laugh out loud was palpable.

Then Izzard brilliantly released the pent-up anxiety by converting it to expressible hilarity.

"I know what you're all thinking!" he began and then paused allowing us to think about what he thought we were thinking! There was the odd snigger and a couple of suppressed titters.

Then he went on: "You're thinking, 'That's extraordinary! There's a guy standing on stage --- with a cordless microphone!'"

The audience erupted with laughter and applause and, from then on, what he was wearing became totally an irrelevant.

There's probably a lesson there for all of us - though I'm not entirely sure what it is!