Sunday 31 January 2010


Leaving the Royal Academy the other month, I noticed the foundation stone commemorating the creation of the Annenberg Courtyard - or, I should say, CO(U)RTYARD!


Take a closer look at the beginning of the second line...

Now, I'm sure the stone mason said that he absolutely meant to put the 'U' inside the 'O', but I don't believe it! And, what's more, adding that funny 'T' in 'WALTER' proves nothing more than that he spotted the mistake before got to line five!

Top image uploaded via flickr.

Wednesday 27 January 2010


Today is Lewis Carroll's 178th birthday!

What better way to celebrate the creator of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-glass and What Alice Found There, than to toast his memory with a nice cup of tea?

And how better to enjoy that tea than out of one of the best Christmas presents of last year - thank you, Sheila and Roger! - a mug with a vanishing Cheshire Cat!

Now you see it...

Now you don't!

Apart, of course, from that lingering grin!

Time for a top-up...?

"Take some more tea," the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
"I've had nothing yet," Alice replied in an offended tone, "so I can't take more."
"You mean you can't take less," said the Hatter: "it's very easy to take more than nothing."
"Nobody asked your opinion," said Alice.
"I want a clean cup," interrupted the Hatter: "let's all move one place on."

(Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)

Tuesday 26 January 2010


In the second part of David Puttnam's Century of Cinema, broadcast on BBC Radio 2 tonight, DP and I look at the filmmakers.

The series originally aired in 1999 to celebrate the first 100 years of cinema and in this episode we talked to the people who make the movies: writers, directors, composers and producers.

Among those featured in the programme are writer/director Woody Allen, writer Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill), producer Charles Gordon (Die Hard, Waterworld), directors Stephen Spielberg, Fred Zinnerman (From Here to Eternity, A Man for All Seasons) and Robert Wise (The Sound of Music, The Day the Earth Stood Still) and, from archive, Alfred Hitchcock and Frank Capra.

You can hear David Puttnam's Century of Cinema - 'Reel 2: Right Directions' - on BBC Radio 2 at 10:30, and, if you miss the transmission this evening, it can be heard again for seven days via the BBC iPlayer.

And, until the transmission of tonight's episode, you've still a few hours left to catch 'Reel 1: Star Billing'.

Sunday 24 January 2010


In my last post, I showed the work of a NHS loo-tiler in the school of Dutch artist, Pieter Mondrian whose iconic grid paintings were part of an 'art-ism' that he termed Neo-Plasticism. If you've ever wondered what Mondrian was getting at with his abstract compositions, here's how he described his artistic aims in a letter from 1917:

I believe it is possible that, through horizontal and vertical lines constructed with awareness, but not with calculation, led by high intuition, and brought to harmony and rhythm, these basic forms of beauty, supplemented if necessary by other direct lines or curves, can become a work of art, as strong as it is true...

As with all great art, Mondrian's paintings have inspired a variety of pastiches and parodies of which the best is unquestionably Mick Haggerty's 1976 composition, Mickey Mondrian...

You can explore the amazing and diverting graphic worlds of Mick Haggerty here

Friday 22 January 2010



Just discovered:
indisputable evidence of Mondrian's bog-standard day-job

Image: Art installation in Gent's Lavatory, St Thomas' Hospital, Westminster, London. Photo courtesy of David Weeks.

Tuesday 19 January 2010


It's not often one of my old programmes gets hauled out for repeat let alone gets an overhaul in the process, but a six-part series - David Puttnam's Century of Cinema, which Lord David and I co-presented in the closing days of 1999 - is about to begin a repeat airing on BBC Radio 2, starting tonight at 10:30 pm...

Click to enlarge

Produced by my good friend (and brilliant producer) Malcolm Prince, the programmes have been immodestly described as a landmark series and I think (also immodestly!) that that is what it was, with interviews and contributions from many of the most powerful and influential people in the movie industry, some of the most astute critics and commentators in the business as well as a pantheon of film gods and goddesses, among them silent movie star Anita Paige, Richard Attenborough, Margaret O'Brien, Angela Lansbury, Michael Caine, Julie Andrews, Robert Redford and, in the last interview before his death, Dirk Bogarde.

The sixth episode in the series will be a new programme in which David Puttnam and I will consider the changes and developments that have happened in cinema over the last decade.

The first part focuses on stars and star-power and, if you miss the transmission this evening, it can be heard again for seven days via the BBC iPlayer.

Friday 15 January 2010


You probably missed me (briefly) wittering-on yesterday on BBC's Today programme: I was hauled in, once again, as 'an expert' - this time to comment on the work of the writer and artist, Mervyn Peake, author of the 'Gormenghast' novels: Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone...

As a former Chair of the Mervyn Peake Society and the person responsible for the Sony-Award-winning BBC Radio dramatisations of Titus Groan and Gormenghast (starring Sting as the villainous Steerpike) my opinion was sought - along with that of Peake's eldest son, Sebastian - on the recent discovery in the family attic of a fourth and concluding volume written by Peake's widow, the late Maeve Gilmore.

The opportunity to read this, as yet, unpublished manuscript was, for me, a most poignant experience, since 35 years ago, Maeve had shown me an early draft for the book and discussed its development with me. Now, at last, I was able to read the finished work...

Mervyn had begun a fourth book, Titus Awakes, shortly before he succumbed to the ravages of Parkinson's Disease, an illness that finally robbed him of his ability to write and draw and robbed the world of one of the most original creative talents of the Twentieth Century. Shortly after his death, Maeve began to develop a continuation of Titus' history from the fragments which Mervyn had left behind.

Now that final chapter in the Gormenghast saga has come to light and within its pages the conclusion to Titus' wanderings. Titus Awakes brings the history of the 77th Earl of Groan to an unexpected but totally satisfying denouement as the fictional character meets his creator and finds a resolution to his quest and, indeed, his being...

You can read the press accounts of Sebastian's discovery of the manuscript and an account of it's writing and content (along with snippets of my Today wittering) in the Guardian and the Telegraph.

Titus Awakes will, hopefully, be published in Peake's centenary year, 2011.

Tuesday 12 January 2010


It was Sibley blog-regular, Gill, who introduced me to the wonders of predictive texting (thank you, Gill!), but there are still things about it that I just don't get.

For example, the other day I was trying to text a friend wishing his mother well in facing an operation; but, for some reason, every time I typed the word mum it offered me nun with 'mum' only being available as an option.

I'd always supposed that where there were several options available, the word that predictive texting would offer you first would be the most common, or frequently used, of the various possibilities.

Now, the only reason I can think of for nun being more frequently employed than mum would be if Sisters in silent orders are getting round the non-speaking rule by texting one another on their 'cell phones'!

Even so, surely, they must have the occasional need to refer to their relevant Mum Superior...

Image: Photographer unknown. If you know, let me know so I can give credit where credit is unquestionably due.

Friday 8 January 2010


I love Venice sweet shops!

This visit we stumbled across a new, and very superior, cioccolateria, in the San Polo sestiere of the city. There was a lot of polished copper and delicious aromas but, with each chocolate costing almost €2 apiece, relatively little chance of over-indulging!

Cioccolateria I


Cioccolateria II
Not quite so posh, but perhaps more honest and certainly irresistible to any passer-by with an even faintly sweet-tooth, are the everyday sweet shops that are in evidence all over Venice.

Now, these really are sweet shops!

Instead of the serried rows of chocolates, there is a pleasing jumble of bowls filled to overflowing with brightly-coloured or brilliantly-wrapped sweets of all kinds and sorts.

These are the kind of establishments that you imagine from memories of childhood fiction. Of course, outside of picture book illustrations and fanciful jigsaw paintings, I doubt if such shops ever existed in Britain, but they most certainly ought to have done, because they are exactly the kind of places where one imagines William Brown, Billy Bunter and Jennings and Derbyshire would have gone to stock-up on essential sweet supplies.

They are positively Dickensian in their joyful appearance and riotously opulent excessiveness and could easily have provided the inspiration for the confectionery business overseen by Mr Willy Wonka or, more recently, for Honeydukes sweetshop in J K Rowling's Hogsmeade village.

Sweetshop I

Sweetshop III

Sweetshop II
Without a doubt, we would all be a good deal happier (though undeniably fatter) if we all had a branch at the end of our street!

Wednesday 6 January 2010


Today is the Feast of Epiphany, from the Greek word ἐπιφάνεια, meaning "appearance" or "manifestation".

The observance of Epiphany had its origins in the Eastern Christian Churches, and was a general celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ but, in particular, marked the visit to Bethlehem of the Magi or "Wise Men" whom we later transmogrified into the Three Kings of the ever-popular carol and a million Christmas card designs.

Epiphany Poem

The red king
Came to a great water. He said,
Here the journey ends.
No keel or skipper on this shore.

The yellow king
Halted under a hill. He said,
Turn the camels round.
Beyond, ice summits only.

The black king
Knocked on a city gate. He said,
All roads stop here.
These are gravestones, no inn.

The three kings
Met under a dry star.
There, at midnight,
The star began its singing.

The three kings
Suffered salt, snow, skulls.
They suffered the silence
Before the first word.

- George Mackay Brown Epiphany Poem

And don't forget, today's the day - if you haven't already done it - when you really must take down those Christmas Trees!


You'll find more windows (this one belongs to Il Papiro in Calle del Piovan, San Marco, Venice) on my blog, Window Gazing

Images: Magi by Richard Hook from the Look & Learn Picture Gallery; Christmas window by Brian Sibley © 2009

Tuesday 5 January 2010


Henry James advised the visitor to Venice: "When you have called for the bill to go, pay it and remain, and you will find on the morrow that you are deeply attached to Venice."

A nice idea, but, alas, not very practical!

So, farewells - sad and fond - have to be taken...

Farewell Venezia

But in leaving, it's impossible not to share the feelings of Ezra Pound...

Ne'er felt I parting from a woman loved
As feel I now my going forth from thee,
Yea, all thy waters cry out 'Stay with me!'
And laugh reflected flames up luringly

Image: Brian Sibley, © 2009

Friday 1 January 2010


Well, it's here and I'm hoping your NEW YEAR will have at least a bit of FIZZ! BANG! and SPARKLE! to it...