Sunday 31 October 2010


Come in!

Jack Prelutsky

There's a house upon the hilltop
We will not go inside
For that is where the witches live,
Where ghosts and goblins hide.

Tonight they have their party,
All the lights are burning bright,
But oh we will not go inside
The haunted house tonight.

The demons there are whirling
And the spirits swirl about.
They sing their songs to Halloween.
"Come join the fun," they shout.

But we do not want to go there
So we run with all our might
And oh we will not go inside
The haunted house tonight.

The Halloween Tree

Hoping your
is truly

Images: Photo by Brian Sibley © 2010; Illustration from Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree © Joe Mugnaini

Thursday 28 October 2010


Having recently posted some of my photographs of Sydney Opera House, I thought I'd share a few of my studies of Sydney's other landmark – the Sydney Harbour Bridge...

Bridge (3)
Click on images to view at larger sizes

The bridge was designed and built by British companies from Middlesborough and Darlington and was opened in 1932. It is the world's widest long-span bridge, the tallest steel arch bridge, measuring 440 feet from top to water level, and the fifth-longest spanning-arch bridge in the world. It is locally nicknamed 'The Coat Hanger'!

I attempted to photograph the bridge from various angles and in various lights in order to try and capture both its huge size and its graceful elegance...

Span (4)

Span (2)

Span (5)

Reflected Bridge (3)


Span (1)

Bridge (6)

Bridge (5)
I photographed the Opera House from beneath the bridge...

SOH & Bridge (2)
And I photographed the bridge reflected in – and seen through – windows of the Opera House...

Reflected Bridge (2)

And here are the bridge and the Opera House as seen from the perspective of a giraffe in Sydney Zoo...

Giraffe (2)

You can find more of my Oz-shots in my flickr album, Sensational Sydney.

Sydney Harbour (1)

Images: © Brian Sibley 2001/2010

Monday 25 October 2010


My eight-part BBC Radio 2 documentary series, The Musical, comes to an end tonight when Ramin (Love Never Dies) Karimloo presents 'Back to the Future', a exploration of the current trend dominating the theatres of Broadway and the West End – the so-called 'Juke Box Musicals' epitomised by such productions as Jersey Boys, We Will Rock You and the global phenomenon based on the Abba song book, Mamma Mia!

The programme, and the series (superbly produced by long-time friend and BBC collaborator, Malcolm Prince) concludes with many of our guests from the past two months – Elaine Stritch, Liz Robertson, Cameron Mackintosh, Tim Rice, Patti Lupone, Ruthie Henshall, Richard Stilgoe, Elaine Paige, Paul Nicholas and others – reflecting on the current state of the musical and pondering its future...

Curtain up at 10:00 this evening and if you miss the show, you can hear it for the next seven days courtesy of the BBC's iPlayer.

Friday 22 October 2010


For the past few years, I've had the privilege of contributing to the DVD bonus disc 'extras' to the re-releases of several classic Disney animated features (see side-bar to this blog). The reason that I consider this to be a privilege is because I live in London and not New York or Los Angeles where, not too surprisingly, most of the Disney historians reside.

Whilst I understand that for some Americans this might seem perverse – a Brit commenting on the work of an iconic American institution – I hope that the fact that so much of the inspiration for the Disney film legacy has come from the literature of Europe in general and from Britain in particular (think Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, Treasure Island, Robin Hood, 101 Dalmatians, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Wind in the Willows, The Rescuers, Winnie-the-Pooh and The Sword in the Stone) justifies my having a valid perspective.

That said, my latest 'extras' outing is for the forthcoming DVD and Blu-ray release of a story inspired by a French fairy-tale, Beauty and the Beast.

The film was originally released in 1991 and story of the making of what is now regarded as one of the Disney classics is fascinating since – despite the popularity of The Little Mermaid – there was still a feeling amongst the management at Disney that the Golden Age of Disney animation was an epoch in the past and, whilst worth celebrating, was not likely to ever return.

As is chronicled in the DVD features – and in an excellent and lavishly-illustrated book by Charles Solomon, Tale as Old as Time: The Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast – the managerial short-term view of the studio's latest fairy-tale couldn't have been more wrong. Beauty and the Beast went on to become the first animated film to ever be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and, like its predecessor, Mermaid, featured a score by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman that was so utterly 'Broadway' that it resulted in the Disney company translating, transposing and transferring their cartoon musical to the stage, first in New York and then across the globe, so paving the way for further Disney theatrical ventures such as The Lion King and Mary Poppins.

And while you're waiting to get your hands on the book and the DVD, you can get a further perception on the film and its success from tonight's Radio 2 Arts Show with Claudia Winkleman that, around 11:15 pm, will feature an interview by me of Paige O'Hara (left) who, 19, years ago provided the speaking and singing voice for Belle – the beautiful half of the titular duo!

Miss O'Hara, who was cast, according to Co-Director, Gary Wise, because her voice had a unique tone with "a little bit of Judy Garland", has played some of the greatest musical roles Broadway could offer including Eva Peron in Evita, Nellie Forbush in South Pacific, Ado Annie in Oklahoma! and Ellie May in Show Boat and yet for millions of young girls who still dream – however politically incorrect it may be to do so – of being a Disney Princess, she is, and will always be, the beautiful heroine of this tale as old as time...

And here is the wonderful Angela Lansbury singing (as Mrs Potts) the film's title song...

Wednesday 20 October 2010


Passing the London Transport Museum shop in Covent Garden the other day, I discovered - somewhat to my surprise - that it is possible to purchase furniture upholstered in moquette fabric featuring the patterns used on London's buses and underground trains...

London Transport upholstery

The question is why one would want to sit on a sofa that made you feel you were still on the tube, but to each his own and I suppose the experience could be further enhanced with a few lager cans, a bag of half-eaten KFC, a not-quite-empty Macdonald's milkshake container and a scattering of day-old Metros.

Then invite a large crowd of tired, cross and sweaty strangers in for the evening and your sitting room could become a standing room only!


You'll find details of the LTM Furniture Collection here.

Monday 18 October 2010


Tonight, my Radio 2 documentary series, The Musical, reaches its penultimate episode with an episode entitled (from a number in 42nd Street) 'We're in the Money' in which Julia McKenzie (who's starred in a good few musicals in her time) lifts the lid on the branding and merchandising of the stage musical from Gilbert & Sullivan through the classics of Rodgers and Hammerstein to the shows composed or staged by those omnipresent, international brand-leaders Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh and Disney.

Setting the mood for the programme is a sharply satirical number – with more than a grain of truth to it – from Curtains, a musical written by the composers of Cabaret, John Kander and Fred Ebb. The song is called – 'It's a Business'...

The Musical is broadcast on BBC Radio 2 at 10:00 pm and can be heard for the next seven days via the BBC iPlayer.

Saturday 16 October 2010


Inspired by Tom McCarthy's Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel C (but following on with almost spooky synchronicity from our recent meme on Alphabetical book titles) are currently offering for sale a list of books with titles that are nothing more than a single initial letter of the alphabet.

There are more than you might suppose...

...and are very probably worth keeping in mind for tricksy memes and demonic pub quizzes – as indeed are a few others that ran to all of two or three letters...

Thursday 14 October 2010


Today is Winnie-the-Pooh's 84th birthday (the first book of stories about him by A A Milne was published on 14 October, 1926) so, it's time to greet the character described by Christopher Robin as 'The Best Bear in All the World' with that idiosyncratic greeting once penned by Owl...


Thirty-four years ago, today, the BBC broadcast my very first radio programme – a documentary celebrating Pooh's 50th birthday, entitled Three Cheers for Pooh! Ever since Pooh has kept on popping back into my life.

Why, only yesterday, just like Eeyore in Chapter Six of Winnie-the-Pooh ('In which Eeyore has a birthday and gets to presents') I received two surprises: one was a copy of the Norwegian translation of The Pooh Book of Quotations which I edited (in English) many years ago and which, for those who read contemporary Norse, looks like this...

The other was a Royal Mail First Day Cover of their most recent set of commemorative postage stamp featuring the Bear of Very Little Brain and his Friends as depicted by the official artist of the 100 Aker Wood, E H Shepard.

Unfortunately, I can't show you the stamps because, if I were to do so, I might infringe the copyright of Disney who owns all Shepard's visual representations of Pooh & Co.

However, you might like to know that the Presentation Pack of stamps, miniature sheet and the First Day Cover are all accompanied by Words (by Me!) telling you Who's Who, What's What and Explaining Everything You Might Need to Know...

The Pooh stamp collection is available from all good Post Offices or directly from Royal Mail.

Monday 11 October 2010


'From Page to Stage', the sixth programme in my BBC Radio 2 series, The Musical (tonight at 10:00 pm), is hosted by Sheila Hancock and looks at musical shows that have been based on some of the world's greatest works of literature from Cevantes Don Quixote to Dickens' Oliver Twist.

Amongst the talk of hit shows, there is also a few sobering tales of flops and fiascos from Ruthie Henshall recalling Marguerite (based on the novel by Alexander Dumas) and Patti Lupone remembering the "descent into hell" that was The Baker's Wife from French novella by Jean le Bleu.

Another classic-to-musical translation that was anything but a failure is Victor Hugo's Les Miserables that was musicalised by Claude-Michel Schonberg with a libretto by Alain Boublil and lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and which is now in its twenty-sixth year and the world's longest-running musical...

If you miss tonight's broadcast, The Musical can be heard as a 'Listen Again' option on BBC Radio's iPlayer for the next seven days.

Friday 8 October 2010


SOH (10)
Click on images to view at larger sizes

While rummaging through some old photos and saving them to my flickr photostream, I came across a number of pictorial memories from 2001 when, en route to Wellington, New Zealand, I stopped off for a few days in Sydney, Australia.

I will never forget checking into the Park Hyatt Hotel in the shadow of the famous Harbour Bridge and finding – to my utter delight – that the view from my bedroom window was of the famous Sydney Opera House. Over the next few days I photographed Danish architect Jørn Utzon's amazing building, literally, morning, noon and night!

Here are a few of those operatic settings...

SOH (1)

SOH (3)

SOH (6)

SOH (2)

SOH (15)

SOH (16)

SOH (14)

SOH (4)

SOH & Bridge

SOH (17)

SOH (8)

SOH (13)

SOH & Bounty (1)

SOH (11)

Images: © Brian Sibley 2001/2010

Wednesday 6 October 2010


Summer is well and truly over. Skies are grey, the leaves are turning, the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder. And yet, only a couple of weeks ago, sitting in the sun in Russell Square, it felt as if it might go on forever...

Now for me - and for this young water-sprite - it is already nothing but a memory...


Image: Brian Sibley © 2010

You can view more of my photographs on my flickr photostream

Monday 4 October 2010


It hardly seems possible but it's three years today since David and I became Civil Partners...

...but that passage of time is really nothing compared with the twenty years we've actually been together.

Anyway, this year's official anniversary finds us at a very stressful place in our lives with great uncertainty about where we are going to live and what the future will hold.

Fortunately, however, we still have each other...

And I am very lucky that the leaning man above is also someone who can reliably be leant upon!

So, for us and for whatever may lie ahead, here's Bill Withers with that famous song of his...

Sunday 3 October 2010


'Something Borrowed' is the fifth programme in my eight-part Radio 2 documentary series, The Musical, presented by Whoopi Goldberg and broadcast at 10:00 pm tomorrow evening.

This episode looks at musicals that have been based on plays and films from those Shakespearian comedies and tragedies that inspired such shows as Kiss Me Kate, The Boys from Syracuse and West Side Story to the musicalisation of popular and iconic movies including Sunset Boulevard and .

Also, since Ms Goldberg is our host, there's mention of Sister Act (hence the feeble pun in the title to this post!), The Lion King (she was the voice of one the cartoon hyenas in the original animated version) and plans for a musical based on another of her movies – Ghost.

In the programme, Liz Robertson (widow of Alan Jay Lerner) reveals how her late husband was never satisfied with one of his lyrics in the My Fair Lady number, 'I Could Have Danced All Night' and Stephen Sondheim tells us why he doesn't rate his lyrics for West Side Story.

You'll also hear Patti Lupone talking about creating the role of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard on the London stage and how being replaced by Glen Close on Broadway gave an edge to her final performances as the forgotten goddess of the silent screen.

I first saw the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Don Black/Christopher Hampton musical following its 1994 re-vamp when Betty Buckley was playing Norma. And (since YouTube don't have any decent film of Patti Lupone), here is the wonderful Miss B in concert, talking about the role and singing 'As If We'd Never Said Goodbye'...

My favourite moment from this week's show is Don Black recalling how Billy Wilder – who directed and co-wrote the original 1950 movie – attended the opening night of the musical and commented to Messrs Black and Hampton: "You guys were really smart ––you didn't change anything!"

If you miss tomorrow's broadcast, you can catch it on BBC iPlayer for the next seven days.

And, here are a couple of recent reviews of the series each of which – while containing pluses and minuses – are, by and large, pretty fair...

From Radio Review by Gillian Reynolds, Daily Telegraph, 27 September, 2010:

The Musical (Radio 2, Mondays) is a reliable place to turn for demarcation of the gap between knowing and dreaming. This is a major eight-part series, not so much a history as an appreciation, written by Brian Sibley, presented by a different person each week. Last night it was Bill Kenwright, the theatrical producer whose West End version of Cabaret won rave reviews. His theme was musicals that push at the genre’s traditional boundaries, like Oh! What a Lovely War, Hair, La Cage aux Folles and Cabaret. Last week, it was Michael Ball on musicals based on real lives or real episodes in history. Next week it will be Whoopi Goldberg on musicals made from films, Billy Elliot and Sister Act for example.

There is, obviously, going to be a blurring between these categories and there are, as you listen, recurring contributors (Joel Grey, Richard Stilgoe, Tim Rice, Hal Prince). What is marvellous about the series is how many original versions you hear(Angela Lansbury in Sweeney Todd, e.g.) and how widely it ranges.

What is annoying is that the connection between presenter and script seems fitful. I thought this network had got over its annoying habit of employing “star” voices. Alas, I was mistaken. Last night Kenwright seemed to clamp adjectives onto actors he knows (“the lovely…” “the irrepressible…”) which made it sound clumsy. The week before Ball, a naturally vivacious presenter, just put his head down and read. The effect was chilly. As everyone who listens to The David Jacobs Collection (Sundays, Radio 2) should know, these shows should be the stars...
And from 'The Week in Radio' by Jane Thynne, The Independent, 30 September 2010:
Breaking taboos was ... the subject of Radio 2's The Musical, a series I have found enjoyable and infuriating in equal measure. Enjoyable because it involves a great, singable selection of musical hits, infuriating because just as you are yodelling along, the song cuts out after 30 seconds.

At first glance the musical is the last art form – short of knitting or marquetry – you could accuse of avant-garde radicalism, but Bill Kenright's programme, scripted by Brian Sibley, showed that because they appear unthreatening, musicals can effectively challenge taboos. Carousel, for example, was "about violence against women". Oh! What a Lovely War and La Cage aux Folles tackled ideas that would not have been possible in straight theatre.

Then, of course, there was the 1968 hit Hair. The big shocker here was the unprecedented nude tribal-dance scene, though as evidence of how quickly controversy fades, by the end of the run, "The producers thought Hair was becoming a bit tame, so they lifted the lighting a little."

Friday 1 October 2010


June 3, 1925 – September 29, 2010