Friday 31 December 2010


Hoping you have
a wonderful


...and that you can still
remember it

Illustration by Norman Rockwell

Tuesday 28 December 2010


We had a lovely, unplanned, Christmas Day in London (courtesy of snow, ice and British Airways cancellations) with our friends Sophie, Wendy and Franny and when we finally arrived in Venice on December 26, lo and behold, Christmas was still here waiting for us!

There were festive lights...


Festive Decorations
Snowflakes and angels...

Venice Angel
Christmas presents being tried out...

And even a gondola in a Santa hat...

Christmas Goldola
How fortuitous is that?

Images: Brian Sibley and David Weeks © 2010


[To view photos larger: click on image and use 'ALL SIZES' option on flickr menu]

And while we've been travelling (and not travelling) my blog snuck past the 300,000 hit mark...

Monday 27 December 2010


Today the BBC is providing listeners with yet another blast from Sibley's past...

It was back in 1977 - which, heaven help us, is thirty-three years ago - that I wrote what was only my second programme for radio, but which turned out to be something of a classic. Entitled ...And Yet Another Partridge in a Pear Tree, it was a quirky take on that well-known song about the seasonal gifts which someone sent to his True Love on the Twelve Days of Christmas.

It was, I later discovered, not exactly a new joke and it has been re-worked by others since, but it had the distinctive twist of literally following the cumulative list in the lyrics, thus providing the recipient not with one partridge in a pear tree, two turtle doves, three French hens and so on, but with twelve partridges, twenty-two turtle doves, thirty French hens and so forth.

...Fresh milk is one thing. Eight enormous Frisians in the drawing room is something else altogether. True, the milkmaids have a certain rustic charm, but you wouldn't believe how much they eat. You may also care to note that my bath has only so much room in it for swans with a seemingly insatiable urge to be a-swimming, and it will definitely not hold fourteen of them. Take that from one who has tried!

I was extremely fortunate in having Penelope Keith (then at the height of her fame as Margot Leadbetter in the wildly successful TV sit-com, The Good Life) play Miss Cynthia Bracegirdle, the increasingly harassed lady who has to cope with (among other nuisances) forty maids a-milking, thirty-six ladies dancing, thirty lords a-leaping and twenty-two pipers piping...

...And Yet Another Partridge
was repeated annually for many years and is still broadcast at Christmas in all kinds of places from America to Australia. In fact, every year I get requests for copies of the broadcast (which unfortunately is not possible because the BBC have never commercially released the programme) and transcripts of Miss Bracegirdle's correspondence.

Anyway, if - like others - you remember this little piece of fluff and would like to hear it again or if you've never heard it and think it might tickle your funny bone, then TODAY'S the DAY!

BBC Radio 7 is giving this tragi-comic tale another outing with the partridges coming home to roost at 14.15 and 21.15. I hope you enjoy the experience rather more than poor Cynthia!

And anyone caring to read the uncensored Bracegirdle letters, will find the full text here


Beginning today on Radio 7 and running until 30 December: my four-part dramatisation of E T A Hoffman's seasonal favourite, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King starring Tony Robinson and, once again, with wonderful music by The Fox at the Manger composer, David Hewson.

Now largely known to the world as the Tchaikovsky-scored ballet, the original story – funny, sentimental and really rather scary – unfolds daily at 05:30 and 10:30 and (for those who go to bed late) 03:30 the following day.

All these programmes , of course, will be available on BBC iPlayer for seven days following the last broadcast.

Illustration to The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by Dagmar Bercova.

And as if you haven't heard enough of Sibley for one seasonal period, I'll just mention that you catch up on a couple of recent broadcasts with which I had an association as writer: Radio 2's two-part documentary, The London Palladium Story.

Michael Grade celebrates the centenary of what is arguably London's most famous theatre with contributions from Tommy Steele, Barry Cryer, Wayne Sleep, Bruce Forsyth, Des O'Connor, Whoopi Goldberg, Philip Schofield, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Barbara Windsor, Anita Harris, Cliff Richard and many others.

Part 1 (broadcast on Christmas Day) can be heard via BBC iPlayer here for the next seven days.

Part 2 (broadcast yesterday evening) will be on BBC iPlayer here, until next Sunday.

Sunday 26 December 2010


Have you got any Christmas cake left? I know: silly question! I remember, as a little kid, being intrigued by the fact that as the cake got eaten and the acreage of icing got smaller, the decorative personnel: Santas, snowmen, Eskimos, fir-trees and robins all began to huddle together like dispossessed citizens!

In Venice (where we hope, belatedly, to arrive today) the cake-top residents tend to be of a rather more religious disposition and are usually made of marzipan.

Ventian Christmas Cake

Now I really like marzipan, but I honestly don't somehow think I could bring myself to eat Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus. Perhaps they are always given to any atheist who happens to be present at tea-time...

Photograph: © Brian Sibley 2009

Saturday 25 December 2010


Peace, Love & Joy

There is a legend that when the infant Jesus was lying in the manger of the Bethlehem stable, all the animals of the world made their way there to pay homage to the new-born babe. While the ox, ass and sheep bowed in adoration within the stable, the wild creatures were required to remain outside and had to content themselves with hoping for a glimpse of the Holy Child.

It is a legend referenced in P L Travers' fable The Fox at the Manger and in creating the picture above, my friend, the artist and illustrator, Pauline Baynes, chose to give the lion, the camel, the elephant and the others a very special closeness to the Christ and his mother as is fitting for the representatives of Creation gathering to worship the Creator in human form.

According to Wayne G Hammond of The Chapin Library, Pauline made this drawing in 1972 as a Christmas card design for the Cathedral in Washington DC, who, sadly, rejected it as 'too allegorical'.

The original artwork is currently for sale at £2,250 from The Illustration Cupboard.

Friday 24 December 2010


Oh! You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I'm telling you why

Santa Claus is coming to town.

He's making a list
Checking it twice
Gonna find out who's naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town.

He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

So! You better watch out
Oh! You better watch out
You better not cry You better not pout,
I'm telling you why,
Santa Claus is coming
Santa Claus is coming
Santa Claus is coming to town!

The song Santa Claus is Coming to Town was written by J Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie and was first sung on Eddie Cantor's radio show in November 1934. It became an instant hit with orders for 100,000 copies of sheet music the next day and more than 400,000 copies sold by Christmas.

The line illustrations of Santa Claus above are the work of Thomas Nast who not only helped shape the American (and eventually worldwide) image of Father Christmas, but was also responsible for far less jolly imagery in his capacity as an exceptional chronicler of the American Civil War

In posting this popular ballad and the accompanying illustrations, I wish you, dear reader,


Thursday 23 December 2010



In case you ever wondered: the phrase 'dog in the manger' derives from a proverb against selfishness and envy by the 2nd Century Greek writer, Lucian who observed, in Remarks addressed to an Illiterate Book-fancier:

"There was a dog lying in a manger who did not eat the grain but who nevertheless prevented the horse from being able to eat anything either."

In Book II of the 12th century poem, Confessio Amantis, the English poet, John Gower, wrote:

Though it be not the hound's habit
To eat chaff, yet will he warn off
An ox that commeth to the barn
Thereof to take up any food.

And, in keeping with the photo at the top of this post, it should be noted that in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, Jesus is credited with using this saying in his teachings:

"Jesus said, 'Woe to the Pharisees, for they are like a dog sleeping in the manger of oxen, for neither does he eat nor does he let the oxen eat.'"

The illustration above is by Francis Barlow from Barlow's Aesop (1687) by which time the Greek fabulist had been pretty much universally (if inaccurately) credited with the proverb...

Incidentally, a few years ago, we came across a witty engraving in Venice featuring "a doge in the manger"!

Wednesday 22 December 2010


At Christmas, it is nice to expect the unexpected. But, for many people this year, the appalling weather in Europe (and the gross inefficiency of the BAA) means that the unexpected may not be at all nice. Hundreds of thousands will not be spending this Christmas in quite the way they had hoped. We were due to fly to Venice today but, like many other travellers, have had our flight cancelled...

Happily, however, some things don't change: every Christmas, BBC Radio 7 generously keeps the memory green of my once prolific broadcasting career by repeating a few Sibley programmes from the distant and deeply frozen past.

First to get an airing this year is The Fox at the Manger, a radio play based on the seasonal fable by P L Travers.

I'll never forget the Christmas - too long ago now to attach a date to - when I spotted a book in my local bookshop with this intriguing title written, it said on the cover, by the author of Mary Poppins.

Although, at the time, I had yet to read any of the books about Miss Poppins, I knew and passionately loved the Disney musical film based on her exploits whilst serving as a "practically perfect nanny" in the household of Mr and Mrs Banks in Cherry Tree Lane.

The Fox at the Manger, I discovered, didn't have a lot in common with Mary Poppins - except that it was a tale shot through with magic and might just have been the kind of story Mary Poppins would have told her young charges.

It re-tells the events of the first Christmas - familiar from every nativity scene - but with an unexpected twist.

The animals in the Bethlehem stable - donkey, cow, sheep and dove - each give a gift to the new-born Christ-child, as described in the ancient 'Carol of the Friendly Beasts'...

Jesus our brother kind and good
Was humbly born in a stable rude.
And the friendly beasts around him stood
Jesus our brother, kind and good.

I, said the donkey, all shaggy and brown,
I carried his mother up hill and down
I carried his mother to Bethlehem town.
I, said the donkey, all shaggy and brown.

I, said the cow, all white and red
I gave him my manger for his bed
I gave him my hay to pillow his head.
I, said the cow, all white and red

I, said the sheep, with curly horn,
I gave him my wool for a blanket warm
He wore my coat on Christmas morn.
I, said the sheep, with curly horn.

I, said the dove, from the rafters high
I cooed him to sleep so he would not cry
We cooed him to sleep, my love and I
I, said the dove, from the rafters high.

Thus every beast, by some good spell
In the stable rude was glad to tell
Of the gift he gave Emmanuel
The gift he gave Emmanuel
The gift he gave Emmanuel

In P L Travers' version the animals witnessing the unusual birth in the midst of their straw-filled little world are dismayed and alarmed when an alien creature enters their domain – a red, furry, fox - the chicken-stealing outlaw of the countryside. But the fox has come to the manger to bring his own, unique gift to the Christ Child...

What that gift is you can discover for yourself by listening to The Fox at the Manger when it is broadcast today on Radio 7 at 11:15 and 21:15 or tomorrow morning at 02:15. It can also be heard on BBC iPlayer for seven days after the final broadcast.

The play stars Dame Wendy Hiller as the Storyteller and Alec McCowen as the Fox. The haunting musical score was specially composed by David Hewson with whom I collaborated on several projects including the short story recently posted on this blog, The Man and the Snake.

Speaking of P L Travers, if you haven't already read it, you might enjoy my account of having Tea with Mary Poppins.


There are more up-coming Christmas Sibleys on Radio 7 in the form of the tirelessly repeated ...And Yet Another Partridge in a Pear Treestarring Penelope Keith broadcast on Monday 27 December at 14:15 and 21:15

And there's my four-part dramatisation of E T A Hoffman's classic children's story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, starring Tony Robinson on 27-30 December (05:30 and 10:30). Again all these broadcasts can be subsequently listened to via the BBC iPlayer.

And, if I haven't either exhausted or bored you, there is "yet another" vintage Sibley programme over on my Decidedly Disney blog, entitled The Fairest of Them All.

Sunday 19 December 2010


Anyone who has ever read this blog during the month of December will know that I invariably write something about one of my all-time favourite books, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol *, the story of how Mr Ebenezer Scrooge – "a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner" – was reformed of his miserly ways and brought to understand the true meaning of Christmas and to experience its joys.

First published on this day 167 years ago, in 1843, it was described by the reviewer in the London literary magazine, the Athenaeum as "a tale to make the reader laugh and cry – to open his hands, and open his heart to charity even toward the uncharitable..."

The poet, Thomas Hood, wrote: "If Christmas, with its ancient and hospitable customs, its social and charitable observances, were ever in danger of decay, this is the book that would give them a new lease. The very name of the author predisposes one to the kindlier feelings; and a peep at the Frontispiece sets the animal spirits capering..."

I wrote a whole book about this book (long out of print now, it was called A Christmas Carol: The Unsung Story) and the idea for that volume grew out of many years of collecting various versions of the Carol in all types of media and a radio programme that I wrote and presented on BBC Radio 4 (according to my Archivist and fellow Caroller, Mr Boll Weavil) on 22 December 1987.

On Christmas Day, 1993 – to mark the 150th anniversary of the original publication – a revised version was broadcast and since most of you will have never heard it, I'm posting a recording of it here on today's blog.

So, make yourself a nice cup of tea (or a tankard of mulled wine), warm up a mince pie or two, put your feet up and get into the spirit of the season with what, I hope, is still an interesting account of how and why Charles Dickens was inspired to write what is, surely, his most famous book and savour of some of the many interpretations – the good, the bad and the downright ugly – that have been perpetrated over the years.

You'll meet Mr Scrooge, his seven-years-dead partner, Jacob Marley, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come in a Dickensian celebration entitled, quite simply...


There have been many new interpretations of Dickens' story (in books and on stage, film and television) since this programme was last broadcast, and on Christmas Day this year, the BBC's Doctor Who will be presenting its own unique take on the tale.

You can read about various Disneyesque versions of the saga of Ebenezer Scrooge over at my Decidedly Disney blog.

* You can click on any of the labels below to see some of those previous posts.

Caricature of Charles Dickens by Tobo

Saturday 18 December 2010


Regular Sibley blog comment-maker, Gill, responded (through her tears) to yesterday's posting of Disney's The Little Match Girl to ask for something a tad more in keeping with traditional notions of joviality associated with the Christmas season.

So, here, is 'Once Upon a Wintertime': another snowy tale – but, this time, with a happier outcome – from Disney's 1948 animated feature, Melody Time, which like its predecessor, Make Mine Music, was a Fantasia-esque compilation using popular songs rather than classical music.

Be patient with the opening title sequence and you can enjoy a delightful little animated story brought to life in a stunning graphic style typifying the popular art of the late 'forties and early 'fifties (today, so very 'retro') and which was the design work of Mary Blair, one of the few female artists to dramatically affect the look of the Disney studio's films...

Oh, yes, and by the way, if the delicate tracery of those falling snowflakes at the beginning of 'Once Upon a Wintertime' look familiar, that's probably because the animators of The Little Match Girl re-used them 58 years later!

Friday 17 December 2010


In writing recently about Walt Disney's 1940 experimental masterpiece, Fantasia, and its much-delayed sequel, Fantasia 2000, I should also mention that Walt's nephew, the late Roy E Disney, attempted to get the studio to release a third Fantasia compilation in 2006.

The project was never realised, but among the pieces intended for inclusion were the Disney-Dali collaboration, Destino and a sequence inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen story, The Little Match Girl, but with the setting transferred from Denmark to Russia and accompanied by the Third Movement of Alexander Borodin's String Quartet No 2 in D Minor.

Adapted and directed by Roger Allers – who worked on the Disney version of another Andersen story, The Little Mermaid, as well as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King – this is a beautiful little film that perfectly captures Andersen's hauntingly melancholic style.

It is also a story well suited to December days especially as, once again, the Great Freeze begins to tighten its grip...

Wednesday 15 December 2010


It is sometimes said that the Caesars of Ancient Rome when riding in a triumphal procession were attended by a slave who stood behind the emperor and repeatedly whispered in the imperial ear: "Respice te, hominem te memento" or "Look behind you, remember you are only a man".

True or myth, I can think of several contemporary international politicians who could benefit from adopting this novel idea.

For the rest us non-emperors, however, Life often provides a similar service, as I discovered again this week. I will explain: I have been enjoying (in a, frankly, rather immodest way) the reviews of my audio-commentary on the recent Blu-ray and DVD releases of Walt Disney’s Fantasia/Fantasia 2000.

For example, ScreenRant said...

Fantasia includes three audio commentaries. The first, helmed by eloquent Disney historian Brian Sibley, offers a veritable treasure trove of information on the development, design, production and legacy of the film. Sibley not only details and dissects each animated segment and its creation, he weaves a compelling history of Disney’s grand design.

In the view of DVDVerdict...

There's a total of five commentaries provided for the two films; three of which belong to Fantasia. The first is a very fine track with Disney historian Brian Sibley, who provides a thorough overview of the film's creation.

According to FLIX66...

Brian Sibley gives a lot of detailed information and background about the film. I’ve noticed historians seem to be the best commentaries due to the fact that they are fans of the film and will tell the trivia that other fans will enjoy as well.

In the opinion of SoundtrackNet...

Supplements for this combo pack of Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 are a mix of old and new. Starting with Fantasia, we first have three audio commentaries. The first one is a newly recorded on by Disney Historian Brian Sibley, and it's amazingly informative and well presented.

If ToonZone (link now lost) are to be believed…

The audio commentaries for both movies are quite nice, although I have to give the nod to the Fantasia commentary by Brian Sibley... Sibley is a treasure trove of knowledge that discusses the individuals behind every animated segment, at times even getting specific enough to explain exactly who drew a particular character.

The techniques behind many visual effects are discussed as well, which really helps hammer home what a thorough and painstaking effort production must have been. For animation buffs and serious fans, the extra is a must.

And, after what I thought was going to be a shaky start, DVDtalk gave the following ecstatic response…

Three Audio Commentaries can be played with the film, one that's brand new with Brian Diblet [Who??] and two others... but this new Sibley [That’s better!] track is astonishingly comprehensive.

His enthusiasm shows with each passing second of the track, revealing symbolism, artistic choices, and ways that Fantasia has inspired other films -- such as Ray Harryhausen's Clash of the Titans work, and the Chernabog's stature on "giant" films -- with its design.

He never shies away from discussing how the artwork was achieved, getting technical yet accessible with the techniques used (charcoals), while also revealing the depth of the mythology behind each of the visual renderings. And yeah, he even discusses the censorship during the Pastoral Symphony, both of Sunflower and of the nude centaurettes. A must-listen commentary, if there ever was one.

But, then came that whisper in the ear that cuts one down to size – courtesy, on this occasion, of Suite101

Historian Brian Sibley does the audio commentary for the original film. Although he clearly knows his stuff, his tone is dry and pedantic which doesn't help.

Oh, dear!

Mercifully, TheDigitalDorm’s reviewer put the smile back on my face with the following appraisal...

Audio Commentary with Disney Historian Brian Sibley - Dude's got an absolutely perfect British voice. He also pronounces the film "Fan-Tayz-eee-uh" which is awesome. Really informative and easy track to listen to.

Awesome dude? What can I say?

Photo of Mickey Mouse as Caesar Augustus in The Disney Store, Rome, from Trong Enger's Photostream

Sunday 12 December 2010


I am currently working on a series of radio plays for BBC Radio 4's 'Classic Serial' based on the Titus Groan novels of Mervyn Peake.

Re-reading Peake's fantastical prose, I came across a wonderful phrase which I had totally forgotten describing of the manner in which the gargantuan chef, Swelter (right), addresses the terrorised kitchen urchins who work for him.

The author, writes of Swelter leaning forward, "dropping each confidential word like a cannon ball smeared with syrup."


Thursday 9 December 2010


There's an old joke set in the Garden of Eden which goes: God blamed Adam, Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the Serpent and the Serpent didn't have a leg to stand on!

Maybe the fact that the snake has been associated since antiquity with the Old Deceiver is one reason why most of us find these reptiles pretty repellent.

Ophidiophobia, or a fear of snakes, is very common and even some intrepid adventurers, such as Indiana Jones, break out in a muck sweat if they happened to come across one.

Some years ago (to be absolutely truthful, way back in the '90s), I collaborated with my friend, the composer David Hewson to create a recording of a disturbing little anecdote by the 19th Century American satirist and short story writer, Ambrose Bierce (famous for his scurrilous lexicon, The Devil's Dictionary) which may give you a few enjoyable creeps and – at the end of the tale (or tail) – possibly even raise a wry smile.

It is called...

The MAN and the SNAKE

Recording © Brian Sibley & David Hewson

Wednesday 8 December 2010


Following on from my last posting...

I don't know about Alison (mainly because I don't know Alison Sibley), but it certainly gave me quite a turn!

Saturday 4 December 2010


Imagine my delight: finding I had made it onto Quotations Blog: The Famous Quote Site!

And then discovering that my quoted quote was all about dying....

Prompted by a question from Steven Hartley (see 'Thoughts' below), I tracked down the quote to this very blog: in fact my fifth-ever posting, back in 2006. To read the whole post – and make sense of the 'quote' – CLICK HERE. What's more, you'll also find a far more entertaining quote from an interview I had with Terry Pratchett!

Thursday 2 December 2010


A Magical 60th Birthday!

Magician David

Image: © Brian Sibley 2010

You can view more of my pictures on my flickr Photostream.

Wednesday 1 December 2010