Tuesday 29 March 2011


The death has been announced of the great Welsh tenor Robert Tear at the age of 72.

Tear was one of the great performers in operas by Britten (Peter Quint in The Turn of the Screw and Aschenbach in Death in Venice) and Tippett but he also used his magnificent voice in the service of a diversity of composers from Bach, Mozart and Monteverdi to Elgar and Vaughan Williams. And, long before cross-over became fashionable for opera-singers, he recorded A A Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh hums sung to the original settings by H Fraser-Simson!

Here he is singing Charles Dibdin's 18th century song, 'Tom Bowling'...

Tom never from his word departed,
His virtues were so rare;
His friends were many and true-hearted,
His Poll was kind and fair:
And then he’d sing so blithe and jolly,
Ah, many’s the time and oft!
But mirth is turned to melancholy,
For Tom is gone aloft.


Sunday 27 March 2011


Earlier this year saw the publication of a "cracking new edition" of Cracking Animation, the book I wrote with Aardman Animation's Peter Lord on the history and making of stop-frame animated films.

The book (published in the USA as Creating 3-D Animation) has gone through three editions and it is probably my No.1 best-seller, despite the fact that (as a result of my having signed a really bad contract) I earn no royalties from its on-going success!

Sometimes, however, rewards come in different ways and I was thrilled to receive the following e-mail from American student, Emiline Mesmer...

As a young girl, I was always fascinated with stop-motion animation, but I'd always viewed it as being inaccessible or trivial.

Just a few months ago, I decided to give it my best try, by chance stumbling on your book Creating 3-D Animation. It helped me enormously and with my make-shift studio, tucked away in the corner of my high school's art room, I managed to create a few, small studies that will never see life off my computer.

However, each year at my school we host a blood drive in memory of one of the former students who lost her battle to leukemia. To promote the drive, the art department throws together a video of silly humor-ridden shenanigans centering on the day of donating. In light of my previous experimentations, I concocted an idea for a short, stop-motion clip that would grab attention. After three weeks of being holed away in my little corner of the room, I was left with a work that means more to me than any of my previous artistic adventures.

I thought that you might like to see it since it was your book which facilitated my happiness.

There is sound, but speakers have to be all the way up to hear it.

With gratitude,


And here is Emiline's film...

Thank you, Emiline, for sharing your film and your enthusiasm. I'm delighted to have had an involvement (albeit inspirational) in its making and I look forward to seeing your next movie!

Wednesday 23 March 2011


Meanwhile, still in Wonderland...

Lewis Carroll's original proposed title for his book was Alice's Adventures Under-ground...

"Under where?" you ask.

So, it seems did these mad ad men...

Sunday 20 March 2011


OXFORD, 1865: Lewis Carroll – in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland – describes the following scene...

A large rose-tree stood near the entrance of the garden: the roses growing on it were white, but there were three gardeners at it, busily painting them red.

Alice thought this a very curious thing, and she went nearer to watch them...

"Would you tell me," said Alice, a little timidly, "why you are painting those roses?"

Five and Seven said nothing, but looked at Two. Two began in a low voice, "Why the fact is, you see, Miss, this here ought to have been a red rose-tree, and we put a white one in by mistake; and if the Queen was to find it out, we should all have our heads cut off, you know..."

LONDON, 2011: Life imitates literature...

"Painting the Roses Red!"

Of course, in my 21st-century-version, the roses are artificial and the red paint is in a spray-can!

To round off this eccentric post, here's the original Wonderland episode as interpreted by Uncle Walt and his merry elves...

And, if you haven't got a copy of Disney's 1951 animated feature film of Alice in Wonderland, you might consider buying the 60th Anniversary Edition on Blu-ray which heavily features (how else?) Yours-Truly in the accompanying 76-minute picture-in-picture documentary, Through the Keyhole: A Companion’s Guide to Wonderland.

Thursday 17 March 2011


To be sure, isn't today...
Saint Patrick's Day!

So, to mark the occasion, here's little piece of Irish nonsense featuring Tommy Steele, Fred McMurray, Lesley Ann Warren, Hermione Baddeley and Greer Garson in a scene from Walt Disney's 1967 musical, The Happiest Millionaire.

The songs were written by Richard M and Robert B Sherman of Mary Poppins fame and this one is called, 'I'll Always Be Irish'...

Wednesday 16 March 2011



Only two solutions to the recent Beastly Books Quiz were received.

The winner was Good Dog who brilliantly succeeded in naming all 40 titles and their authors.

Runners-up were Sheila and Roger who correctly identified an impassive 34 titles and filled in their six gaps with such inventive suggestions as E/PS: Echidnas by Phil Sludgebucket and TW/EB: Two Whales by Elizabeth Barnacle!

Anyway, many congratulations to GD and R&S!

Here's the full list of correct answers...

1) Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

2) The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff

3) The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith

4) King Solomon's Ring by Konrad Lorenz

5) Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell

6) Moby Dick by Herman Melville

7) A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond

8) The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico

9) The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting

10) White Fang by Jack London

11) Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

12) The Goshawk by T H White

13) Horton Hears a Who! by Dr Seuss

14) Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten

15) The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck by Beatrix Potter

16) Born Free by Joy Adamson

17) The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

18) National Velvet by Enid Bagnold

19) The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams

20) Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T S Eliot

21) The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford

22) A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines

23) The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

24) Androcles and the Lion by George Bernard Shaw

25) The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

26) Equus by Peter Shaffer

27) The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast by Alan Aldridge and William Plomer (after William Roscoe)

28) Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight

29) The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

30) Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl

31) The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

32) The Dark Portal by Robin Jarvis

33) The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith

34) Stuart Little by E B White

35) The Last Unicorn by Peter S Beagle

36) The Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford

37) All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

38) The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden

39) The House at Pooh Corner by A A Milne

40) My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

41) The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll

42) The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett

43) Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

44) The Horse and His Boy by C S Lewis

45) Roverandom by J R R Tolkien

46) Animal Farm by George Orwell

47) Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brien

48) War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

49) The Rescuers by Margery Sharp

50) Elephant Bill by J H Williams

Image: Noah's Ark (1846) by Edward Hicks

Tuesday 15 March 2011


It's almost spring cleaning time, so we've flicked our feather duster over the Sibley blog.

Hope you like our new spick and span appearance!

Sunday 13 March 2011


I knew the anniversary was coming up, but when it arrived, I almost missed it! Thirty years ago last Sunday (8 March 1981) at 12 noon, BBC Radio 4 broadcast the first episode of a 26-part serialisation of J R R Tolkien's epic fantasy, The Lord of the Rings...


For me – as the person who dissected and restructured the story in a form to be told in 30-minute chunks (nearly always culminating with a cliffhanger ending) and as the writer for half of the episodes – it was, and remains, the most significant landmark in my career.

If you've never read the story of how this radio classic (and, after thirty years, I don't need to offer any apology for that description) was embarked upon and accomplished you can do so in my article The Ring Goes Ever On.

As for the Radio Times cover (above) by illustrator Eric Fraser (a legendary embellisher of the magazine), I had, long before, been encouraged in identifying and appreciating Fraser's work by my father (a former commercial artist), so the moment I learned that he was going to create the cover art for the week in which TLotR would begin transmission, I wrote to him care of the Radio Times' Art Editor and asked if I could buy the original art.

Mr Fraser replied in rather mystified terms because he had not yet carried out the commission and couldn't imagine why anyone would want to purchase a piece of his art sight-unseen. I responded that I wanted to buy the painting whatever it looked like because it was my first production to be given a Radio Times cover (there was a later one) and because I was such an ardent admirer of his work. The artist's next letter told me that, if I still wished to buy it when I saw it, it could be mine for 40 guineas.

Thirty years ago, this was a not an inconsiderable sum, but my perspicacity in snapping up his offer was fully justified when, come March, the magazine appeared and the senior, producer on the series, the Head of Radio Drama, the Controller of Radio 4 and the Managing Director of Radio were all competing with one another to buy the original – only to find that it had already been sold!

It now hangs on my wall and is, without question, one of my most treasured possessions.

Here's a reminder of opening theme composed for the series by Stephen Oliver that, for six months of 1981, became part of Britain's Sunday lunchtime routine...

Special thanks to Jen Miller for unearthing and sending me this vintage edition edition of Radio Times!

Saturday 12 March 2011


Hugh Martin, musical theatre and film composer died yesterday at the grand age of 96.

Of his many showbiz credits, he will be enduringly remembered for the trio of numbers he wrote for Judy Garland in Vincente Minnelli's 1944 MGM romantic musical, Meet Me in St Louis: 'The Boy Next Door'; the Oscar-nominated 'The Trolley Song' (both with Ralph Blane); and what was to become a seasonal evergreen, 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' – now more familiar to us from upbeat cover-versions than from the decidedly pensive original.

To have written just one of these songs would have been enough to guarantee Hugh Martin of lasting fame, to have composed all three surely guarantees his immortality!

You can read more about the writing (and re-writing) of 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' here.

11 August 1914–11 March 2011

Wednesday 9 March 2011


Whenever I wake up in the night (as I regularly do, tonight being no exception) I always attempt to guess the time before putting on my specs and looking at the clock.

The amazing thing is that I can accurately (within ten minutes or less) predict the time 99.9 times out of 100.

Can anyone else do this?

Image: LayoutSparks.com

Saturday 5 March 2011


This week saw the passing of one of great Hollywood sirens who memorably graced a surprisingly short roll-call of movies with her extraordinarily long legs and shapely hourglass figure. I refer, of course, to the woman Bob Hope once described as "the two and only Jane Russell"!

Here she is in what was (for the time) a shocking outfit, dancing up a storm and singing 'Lookin' for Trouble' in the 1954 film, The French Line; and having a ball in the hysterically camp 'Ain't There Anyone Here for Love' routine from the previous year's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes...

21 June 1921–28 February 2011

Thursday 3 March 2011


Today is World Book Day and to mark this annual event, here's a little quiz to test your bookish knowledge. I filched the format from a charity quiz that I recently spent several days puzzling over!

Below are the initials of 50 book titles and their authors, the challenge is to see how many you can identify.

In my version, all the books (and there's also one or two plays, a long poem and collection of verses) have something in common: they are all about ANIMALS.

Some of these volumes were written for grown-ups many for children, some are factual but most of them are fictional.

As for the animals (and there are some birds and maybe even some fish) they may be real, mythical or utterly fanciful and several of them have been immortalised on film.

There are cats, dogs and horses, quite a few mice and – at the other end of the scale – a couple of elephants.

And that's all the help you're getting!

Good luck!

1) BB / AS

2) TSOB / JdB


4) KSR / KL

5) ROBW / GM

6) MD / HM

7) ABCP / MB

8) TSG / PG


10) WF /JL

11) TOTA / ERB

12) TG /THW

13) HHAW / DS

14) B (ALITW) / FS

15) TTOJP / BP

16) BF/ JA

17) TJB / RK

18) NV / EB

19) TPD / RA


21) TIJ / SB

22) AKFAK / BH

23) TWITW / KG

24) AATL / GBS


26) E / PS

27) TBBATGF / AA & WP (after WR)

28) LCH / EK

29) TG / JD

30) FMF / RD

31) TVR / MW

32) TDP / RJ

33) TS-P / DK-S

34) SL / EBW

35) TLU / PSB

36) TW / EB

37) ACGAS / JH

38) TCITS / GS


40) MFAOA / GD

41) THOTS / LC


43) WTWTA / MS


45) R / JRRT

46) AF / GO


48) WH / MM

49) TR / MS

50) EB / JHW

Answers later in the month.

Images: Pipe and books by Diana Bloomfield; engraving of a 18th Century French ornamental paper panel