Saturday 30 July 2011


If you missed, 'Titus Discovers', the third part of my play cycle, The History of Titus Groan, based on the novels of Mervyn Peake, you can catch it tonight on BBC Radio 4 at 21:00.

And you can hear Part 4, 'Titus Departs', also on Radio 4, tomorrow, Sunday 31 July, at 15:00, described in the latest issue of Radio Times as: "An absolute triumph."

Here's another snap from the recording session with Luke Treadaway and Hugo Docking (left and right as grown up and young Titus) and David Warner who plays the Artist.

Instead of saying "Cheese!", the photographer asked us to say "Gormenghast!" which explains why three of us have rather strange expressions. Luke, however, was too smart to get caught like that!

Titus, Artist, Brian and Young Titus

Among the events that are chronicled in the fourth play tomorrow are the developments in the brother sister relationships between Titus and Fuchsia played by Olivia Hallinan...

Titus and Fuchsia

There is also a growing awareness of Steerpike's perfidy by Titus' mother, the Countess Gertrude, and Doctor Alfred Prunesquallor, played by Miranda Richardson and James Fleet...

Lady Gertrude and Dr Prunesquallor

And, lightening the mood, there are the comic events surrounding the courtship and marriage of Miss Irma Prunesquallor and Professor Bellgrove, played by Tamsin Greig and William Gaunt...

Irma and Bellgrove

All of the episodes, as they are broadcast, will remain accessible via the BBC iPlayer until the series is complete. Then, eight days later, it will be possible to download and purchase all six hours of drama.

Photos: David Hunter and Islay Bell-Webb

Thursday 28 July 2011


Several years ago now, I posted on the subject of clowns and the not-entirely-irrational fear that they engender in some people.

Among those of the clowning profession whom I mentioned was the Russian genius, Vyacheslav Ivanovich Polunin or Slava (left), whose wonderfully bizarre, infinitely heartwarming entertainment, Slava's Snowshow will be touring the UK this autumn and returning to London in December.

Simon Callow, never an actor given to underemphasis, described Snow show as "The single most beautiful thing I have ever seen in a theatre in my life", and I couldn't agree more.

David and I saw Slava at the Old Vic many years go and it has remained with us both as one of the most astonishing, funny and moving experiences we have ever enjoyed.

Here's a film of part of Slava's Snowshow that captures something of what it was like to be in audience: but without the full shiver-making frisson as the furious tempo of Carl Orff's 'O Fortuna' from Carmina Burana mounts to its scorching crescendo as you are literally dazzled and blasted by a blinding blizzard of brilliant cold whiteness.

If you catch even a hint of Slava's magic here – go and see the real thing!

Tuesday 26 July 2011


During the edition of Quote... Unquote... on which I appeared last week, I quoted Robert Benchley's famous quip on Venice, and then went on to read a short, but highly evocative, passage from what is probably my favourite book written about the city: Watermark by Joseph Brodsky.

Sadly, it got edited out of the programme (though not too surprisingly since they recorded almost fifty minutes for what was, ultimately, only a half-hour show), so I thought I'd share it with you here.

A Russian-American poet and essayist, Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1972 for alleged "social parasitism".

With the help of W H Auden and others, he settled in the USA, taught at Yale and other universities, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987 "for an all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity and poetic intensity", and was made American Poet Laureate in 1991.

Watermark is a long, discursive, essay, that describes the author's feelings about Venice. It would prove little or no use to those one-day tourists who throng the city, because it doesn't tell you even a fraction of what you need to know in order to point your camera in the right direction!

It is about the ideas and the emotions that Venice can arouse in the visitor with the temperament (and time) to watch and listen. It is also, and this is its quiet genius, about how the city shows the writer to himself.

This passage is from a section of the book that especially pleases me because most of our Venetian pilgrimages have been made in wintertime and because, like Brodsky, I am forced to greet each day with a heaped handful of pills!
In winter you wake up in this city, especially on Sundays, to the chiming of its innumerable bells, as though behind your gauze curtains a gigantic china tea-set were vibrating on a silver tray in the pearl-grey sky.

Venetian Dawn 2

You fling the window open and the room is instantly flooded with this outer, peal-laden haze, which is part damp oxygen, part coffee and prayers.

No matter what sort of pills, and how many, you've got to swallow this morning, you feel it's not over for you yet.

On Quote... Unquote... I didn't go on to quote (but I can do so here!) a line by Brodsky that, when I read it, summed up – in one sentence – my own feelings about La Serenissima...
Because one is finite, a departure from this place always feels final: leaving it behind is leaving it forever.

Brodksy himself never left Venice 'forever': he rests at peace on the cemetery island of San Michele. Venice-lovers unlikely to be accorded a similar privilege can, instead, comfort themselves by reading Watermark

Image: 'Dawn on the Piazetta San Marco' by Brian Sibley, © 2000.
There are more of our photos of this wondrous city in our flickr collection Visions of Venice

Sunday 24 July 2011


Just read Moira Petty's review of The History of Titus Groan in last week's The Stage:
The spare beauty of the Shipping Forecast; the Today Programme, especially when things get tetchy; the vicarious joys of mud, pricey strawberries and roving cameras fingering those taking time off work at Glastonbury and Wimbledon; the vast commitment to drama on radio - these are just some of the reasons I’m happy to pay the licence fee when the reminder arrives.

Now add to that list a sublime classic serial from R4. The History of Titus Groan, unfolding with luxurious detail yet imbued with a hypnotic narrative pace like a Gothic road movie, had the unmistakable stamp of excellence from the outset.

Producer Jeremy Mortimer, who directs alongside David Hunter and Gemma Jenkins, has achieved a coup in including the just-published fourth Gormenghast novel, Titus Awakes, in the adaptation of Mervyn Peake’s three previous mid-20th century classics. That Peake only wrote a few hundred words of the final volume, which was then finished by his widow Maeve Gilmore after his death in 1968, has disappointed book reviewers who have generally declared it flat and lacking his virtuoso talents.

Brian Sibley’s six-hour radio adaptation has neatly circumvented potential problems by beginning the epic where the new book ends. Titus, born heir to the Earl of Groan at Gormenghast Castle and the only one of his family to break free of its clammy hold, rows to an island where he meets an artist, clearly sometime Sark resident Peake himself - as gifted a painter and illustrator as he was a writer. The story then segues into Titus’ birth, a scene of exquisite comedy balanced with solemnity, and we are firmly back in true Peake territory.

Peake is everywhere at the moment as the centenary of his birth is marked, but it is my contention that many of those who have his trilogy on their bookshelves have failed to read it. This production does it the best possible service, conjuring incomparable atmosphere, assisted by Roger Goula’s ceremonial yet playful score and parading a range of characters the like of which you find only in Dickens, while preserving many of Peake’s indelible descriptions. The servant Flay (Adrian Scarborough) was ‘a statue of chiselled wood’. The Earl’s twin sisters (Fenella Woolgar and Claudie Blakley twittering in hilarious unison) had rather blank visages: ‘preliminary layouts for faces’.

The cast is a heady delight. Paul Rhys, as the Earl, has a wonderful languour, while Miranda Richardson is regal, dismissive and fabulous, surrounded by her birds and white cats. James Fleet’s Dr Prunesquallor is scholarly but unconfident, a dribble of mirthless cackling following his pronouncements. He calls Steerpike (Carl Prekopp), the boy who escapes the hell of the kitchen, his ‘diabolically clever little monster’, making me wonder if Lady Gaga is a Gormenghast fan. This serial will swell Peake’s followers and I intend to return to it here and the many cast members I have not had space to mention...


The Radio Times are still making up for their earlier lack of coverage of The History of Titus Groan with wonderful, praise-laden coverage of the kind of which writer's dreams are made.

Here's their latest preview for this afternoon's broadcast on Radio 4 at 15:00...

Titus Today's Choice

In the third play, Titus – no longer an infant but now ten years old – is beginning to discover for himself the strange secrets of his ancestral home of Gormenghast.

The young Titus is played by Hugo Docking, seen here (right) with Luke Treadaway who plays the grown-up Titus and narrator of his history...

Titus x Two

We also follow the continued rise of Steerpike, played by Carl Prekopp, as (seen below) he arranges for the removal of the Gerard McDermott's Master of Ritual, Barquentine...

Steerpike and Barquentine

All of the episodes, as they are broadcast, will remain accessible via the BBC iPlayer until the series is complete. Then, eight days later, it will be possible to download and purchase all six hours of drama for limitless listening!

The Radio Times artwork of Steerpike is by the exciting illustrator, Kevin Hauff who writes of his picture:
...A gift of a project. I thought it best to concentrate on Steerpike and his murderous intent. For me, he's by far the most interesting character in the book(s) as he's so calculating and unrelentingly evil.

A true villain in the best theatrical sense. His ambition to be part of the castle life and hierarchy is all consuming and I thought it would be interesting to depict him overlapping into the walls of Gormenghast itself...

Read Kevin's full blog-post, here and be sure to check out his portfolios of illustrations on his web-site

And, if you haven't stumbled across it yet, here I am enthusing about radio drama...

Images: Art by Kevin Hauff, © 2011; Photos: Islay Bell-Webb

Saturday 23 July 2011


'Titus Discovers', the third play in my The History of Titus Groan, based on the novels of Mervyn Peake, will be broadcast, on Radio 4, tomorrow, Sunday 24 July, at 15:00.

And if you missed the second part, 'Titus Inherits', you can catch it again tonight on Radio 4 at 21:00.

And two hours later (if you're still awake!) you can hear. a repeat of the panel game Quote... Unquote... again on Radio 4 at 23:00.

Nigel Rees is in the chair and my fellow contestants are Shelagh Fogarty, Ardel O'Hanlon and Martin Jarvis, but no prizes for guessing which of us quoted American New Yorker humorist, Robert Benchley, who, on visiting Venice for the first time, cabled home: STREETS FLOODED. PLEASE ADVISE!


Image: Brian Sibley, © 2010. You'll find more of our photos of this most beguiling city in our flickr collection Visions of Venice

Friday 22 July 2011


Over on my Decidedly Disney blog, I have posted the film treatment I wrote in 1987 for Mary Poppins Comes Back, an unmade sequel to Walt Disney's 1964 classic movie musical, Mary Poppins.

There rather a lot to read – probably too much for a blog-post really – but it is (I think) a fascinating story of a piece of Almost-Nearly-Movie-History: one of those tales from Hollywoodland of a film that might have been made if the wind had, for a short while, been blowing in another direction...

Whether it would have been a good film if it had been made is altogether debatable and, of course, we will never know now, but, as I explain in my post, a small fragment of the story which I concocted with the book's original author, P L Travers, survives in the script for the stage musical of Mary Poppins.

Which prompts me to share with you a selection of short educational films centred on the stage show in which I make an occasional appearance...

Wednesday 20 July 2011


Good to see that one of our former Prime Ministers is still gainfully employed...

Tony Blair's Other Job

Tuesday 19 July 2011


A new centenary celebration of the art of Mervyn Peake is currently on show at Chris Beetles Gallery

Here are just a few of his striking, poignant, disturbing, haunting images...

Young Boy

Bird Figure

Woodland Spirit

Christ and the Mockers

Mrs Pardiggle and Brood
from Bleak House by Charles Dickens


The Sphinx
Come forth my lovely languorous Sphinx! and
put your head upon my knee!
And let me stroke your throat and see your
body spotted like the Lynx!

- Oscar Wilde

The Genius of Mervyn Peake
exhibition can be viewed on line here and remains on show (Monday-Saturday, 10:00-17:30) until 13 August at

ChrisBeetles Gallery
8 & 10 Ryder Street
St James's
London SW1Y 6QB

Tel: 020 7839 7551

Images: The Estate of Mervyn Peake

Monday 18 July 2011


In today's Guardian, Sarah Crown writes in praise of Radio 4's 'Classic Serial':

Sunday afternoons on the sainted R4 are a booklover's pleasure garden. From 3 o'clock to 4, I listened to the second instalment of their classic serial, The History of Titus Groan, and was reminded of just how rich and alarming Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy is – I haven't read the books since my late teens, but this fine adaptation brought everything – Steerpike's chilly treachery, Flay's cracking knee-joints, the pitiful horror of Sepulchrave's descent into madness after his precious library is burnt – pouring back...


I recently took part in a couple of editions of Quote... Unquote... the vintage radio panel game about Who said What, When and Why.

Here's the line-up of victims –– sorry, talent –– for the show...

'Quote... Unquote...' Ardal O'Hanlon, Nigel Rees (Chairman), Shelagh Fogarty, Brian Sibley and Martin Jarvis

Left to right actor and comedian, Ardal O'Hanlon; the show's creator and chairman, Nigel Rees; broadcaster, Shelagh Fogarty; Yours Truly and actor, Martin Jarvis.

Quotations are one thing, marks are quite another: to see how all got on (or didn't), and enjoy a cornucopia of quotes familiar and un-, tune-in to BBC Radio 4 at 13:30 today.

The show will be repeated on Radio 4 next Saturday evening at 23:00 and, thereafter, can be listened to via BBC iPlayer for the following seven days.

If you'd like to know more about the show (and the whole quoting game) visit the official website: Quote... Unquote...

PS: Just came across a rather sweet tweet from yesterday's Twitter: "There are no finer words that one can hear coming out of the radio than these: 'dramatised by Brian Sibley'."

Sunday 17 July 2011


Here I am holding forth on the radio history of Titus Groan.

To save you sending corrections: Mervyn Peake's radio play was in 1956 and mine in 1984. Otherwise it's pretty accurate!

Part Two, 'Titus Inherits', airs on BBC Radio 4 at 15:00 this afternoon.

Saturday 16 July 2011


If you missed 'Titus Arrives' the first part of my play cycle, The History of Titus Groan, based on the novels of Mervyn Peake, you can catch it tonight on BBC Radio 4 at 21:00.

And you can hear Part 2, 'Titus Inherits', also on Radio 4, tomorrow, Sunday 17 July, at 15:00.

From the recording session of the second play, here are Claudie Blakeley and Fenella Woolgar as their Ladyships Cora and Clarice Groan being manipulated by the ruthlessly ambitious Steerpike, played by Carl Prekopp...

Steerpike, Cora and Clarice

All of the episodes, as they are broadcast, will remain accessible via the BBC iPlayer until the series is complete. Then, eight days later, it will be possible to download and purchase all six hours of drama for your future enjoyment!

Photo: Islay Bell-Webb

Friday 15 July 2011


How long before the 3D bubble bursts? Or, maybe, it really is here for good this time...

3D TVs are in the stores as are a whole range of 3D camcorders so you can add a new dimension to your home movie.

And (if you happen to have any red and green specs laying around anywhere) here's the trailer for the concluding part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows which, as you are cannot fail to have noticed, goes on release in the UK today – in 3D!!

But if anyone doubts that the 3D fad has reached ludicrous levels of absurdity, then just consider the following products on offer from clothing manufacturer, Pistol Pete...


This new collection is cutting edge! Gotta try it!
Each item comes with a stylish pair of 3D glasses
and the effect is quite fun!

One can imagine the amorous scene... Low lights and sweet music, champagne of ice, silk sheets turned back... Then: the moment of disrobing and a sudden, unexpected, hiatus: "Just slip on these 3D glasses, will you? I think you'll find that the effect is quite fun!"

I'm just guessing, of course, but, presumably, the specs make things stand out better!

AND, you can hear my view of HP&TDH Part 2 on the Radio 2 Arts Show tonight at around 11:30 pm.

Thursday 14 July 2011


Sixty-two today! But whatever became of this weird, geeky-looking little kid?

Oh, yes, of course... I remember...

Tuesday 12 July 2011


There have been lots of great comments about The History of Titus Groan on Facebook and Twitter and, despite the dearth of BBC publicity, it seems to be finding an enthusiastic audience.

Next week's Radio Times goes some way to making up for its odd coverage last week, by calling the series "this glorious dramatisation... The entire cast are magnificent. It's surreal, black-humoured and wickedly enjoyable."

I carried the banner at the British Library's celebration last evening sharing the stage with Sebastian Peake and China Miéville and a daunting trio of readers: John Sessions, Zoe Wanamaker and Miranda Richardson.

Over the weekend I visited an exhibition of paintings and drawings by Mervyn and his wife, Maeve Gilmore at Viktor Wynd Fine Art, here I am with Sebastian in front of one of his mother's paintings of him as a boy on Sark...

Brian & Sebastian Peake

The website We Love This Book celebrates 100 Years of Mervyn Peake and publishes an extract from Clare Peake's poignant and beautiful portrait of her parents Under a Canvas Sky as well as my introduction to Maeve's novel, Titus Awakes – along with a goodly puff for the radio series!

Sunday 10 July 2011


Brian and Titus Cast

Here I am surrounded by members of the cast of my play-cycle, The History of Titus Groan, based on the novels of Mervyn Peake, which begins this afternoon as 'The Classic Serial' on BBC Radio 4 at 15:00 and will run until Sunday 13 August.

Six months in the writing and making, produced by Jeremy Mortimer (who also directed with Gemma Jenkins and David Hunter) and with music by Roger Goula, the plays feature Luke Treadaway as Titus and David Warner as the Artist.

An impressive cast is headed by Miranda Richardson (Countess Gertrude), Paul Rhys (Lord Sepulchrave), James Fleet (Doctor Prunesquallor), Tamsin Greig (Miss Irma Prunesquallor), Adrian Scarborough (Flay), Mark Benton (Swelter), William Gaunt (Bellgrove), Claudie Blakeley and Fenella Woolgar (Lady Cora and Lady Clarice Groan)...

Cora and Clarice

Also in the cast are Olivia Hallinan (Fuchsia), Jane Whittenshaw (Nannie Slagg), James Lailey (Sourdust), Gerard McDermott (Barquentine) and, later in the series, Gerard Murphy as Muzzlehatch and Maureen Beattie as Juno.

The malevolent Steerpike is played by Carl Prekopp seen here recording the scene where he climbs to freedom up the walls of Gormenghast Castle in the first play, 'Titus Arrives'...

Steerpike climbing

The photo was actually taken horizontally with him crawling along the floor, but this is radio – The Theatre of the Mind!

And just to show that, even if it is radio, no effort is spared to create authenticity of action, here's Carl, aided by Studio Manager, Jennie Burnett, recording a scene at the beginning of the fourth play in which Steerpike is almost drowned in the moat of Gormenghast Castle...

Steerpike drowning

That's all to come... Meanwhile, if you miss today's broadcast, you can catch a repeat broadcast, also on Radio 4, next Saturday evening, 16 July, at 21:00.

Or you can catch it right now on BBC iPlayer!

In fact all of the episodes, as they are broadcast, will be available via the BBC iPlayer and remain accessible until the series is complete. Then, eight days later, it will be possible to download and purchase all six hours of drama to keep forever!

You can read series producer, Jeremy Mortimer writing about the production on the BBC Radio 4 Blog and here I am talking about what I believe is going to be a fantastic series...

Photos: David Hunter and Islay Bell-Webb

Saturday 9 July 2011


Mervyn Peake's books are actual additions to life; they give, like certain rare dreams, sensations we never had before, and enlarge our conception of the range of possible experience.
— C S Lewis

Today is the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Mervyn Peake (caricatured right by Dunlap-Shol).

Peake, as I keep banging on about on this blog, was the author of that extraordinary trio of novels, Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone, as well as being a brilliant artist and one of the greatest book illustrators of the 20th Century.

Today also sees the official publication of Titus Awakes, a fourth novel about the 77th Earl of Gormenghast written by Peake's widow, the late Maeve Gilmore, that – until last year – had lain forgotten among the family papers since her death in 1983.

Having been given the privilege by Maeve, thirty years ago, of reading the book when it was still in manuscript, I was proud to now be asked to write an introduction to this fascinating literary 'discovery'.

More than that, I have been able to incorporate elements of Maeve's work into my cycle of six one-hour radio plays, The History of Titus Groan which commences on BBC Radio 4 tomorrow, Sunday, at 15:00.

You can read more about the genesis and development of the serialisation from its producer, Jeremy Mortimer, on the BBC's Radio 4 & 4 Extra Blog.

BBC publicity for this (apologies for bragging) landmark series has been at an all-time low. Not one of today's broadsheets managed a preview. So for Mervyn's sake (on his birthday) please blog, tweet, chat and – however you can – spread the word!

Several critics have harshly reviewed Maeve's book, condemning it for not having the same brilliance of invention and character as is found in her husband's writing. True, the publisher's hyperbolic tag 'The Lost Book of Gormenghast' is, frankly, misleading, but – as I am at pains to point out in the introduction – Maeve did not write her book with a view to publication. However, it is, I believe, worth reading for the light which it sheds on the relationship between her and Mervyn and for its unexpected and utterly poignant portrayal of her husband as a character in Titus' world.

If you know the world of Gormenghast and have read Titus Groan's earlier peregrinations, then you may be interested in Maeve's speculation of what happened to him next in Titus Awakes

Also just published: a one-volume edition of the three Titus novels with over a hundred illustrations (many published for the first time) taken from Mervyn Peake's manuscripts and a new introduction by one of today's leading fantasy writers, China Mieville. This edition is sold as The Illustrated Gormenghast Trilogy

Peake fans (or those who'd like to find out about why some of us make so much fuss about him!) can discover more at the British Library exhibition, The Worlds of Mervyn Peake which remains on show until 18 September.

Caricature of Mervyn Peake by Dunlap-Shol

Thursday 7 July 2011


With Saturday's centenary of the birth of artist and writer Mervyn Peake (left) fast approaching, BBC Radio 4 today explores the inspirations behind the world of Gormenghast and visits the idiosyncratic Channel Island of Sark where Peake lived, worked and raised a family.

All islands held a fascination for Peake: he wrote about them as well as painting and drawing them – illustrating Treasure Island, Swiss Family Robinson, The Hunting of the Snark and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (in which the becalmed ship is surely a wooden island surrounded by sea) – and, on more than one occasion, he described the vast citadel of Gormenghast as being isolated and insular like an island.

A Hundred Years of Mervyn Peake (Radio 4 11:30) features contributions from Peake's three children, Sebastian, Fabian and Clare along with Joanne Harris, (author of Chocolat) and myself.

If you miss the programme, you can hear it via BBC iPlayer for the next seven days.

And this Sunday (on Radio 4 at 15:00) will see the commencement of my cycle of six one-hour radio plays, The History of Titus Groan...

Lastly, as reminder of Peake's obsessions with islands, here is one of his evocative illustrations for R L Stevenson's Treasure Island...

Visit the BBC's information page (with photos) here

Images: The Estate of Mervyn Peake

Monday 4 July 2011


July 4th has another claim to fame apart from being American Independence Day (greetings to all my American readers!) because one-hundred-and-forty-nine years ago, today, Charles Dodgson, a mathematics don from Christ Church, Oxford, took three little girls on a river picnic and, as they rowed, began spinning a tale of a little girl called Alice who followed a white rabbit with a watch, fell down a rabbit-hole and found herself in a place that could only be described as a land of wonders...

The book, published two years later in 1864 under the pen-name of Lewis Carroll, was illustrated by the great British Victorian cartoonist, John Tenniel (resulting in images that are, in the estimation of many, inseparable from the text), but countless other artists have since depicted Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, among them, in 1946, Mervyn Peake and, as we are currently marking the centenary of that man's birth, here are a few of his strikingly original Alice images...

Striking because Alice is so much a child of our time, as opposed to Tenniel's nineteenth century child; striking because the White Rabbit looks genuinely harried about being late, the Queen's Footman is truly a fish out of water, the Hatter and Hare (and probably the Dormouse too, if he were awake) are clearly dangerously unhinged, the Jabberwock is not a foe to be taken lightly by any beamish boy, the Walrus is accompanied by a carved-wood carpenter and Alice wears an ivory chess-piece crown and holds us with eyes that have unquestionably beheld wonders...

And, finally, on this frabjous day, here's a commercial for a French academic-support organisation, Acadomia, that speculates on how the wild nonsense of Mr Carroll's imagination may have had its beginnings...

Illustrations: © The Estate of Mervyn Peake

Saturday 2 July 2011


David Warner

This is a photograph I took of the brilliant David Warner during the recording of The History of Titus Groan, my cycle of radio plays based on the novels Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone by Mervyn Peake with elements from Titus Awakes, the shortly-to-be published 'Lost Gormenghast Novel' written by Peake's widow, Maeve Gilmore.

For me this project represents a return to previously-explored territory, because, in 1984, I wrote two 90-minute radio plays based on the first two novels that won Sony Radio awards for myself and my producer, the late Glyn Dearman.

It was an interesting cast: Sting as Steerpike, David Warner, Freddie Jones, Eleanor Bron, Bernard Hepton, Judy Parfitt, Sheila Hancock, Stratford Johns, Maurice Denham and Michael Aldridge.

One day, during recoding, Robert Eddison, who was playing Sourdust, Gormenghast's Master of Ritual, informed me that he had been in an earlier radio version dramatised by the author and broadcast on the Third Programme (now Radio 3) in February 1956.

I knew of this version because Maeve Gilmore had given me a copy of the script and, having struggled valiantly to condense Peake's elaborately crafted prose into play form, I had been amused to discover that he had been far less faithful to his book than I!

Of course, as author, he had the perfect right to do what he wanted – and he did! To give just one example: the Christening of the infant Titus (a scene which includes important events and encounters) took place in the library on the evening (much later in the novel) when, under the conniving tutelage of Steerpike, Lady Cora and Lady Clarice Groan set it on fire.

Robert Eddison had vivid memories of that production in which he had played Doctor Prunesquallor. Broadcast live with cast and orchestra it had begun seriously over-running as a result of which, the author had sat on the studio floor, cutting the script and handing revised dialogue to the actors as they stood at the microphone! Sadly (or, perhaps, happily!) no recording was made of that version!

But I was greatly struck by the continuity of Eddison having been in both productions and, this time round, wanted to find an opportunity to have a member of the 1984 cast in the new dramatisation.

So, I was hugely thrilled when David Warner, who had played Lord Sepulchrave in my first foray into Gormenghast, was able to revisit it, not as one of its denizens, but now as the Artist in whose extraordinary visionary imagination, the place was conceived.

The History of Titus Groan begins its broadcasts on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday 10 July at 15:00 and runs until 14 August with repeat broadcasts on Saturday evenings at 21:00 from 16 July-20 August.

Steerpike and Titus x Two

Carl Prekopp (Steerpike), Luke Treadaway (Titus) and
Hugo Docking (Young Titus)

Visit the official BBC History of Titus Groan website.

Photos: David Warner by Brian Sibley; Steerpike and the two Tituses by Islay Bell-Webb

Friday 1 July 2011


I love stories told by book collectors of rare finds picked up for a song. Well, here's one of mine...

Many years ago, I was walking up Charing Cross Road when it was still the street of a dozen bookshops and outside one of them, on a trestle, was a cardboard box of assorted paperbacks, "All one price: 10p", among them, this one...

Notes on a Cowardly Lion (Cover)

Being a huge fan of The Wizard of Oz, I instantly recognised the name Bert Lahr, although I was later surprised that the cover image shows Lahr in Beckett's Waiting for Godot.

Worth 10p of anybody's money, I thought and I was right!

This was an American paperback of John Lahr's 1969 biography of his father and, as such, was very tightly-bound so I paid my ten pence without even opening (or trying to open) the book.

Later that day, home-bound on a train, I decided to take a closer look at my bargain purchase and, for the first time, saw the title-page...

Notes on a Cowardly Lion (Title-page)

Many years, later I told this story to the book's author but, for some reason, he didn't seem to find it too amusing – I guess because Sir Ralph was still alive when I bought the book!

Oh, well, never mind, it made me very happy!

As for Bert Lahr, he said of his most famous role: "That was my one big Hollywood hit, but, in a way, it hurt my picture career. After that, I was typecast as a lion, and there just weren't many parts for lions."

But, fortunately, there was that one!