Monday 28 November 2011



Maverick filmmaker Ken Russell has died at 84: a grand age for one who was the enfant terrible of 'sixties cinema.

Maligned, misunderstood and hugely undervalued, Russell was a great director: a man of extraordinary visions – brave, brash, startling, shocking, horrifying and hilarious by turn – he leaves a legacy that is greatly in need of critical reevaluation and public restoration.

Here is an excellent short documentary On Ken Russell by Matthew Supersad.

And here's a piece I wrote on this blog back in 2007 in praise of Mr Russell and the exhibition of photographs he had just staged: Ken's Candid Camera.

Portrait of Ken Russell by Paul Joyce.

Sunday 27 November 2011


Today is the first Sunday in Advent...

In case you are wondering what Advent means, here's the definition...

Today is, therefore, a good day on which to announce – should you have missed the fact – that, in an effort to encourage those whose visits to church tend to be limited to Christenings, weddings, funerals and (possibly) Christmas Eve Mass, the good ol' Church of England has launched a new on-line facility to help you Find a Church Near You.

Another good way is to walk down a few streets until you see a building with either a tower of a steeple (tall pointy thing) which are sometimes (but not always) churches. There are other churches that look a bit like council offices but they usually have the word 'CHURCH' displayed somewhere on or near the exterior.

I checked out the C of E's new service (pun intended) – inserted my postcode and clicked – and found that I am actually living NEXT to a church!

That, of course, I knew; I was hoping it might tell me there was a nearby church with whom we weren't haggling over possible tenancy terms and where I would feel comfortable attending... Oh, well, ho-hum...

Never mind, it is Advent and that means that Christmas is coming!

Friday 25 November 2011


Sorting through more treasures for boxing-up, I stumbled on a photograph that brought back a flood of memories...

It was 1977 and Fantasia, that Disney film that has been such an obsession of mine for so much of my life, was once more being re-released – this time with a simulated stereo soundtrack.

Swept away yet again by the amazing combination of great music and amazing animation that had done so much not only to secure my passionate devotion to Disney but also to introduce me to classical music, I sat down and wrote a fan letter to the film's maestro, Leopold Stokowski.

Not knowing where to send it, I wrote care of the Disney Studio, an unnecessarily circuitous route as it happened, since by then he was living in Hampshire, England!

Months passed without a reply. Then, in September 1977, I read of Stokowski's death at the age of 95. I had waited too long; had written to my hero too late.

But no, that was not the case: the very next day, I received in the post what must have been one of the last photographs the conductor ever signed...

Leopold Stowkowski

The 'W' shaped squiggle at the end of the signature represents a lyre and was a characteristic flourish with which Stokowski finished many of his autographs.

Tuesday 22 November 2011


A few days ago I mentioned The Illustrators 1837-2011 exhibition at Chris Beetles' Art Gallery and showed some of the pen-and-ink pictures that are on sale.

There are many items for sale after which I lust, but none more so than a series of watercolour paintings created by Alfred Bestall for the covers and end-papers of those best-selling, dearly-loved Christmas stocking-fillers, the Rupert Annuals.

Bestall's evocative depiction of Rupert's adventurous realm of magical characters, creatures and happenings are unequaled for their innocent charm, their captured energy and their haunting atmosphere of dreamy other-worldliness.

They possess – or, at least, evoke within me – a sense of yearning, a deep-seated longing for the safe, secure happiness of the days of my youth: when the future still stretched limitlessly before me filled with unquestioned hopefulness...

Should it happen, by some generous quirk of fate, that I were to find myself trousering the Lotto rollover this week, I will be purchasing at least one and possibly several of these gems – if, of course, they haven't all been snapped up!

You can view the exhibition on-line here

Saturday 19 November 2011


Charles Dickens was a conjuror: he produced unforgettable characters and scenes out of thin air and made them an indelible part of national – and world – culture; but he was also a keen amateur magician who amazed his literary friends with his acts of legerdemain.

Dickens has now become inseparably associated with the Christmas season – largely as a result of that 1843 ghost-story-with-a-moral, A Christmas Carol, and the other Christmas Books that followed.

The story of the tight-fisted Ebenezer Scrooge, Marley's Ghost, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim and the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come has been told and re-told to a point when it has ceased to be a literary phenomenon and has assumed a mythic status.

With the success of what Dickens called his little "Ghost Story of Christmas", the Victorian theatre – where ghosts were being regularly being conjured as an ingredient of plays and programmes of entertainment – began calling up Scrooge's spectral visitors with the aid of the cutting-edge special effects technology of their age.

This December the British Library celebrates the author's particular fascination with ghostliness and spookery in an exhibition, A Hankering after Ghosts: Charles Dickens and the Supernatural.

Theatre Poster

To coincide with the event, David and I are presenting a couple of performances of A Christmas Carol and the Conjuror: a divertissement combining a reading by me of Dickens' famous text – as abridged and performed by the author in his Public Readings of 1858 – interspersed with magical interludes from David featuring a cavalcade of mystifying tricks inspired by Scrooge's saga.

Performances are on Friday 9 December 2011 at 6:30 and Saturday 10 December at 2:30.

Don't be a HUMBUG: BOOK NOW!

Portrait of Dickens by Scala

Wednesday 16 November 2011


...and through the Looking-Glass!

An Invitation!

On Friday evening the Lewis Carroll Society will be meeting at The Art Workers Guild, 6 Queen Square, London, WC1N 3AT for From Gormenghast to Wonderland, an event to mark the centenary of Mervyn Peake, whose many accomplishments included providing memorable illustrations for Carroll's two Alice books and The Hunting of the Snark.

The artist's sons, Sebastian and Fabian Peake will be reflecting on the life and legacy of their father and I will be talking about Peake's highly individual perspective on the worlds down the rabbit-hole and beyond the looking-glass.

Doors open at 6:45 for 7:15, the event is free to members of the Lewis Carroll Society but is open to non-members for an admission charge of £8:00. Enquiries and bookings to Mark Richards on 020 7286 0776 or by e-mail:

Don't sit at home all alone...

...come and join us!

Details of how to get to The Art Workers Guild can be found here.

Images: © The Estate of Mervyn Peake

Tuesday 15 November 2011


If we really MUST have Christmas commercials in November, I could wish they were all as good as this one...

And here's the 'Making of' video...

Sunday 13 November 2011


It is almost time for that much-loved illustrative feast: the annual selling exhibition at Chris Beetle's Art Gallery celebrating the British Art of Illustration.

There are hundreds of examples of that art as practiced by some of the greatest names from John Tenniel and George Cruikshank via the Heath Robinson family to Ronald Searle and Quentin Blake.

There are many pieces on show featuring colour illustrations, but – as a taster – here are a few examples of the work of artists who were among the undisputed masters of black and white...

Edward Ardizzone

Rowland Emett

Eric Fraser

Joan Hassall

Thomas Heath Robinson

William Heath Robinson

Ronald Searle

Tommy Cooper and Shirley Bassey

E H Shepard

R S Sheriffs
Gladys Cooper and Margaret O'Brien in The Secret Garden

The full catalogue can be viewed on-line here or purchased as a superbly produced 384 page paperback that can be ordered here

The Illustrators exhibition runs from 20 November 2010 to 8 January 2011, opening hours: Monday-Saturday 10:00-17:30.

Chris Beetle's Gallery is at 8 & 10 Ryder St, St James's, London SW1Y 6QB (Telephone: 020 7839 7551; Fax: 020 7839 1603; e-mail:

Friday 11 November 2011

Thursday 10 November 2011


3D it seems (at least for the immediate future) is here to stay. Modern technology has made it possible for the third-dimension to be so much more than mere gimmickry: to give cinematic experience an immersive, sensory quality that is a far cry from the poke-in-the-eye of early 3D!

And when it is used simply showing off (though, the technology is, of course, far from simple!) it can be done with a showmanship previously unimagined.

If you missed seeing the video below when it circulated last year, it is well worth five minutes of your time...

On 5 September 2010, LG Electronics (LG) unveiled a gigantic media façade in Kulturbrauerei, the cultural heart of Berlin, displaying 3D mapping technology to highlight the company's new smartphone, the LG Optimus One.

The presentation was, as you will see, a source of considerable (and not surprising) wonderment for the many people passing through the square, who were visually overwhelmed by the ever-changing 3D-style artwork on the nearly three-storey high screen.

Beginning with a countdown on a giant hourglass and a greeting from an “Android,” LG’s huge presentation took viewers on an amazing 3D-effects ride that is spectacular even in common-or-garden 2D...

It's impossible not to think that this will be the look of the advertising hoardings of the late 21st Century.

Tuesday 8 November 2011


On a nearby building-site – in an attempt to make the place look more attractive than building-sites usually look – colourful hoardings were erected and were specially graffitied with helpful suggestions on how to brighten up our otherwise hum-drum Kennington lives.

For example, why not...

Or, again, you could...

But, whatever we do, we were reminded, we absolutely MUST remember...

I wonder exactly when it was decided that one ought NOT to walk on the lines on the street?

Certainly if it wasn't down to A A Milne, he (with his penchant for bears) at least made it something of which every reader of When We Were Very Young became acutely aware through this little verse...

Whenever I walk in a London street,
I'm ever so careful to watch my feet;
And I keep in the squares,
And the masses of bears,
Who wait at the corners all ready to eat
The sillies who tread on the lines of the street,
Go back to their lairs,
And I say to them, "Bears,
just look how I'm walking in all the squares!"

And the little bears growl to each other, "He's mine,
As soon as he's silly and steps on a line."
And some of the bigger bears try to pretend
That they came round the corner to look for a friend;
And they try to pretend that nobody cares
Whether you walk on the lines or squares.
But only the sillies believe the talk;
It's ever so portant how you walk.
And it's ever so jolly to call out, "Bears,
just watch me walking in all the squares!"

A few hours after posting innocent piece of flummery above, I was driven by my insatiable curiosity (and readers of Kipling will recall where insatiable curiosity inevitably leads) to start trawling the net in search of a pre-Milnean origin for Linesofthestreetphobia!

The result was both illuminating and shocking according to CSI the website of the magazine Skeptical Enquiry.

Here (in their uncensored words) is the alleged origin of Christopher Robin's innocent bear-avoidance game:
Ill-fortune is said to be the result from stepping on a crack in the pavement. Present day society usually associates the superstition behind treading on cracks to the rhyme: "Step on a crack, break your mother's back" but the superstition actually goes back to the late 19th - early 20th Century and the racism that was prevalent in this period.

The original rhyming verse is thought to be "Step on a crack and your mother will turn black." It was also common to think that walking on the lines in pavement would mean you would marry a negro and have a black baby. (Apparently this superstition only applied to Caucasians and because of the rampant prejudice against black people, was considered an activity to avoid.)

Stepping on cracks also had significance for children. In the mid-20th Century it was popular to tell children that if they stepped on the cracks in the street, they would be eaten by the bears that congregate on street corners waiting for their lunch to walk by. [Appallingly, no credit given to Mr Milne here! Ed]

Also, the number of lines a person would walk on corresponded with the number of china dishes that the person would break, later in the day.

Only in the last few decades has the rhyming superstition resurfaced to be the recognized "step on a crack, break your mother's back" and in some areas, two superstitions above are melded together to include the number of lines one steps on will correspond with the number of your mother's bones that are broken.

Original illustrations to When We Were Very Young (1924) by Ernest H Shepard

Sunday 6 November 2011


Tomorrow (Monday) night:


I will be in conversation with Sebastian and Fabian Peake as they reminisce about their father's life and work and read from his poetry and short stories in the special centenary event at King's Place, the impressive new art and music centre just a few minutes walk from King's Cross Station.

The event begins at 7:00 pm, tickets cost £9.50 and can be booked on-line here.

Thursday 3 November 2011


There seem to have been a lot of Hallowe'en parties last weekend – on Saturday night we were passed by a car carrying Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolfman and I was slightly surprised to see a six-foot banana waiting at a bus stop – and, goodness knows, things don't get much scarier than that!

Anyway, for the next occasion on which such invites come your way, let me recommend these stylishly grisly accessories which I spotted in (of all unlikely places) the sleepy seaside town of Hastings...

Monster Bag 1

Monster Bag 2

On reflection, I might get one of the bottom bags as a carry-on – just in case I ever have to travel though Los Angeles airport again!

Monstrous bags and other Goth delights are available from Equilibrium, 55 George Street, Hastings, East Sussex TN34 3EE
Tel: 01424 200116