Friday 28 September 2012


'I forgot to mention,' [said Gandalf] 'that with the map went a key, a small and curious key. Here it is! ... Keep it safe!'

And where could be safer than on a Gandalf key-ring...?

Just be sure not to lego of your wizard!

And the website The Tolkienist has launched a series of 75 (the current age of The Hobbit) reasons why you should read The Hobbit before watching the films; my contribution is, as you will see, somewhat joky, but there are 75 reasons – count 'em and see for yourself!

Tuesday 25 September 2012


Veteran photographer Elliott Erwitt who is the subject of a current exhibition at Chris Beetle Fine Photographs, is noted for two distinctive styles of work: serious commissions - evocative captures of places and people...

But Erwitt is equally know and admired for his witty 'snaps' (as he calls them): often artfully (or craftily) staged for maximum humorous or quirky effect.

I defy anyone to look at these clever compositions and not smile!

"You can find pictures anywhere. It's simply a matter of noticing things and organizing them. You just have to care about what's around you and have a concern with humanity and the human condition."

The exhibition Elliott Erwitt remains on show at  Chris Beetles Fine Photographs  until 12 October 2012

3-5 Swallow Street, London, W1B 4DE
Telephone: 020 7434 4319

Gallery Opening Times: 
Monday – Saturday, 10:00 - 17:30

Sunday 23 September 2012


Another day, another encounter?

And another ring-bearer...

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, at St John the Divine, Kennington, where I traded a copy of my book The Land of Narnia for an autograph in his new book about the same place, The Lion's World (a copy of which arrived as a lovely, unexpected present from Sheila)...

Photo: David Weeks


Look who I ran into at yesterday's Hobbit Second Breakfast, my precious...

Photo: David Weeks

Saturday 22 September 2012


Saturday 22 September? That (according to J R R Tolkien) can only mean one thing! It is Bilbo and Frodo Baggins' birthday!

Why 22nd? When yesterday (21st) was the birthday of the first publication of The Hobbit? Best guess: when the Professor came to set the two hobbit's joint-birthday, he misremembered the date on which his first book appeared...

In any event, talking of The Hobbit... Need a handy crib to the main points of the story?

Well, this might do for starters...


As Mr Spock said in 'The Squire of Gothos'  (Star Trek, first season, episode 17, January 12, 1967):

'Fascinating is a word I use for the unexpected. In this case, I should think "interesting" would suffice.' 

Friday 21 September 2012


It's a day for celebration! Pass the mushrooms, please...

It's seventy-five years ago, today, since J R R Tolkien's The Hobbit was first published.

So, this is a good day to enjoy a 'second breakfast'...

 While you are enjoying your Second Breakfast, try and imagine what expectations Stanley Unwin, the book's original publisher, had for The Hobbit back in 1937. It was obviously a speculative venture – the initial print run was for 1,500 copies which, we now know, was ludicrously conservative.

The book's success was fairly instantaneous garnering excellent reviews including one by  C S Lewis in The Times:

The truth is that in this book a number of good things, never before united, have come together: a fund of humour, an understanding of children, and a happy fusion of the scholar's with the poet's grasp of mythology... The professor has the air of inventing nothing. He has studied trolls and dragons at first hand and describes them with that fidelity that is worth oceans of glib "originality." 

Now, 75 years on, we are about to witness a new interpretation of the story from Middle-earth's official filmmaker...


Unfortunately, you can no longer watch the clip below because Warner Brothers, given the choice of seeing their new trailer for the movie go viral OR have it taken down from YouTube have–––– Yes! Had it removed! Home goal, Warners!

Never mind, if you still REALLY want to see it and (despite the above) I would if I were you... Try and watch it HERE!

And, whatever your reactions to the latest Jackson trailer, just be thankful (and this is a Disney aficionado writing) that, back in 1972, nothing came of the Disney Studio's attempts at a Hobbit film project from which these are recently revealed examples of preliminary artwork...

And, don't forget (if you in or near London) tonight's celebration of 'The Hobbit at 75' at the British Library...

Caricature of Tolkien by Vladymyr Lukash

Monday 17 September 2012


There is a whiff of Hobbit-fever is in the air! With the Peter Jackson trilogy looming – plus, of course, the ubiquitous tie-in publications (see side-bar!!) – there may not have been a time since the hippy-hobbity-sixties, when J R R Tolkien's yarn about the peregrinations of Mr Bilbo Baggins has had greater currency.

Preempting (or prefacing) the film release are various planned celebrations beginning this Friday, 21 September, with an event at the British Library to mark the 75 Anniversary of the first publication of The Hobbit.

The Hobbit at 75 will be chaired by my friend and colleague, Jane Johnson, who (as Jude Fisher), wrote the visual companions to The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (and very soon) The Hobbit Ditto and among her guests will be the author Adam Roberts, author of the parody The Soddit, and Yours Truly.

Here are the details – book early to avoid finding the tickets have all been snuffled by Orcs and Uruk-hai!

The following day, the Professor's publishers, HarperCollins, will be taking over the walled garden at Fulham Palace in London to hold The Hobbit Second Breakfast. Again, I will be present – although, personally, I've never needed a literary excuse for having a second helping at any time of day!

Saturday 15 September 2012


I was saddened to hear of the passing of John Moffatt, a greatly talented actor whose career embraced stage, film, television and radio where he was the perfect embodiment of Agatha Christie's celebrated Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot.

His extraordinary range embraced everything from Shakespeare and the classics to pantomime and revue – notably his memorable performance in the Noel Coward tribute show, Cowardy Custard.

Radio was an especial love and my friend Jeremy Mortimer quotes John as saying that radio acting was like Japanese water colour painting - deft and speedy.

I can testify to his mastery of that technique from the one time we worked together, back in (I think) 1990, when I compiled a 90-minute show for BBC Radio 4 featuring songs and sketches from the revues of the 1920s.

Entitled Hit the Heights, it was produced by the wonderful Glyn Dearman and starred John Moffatt, Una Stubbs, Nickloas Grace and Charles Kay with a special appearance by the legendary Miss Elisabeth Welch.

John acted as compere, appeared in several sketches and, accompanied by Richard Holmes, sang the two numbers uploaded here and which I hope John's many admirers (and all my readers) will enjoy...

First is the comic song 'And Her Mother Came Too' by Ivor Novello and Dion Titheradge, originally performed by Jack Buchanan in the 1921 Andre Charlot revue, A to Z...


...and here is Noel Coward's autobiographical ballad, 'World Weary', first performed by the composer in the 1928 revue, This Year of Grace....



An aside...

In compiling Hit the Heights, I examined the original scripts archived in the Westminster Library as part of the Lord Chamberlain's papers. These contained the blue pencil deletions and changes made under the then theatrical censorship laws. 

For a more tolerant age, I restored many of the cut words, phrases and innuendos but I was, until now, unaware that the lyrics to World Weary had also been censored with the line: "My loving friends will not be there, I'm so sick of their darnn-fool faces" being a substitute for the original "...God-damned faces..." An unhappy Coward complained: "This compromise, while soothing outraged public opinion, weakened the song considerably."

I dearly wish I could have had John sing it as Coward originally intended.

Thursday 13 September 2012


Hurrah! Hooray! 

Today sees the publication of Dodger, a new novel by Sir Terry Pratchett which the publishers describe as follows:
Dodger is a tosher - a sewer scavenger living in the squalor of Dickensian London. Everyone who is nobody knows Dodger. Anyone who is anybody doesn't. But when he rescues a young girl from a beating, suddenly everybody wants to know him. And "Dodger's" tale of skulduggery, dark plans and even darker deeds begins...

Pratchett and Dickens: a perfect combination! I can't wait to read it...
The advent of a new Pratchett has also awoken a nine-year-old memory...

It was an unforgettable event – for both good and bad reasons – it was the night of the 2003 SFX Awards – annually dished out by "the greatest SF, fantasy and horror magazine on the planet" – and I was a nominee for my book, The Lord of the Rings: The Making of the Movie Trilogy.

I'm sure in the subsequent nine years the SFX Awards have gone from strength to strength, but back in 2003, the organisation (at least as far as the nominees were concerned) was a tad chaotic and I spent well over an hour abandoned in the gloom of the back stage area with nothing to drink and nowhere to sit except on the cases used for transporting the sound equipment.

On the plus side, apart from subsequently winning the award in my category  – the bizarrely-titled 'Best Sci-Fi Fantasy Related Non-Fiction Book' (think about it!) – was being incarcerated during the pre-show wait with the aforesaid Terry Pratchett.

Terry Pratchett is, of course, creator (of among other things) the Discworld (a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants which, in turn, stand on the shell of a giant turtle travelling through space) which serves as a device for the author's humorous dissection of the social, political and cultural mores of our own non-flat world!

The first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic, was published in 1983 and has been followed by, to date, another 39 novels. Behind the consistently brilliant jesting is one of the most startling minds around – something Pratchett receives insufficient credit for with the lit-crit crowd because his wit and wisdom (and an astonishing ability to conjure unforgettable imagery) is wrapped up in laugh-out-loud humour. In my library, Pratchett doesn't sit on a shelf alongside the other fantasy and sci-fi guys (regardless of how well he can do that stuff), he cohabits with other great, and all too often underrated, humorists such as Thurber, Wodehouse, Perelman and Benson.

We had already met, my having interviewed him on three separate occasions for various BBC arts and books programmes. The first of those encounters did not go brilliantly (due to a combination of catching him during one of those exhausting book-launch-tours and a couple of dumb questions from the interviewer) and, mercifully, no copy of it has survived! But I learned the lesson and, the next time we sat down to chat, I was better prepared...

My initial encounter with Terry Pratchett was not quite as uncomfortable as that experienced by the member of the SFX Award ceremony team (and an effusive fan) who encountered us as we lurked in the half-light waiting for someone to bother about us. By this time Terry was lying flat on one of the cases with his trademark hat over his eyes. The fan approached with a huge pile of books ("Would you sign them to 'Pooh', that's my nickname...") and Terry began patiently inscribing the books, at the same time saying very quietly: "If someone doesn't come to look after us in the next two minutes, we won't be here when you eventually get around to coming back."

The message finally got through and, as it turned out, it was probably just as well we didn't leave since – apart from the lovely James ('Scotty') Doohan from Star Trek – we were the only two recipients to turn up for the ceremony. In fact, my award was seventh or eighth on the running order and the first award not to be collected by the presenter! As a result, even though no one knew who the hell I was, my trip to the podium was greeted with thunderous applause and an indecent amount of cheering!

In the intervening years since we collected our gongs, Terry Pratchett has been diagnosed with 'posterior cortical atrophy', a very rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's disease and his courageous and characteristically phlegmatic response has been widely documented as have his views on assisted dying. It would be impossible, today, to interview Terry without asking about these looming issues.

Back in 1995, when he had just published his eighteenth Discworld novel, Maskerade, I had an extended interview with Terry Pratchett that was largely full of his sharp perception and quirky humour, his profundity and humanity.

However, since Discworld features the eternally present character of Death, it is hardly surprising that he makes what may now seem a prophetic appearance...

Make yourself a cuppa, put your feet up and  enjoy...


Wednesday 12 September 2012


As our holiday on Kalymnos comes to an end, here are a few last sunlit images to carry us back to our English autumn...


Images: Brian Sibley and David Weeks © 2012

Monday 10 September 2012


Punny signage on the Greek island of Kalymnos...

Friday 7 September 2012


Earlier this year saw the release of what was undoubtedly Aardman Animations most ambitious, elaborately-detailed feature film, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (or as audiences in the USA saw it, The Prates! A Band of Misfits).

Based on the wittily inventive books by Gideon Defoe, The Pirates! is shortly to be released on DVD and Blu-ray and, to accompany it, comes my book, The Making of The Pirates!, a lavishly illustrated, behind-the-scenes tour of the Aardman studio where Plasticine people come alive and have the most outlandish adventures.

The film follows the fortunes (and misfortunes) of a bumbling bunch of buccaneers – led by the magnificently bearded (but totally incompetent) Pirate Captain – whose ineptitude in their chosen profession is given an unexpectedly positive boost when their fate become inexplicably (and inextricably) tangled up with that of Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria.

Those book is packed with fascinating detail about how the characters – pirates and landlubbers alike – developed, and how their worlds (the Pirate Headquarters on Blood Island, the Royal Palaces and fog-filled alley-ways of Victorian London and, aboard ship, on the high seas) were designed and built.

With contributions from the film's director (creator of Morph and co-founder of Aardman), Peter Lord, along with the designers, art-directors, model-makers, animators and special effects boffins, the book takes you inside the process of creating a film through the painfully painstaking process of stop-motion animation.

There are also intriguing insights into the characters from the starry cast of voice talents who speak for the film's Plasticine players: Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, David Tennant, Imelda Staunton and Brian Blessed.

I have had a long and very happy collaboration over many years with Aardman Animations from the time when I worked with Nick Park on the first draft screenplay for The Wrong Trousers, through several books – notably Cracking Animation and Chicken Run: Hatching the Movie – so I was delighted to be able (between chronicling the goings-on with the hobbits in Middle-earth) to chart the course of this beautifully preposterous piratical carry-on from page to screen.

Wednesday 5 September 2012


A testimony to the professionalism of the truly dedicated artist...

Even on holiday on the remote beach of a small Greek island, magician, David Weeks, practices his arcane craft with this bravura demonstration of the ancient mystery of levitation...