Wednesday 30 January 2013


Today's offering in this occasional series of posts featuring favourite photos from my flickr photostream shows a particularly striking sunset shot snapped during a visit to Amsterdam...

© Brian Sibley, 2009

Sunday 27 January 2013


Today is the 181st birthday of Lewis Carroll, depicted, left, by one of his illustrators, Harry Furniss.

The pseudonymous alter ego of the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, Lewis Carroll single-handedly transformed children's literature with the adventures of his child muse, Alice, wandering through the logical conundrums and nonsensical confusions of Wonderland and Looking-glass World.

One of the enduring pleasures of the books is the rhymes and songs that are scattered through their pages. As far as most of us are concerned, we are unaware that Carroll wrote these verses as parodies of a popular trend in improving poetry that was so beloved by the Victorians. Ironically, the moral-laden originals are now largely forgotten (despite having been written by Wordsworth and his ilk) in favour of Carroll's fun versions...

Thirty-five years ago, I compiled and presented/performed a radio programme entitled The Tune's My Own Invention with my late friend the composer, pianist, singer and authority on Victorian music, Antony Miall. Together we charted the story of some of the composers who, over a century, had set Carroll's words to music such as William Boyd, who in 1870 published Songs from 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'.

Here, to mark this special day, is a snippet from our programme featuring Boyd's setting for one of Carroll most entertaining verses, 'You Are Old Father William'.

Tony is playing the piano and is the one who sounds young; whereas, I'm the one who sounds a good deal older than my then 29 years!

Thursday 24 January 2013


When we were packing up for our temporary move, I uncovered this gem – another of those lost treasures of childhood replaced, much later, following a dedicated rummage through the contents of an antique emporium –– aka junk shop!

This Marx bagatelle was a licensed product tied-in with the 1958 Hanna-Barbera TV series, The Huckleberry Hound Show.

The show was truly groundbreaking: its economic look challenging the traditional Disney animation style and it was the first cartoon programme to receive an Emmy.

But the fact that this toy so prominently features Huck's co-star, Yogi Bear, is an indication that The Huckleberry Hound Show was but a precursor to the far more popular The Yogi Bear Show which followed in 1961. Just as the stardom of Disney's Mickey Mouse was eventually eclipsed by Donald Duck, so the Hound was fairy swiftly deposed by the Bear.

Nevertheless, to Huck goes the glory of having introduced the world to a new pantheon of cartoon stars including – in addition to Yogi (and his side-kick, Boo Boo), Pixie and Dixie and Mr Jinks – the likes of Hokey Wolf (and Ding-A-Ling), Quick Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss, The Flintstones, Top Cat, The Jetsons, Johnny Quest, Wally Gator, Magilla Gorilla, Atom Ant, Secret Squirrel, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo...

I still vividly remember the week in which The Huckleberry Hound Show debuted on British TV. As a nine-year old lad with an obsessive love of cartoons, I was beside myself with excitement to find that the TV Times contained an article about the show and its creators, William ('Bill') Hanna and Joseph ('Joe') Barbera, and line drawings of the cast of characters.

I spent the next few days copying these characters onto a sketchpad I had been given for my birthday. It was at this moment (rather than after watching all those Disney films I loved to distraction) that I formed the ambition (never realised) to become an animator.

My mother was appalled: wasting good drawing paper was bad enough, it was the waste of time that she really objected to. I should probably have been buckling down to my homework, certainly I was well and truly ticked off: 'You don't seriously think that drawing cartoons is ever going to get you job, do you?'

Well, that was true - it didn't! But I have spent a good many years writing, broadcasting and speaking about the art of animation, so perhaps the time wasn't entirely wasted!

Anyway, here – for nostalgia's sake – are the opening credits to The Huckleberry Hound Show – including the top-and-tailing sequences featuring the show's USA sponsor, Kellogg's (and their trade-mark Cockerel), that us British kids never saw...

As Huck would say in his Southern drawl: 'Be seein' y'all!"

Monday 21 January 2013


For my money, he is quite simply Britain's greatest living caricaturist!

I am talking about Wally Fawkes, who is better known by his famous signature...

The name originated during the Second World War. 'We spent so much time in air raid shelters,' Fawkes later recalled, 'I used to joke we in London had become troglodytes.' The moniker also connects with his other successful career as a jazz musician – one of his own early jazz bands was called 'The Troglodytes' – and he has played with many celebrated jazz-men including Acker Bilk, Sandy Brown and, as is commemorated in this exhibition, Humphrey Lyttleton.

As well as drawing for an astonishing range of newspapers and magazines from The New Statesman to The Daily Telegraph, Private Eye to Punch, Fawkes also created the long-running cartoon-strip, Flook, which began life in the Daily Mail and was originally aimed at youngsters. It featured the curious eponymous character and his human child friend, Rufus...

Later (aided by writers such as Keith Waterhouse and Barry Norman) Flook developed into a strip that lampooned society and politics, causing Margret Thatcher to comment that it was 'quite the best commentary on the politics of the day.'

It was this strip (along with Tove Jansson's 'Moomins') that made me want to be a cartoonist and, together with Ralph Steadman and Gerald Scarfe, Trog was responsible for shaping my own fledgling graphic style.

I loved the fact that his drawings – whilst always being unerringly accurate likenesses – could be affectionate, as in this caricature of TV pundit and social polemicist, Malcolm Muggeridge – depicted as a gargoyle on the Christian church that he latterly embraced...

...or savagely brutal as in this brilliant double-portrait of the contradictory faces of Prime Minister, Edward Heath...

This wonderful artist is currently being celebrated (and quite right, too!) at my favourite London museum – yes, you've guessed it – The Cartoon Museum in an exhibition entitled Trog, Flook – and Humph, too! since it also includes a scattering of related cartoons by Trog's fellow jazz-musician Humphrey Lyttleton... well as cartoons of Humph – by Trog!

Trog's other musical portraits on show include George Melly and the legendary Duke Ellington...

Politicians and Royals proliferate...

...but all kinds of people have caught Trog's eye and been submitted to his tirelessly perceptive pen, from actor, John Gielgud...

...via comic Frankie Howerd... Mother Teressa of Calcutta...

The exhibition remains on show until 28 April and includes over 120 cartoons, caricatures and strips from 1945-2005 (when, sadly, this graphic genius began to lose his eyesight) along with a small selection of cartoons by Humphrey Lyttleton.

The Cartoon Museum, 35 Little Russell Street, London WC1A 2HH 
Telephone 0207 580 8155
Tuesdays-Saturdays 10:30-17:30
Sunday 12:-17:30
Closed Mondays (including Bank Holidays)

£5.50 Adults; £4.00 Concessions; £3 Students;
Free to Under-18s, Art Fund Members & Friends of the Cartoon Museum
Children 12 or under must be accompanied by an adult.

There are also a couple of Special Events being held at the museum:

Wednesday 13 March 6:30-8:30Humphrey Lyttleton: 'The well-known Old Etonian ex-Guards officer jazz-trumpeter-broadcaster-cartoonist-bandleader' – Stephen Lyttleton gives a personal and entertaining insight into the life of his father.

Wednesday 20 March 6:30-8:30 Wally Fawkes Roundtable – Speakers to be confirmed

Tickets: Adults £5; Concessions £4; Friends of the Cartoon Museum £3. Book on-line or at the Museum Shop.

Finally, here's Wally on clarinet with the Humphrey Lyttleton Band (Humph on trumpet, Johnny Parker on piano and Bruce Turner on sax) playing 'Sugar Rose'...

Friday 18 January 2013


Today is the 131st birthday of one of my favourite writers, A A Milne.

Alan Alexander Milne is now pretty much only remembered as the author of verses about Christopher Robin and stories about Christopher's nursery companions, Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger and the rest, but there was so much more to his life and career: he was Assistant Editor on the humorous magazine, Punch and  a highly acclaimed novelist, essayist, polemicist and playwright.

In 1992, on the centenary of Milne's birth, I compiled Not That It Matters, a radio celebration, made up mostly of his own words taken from his plays, essays (a volume of which provided the title) and his quirky – often ironic – autobiographical writings.

Mr Milne was played by Hugh Dickson, a superb actor whom fans of The Archers will remember as Guy Pemberton and with whom I had the great pleasure of working on the radio dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings, in which he had played Lord Elrond.

Produced by veteran radio director, Graham Gauld, the characters in Milne's novels and plays were portrayed by a cast of radio stalwarts, including my dear friend, Antony Miall, who also played the piano and was Piglet to my Pooh in the "More it Snows, Tiddely-Pom" number!

Since the snow is currently falling (at least where I am) why not make yourself a nice mug of hot chocolate and curl up for half an hour and enjoy this little tribute to the forgotten talents of a much-loved author –– not that it matters...

Images: Drawing of A A Milne by Harry Furniss; Illustration of Christopher Robin, Pooh and Piglet by E H Shepard

Thursday 17 January 2013


An occasional series of posts featuring favourite photos from my flickr photostream.

Today, Pluto in Disneyland...

How can you not smile?

© Brian Sibley, 2005

Tuesday 15 January 2013


Getting things in proportion...

Copyright 2012.  Magnifying the Universe  by Number Sleuth.

Saturday 12 January 2013


'I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.' 

So says the reformed Ebenezer Scrooge at the conclusion of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

And that intent (one we could all do well to follow) combined with the fact that we are still within the 40 days of Christmas that end at Candlemass on 2 February, are all I need by way of an excuse to post about a book published during Dickens' bi-centennial year in celebration of another landmark event: the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of a TV programme entitled...

The cultural significance of this 55-minute film is revealed in the title of the book by the animator and director, Darrell Van Citters...

Mr Magoo's portrayal of Dickens' 'squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner' proved a ground-breaking production being the first-ever animated Christmas TV special.

Televised by NBC on 18 December 1962, it went to air a full two years before the much-loved Rankin/Bass stop-frame film, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and three years before the perennially-repeated A Charlie Brown Christmas.

It also happens to have been the very first film version of the Carol that I ever saw and – despite having subsequently seen numerous other attempts (good bad and indifferent) at retelling the tale – this one holds a very special place in my affections.

As a young animation buff, I had seen several cartoons featuring the near-sighted Quincy Magoo (spoken for by that talented comic actor, Jim Backus) and enjoyed the blundering buffoonery resulting from his near-sighted view of the world.

I was also very excited by the economic animation style of the UPA (United Productions of America) studio: simple, dynamic lines, bold colours and an energetic 'sixties graphic sensibility (strongly influenced by British cartoonist, Ronald Searle) that was so totally different from the classic Disney-look that I habitually salivated over!

As for the source material, well, I already knew (and was passionately in love with) Dickens story, beginning – though I was unaware of it – what would prove to be a life-long obsession leading to my writing programmes about the Carol, a entire book on the subject and my own stage dramatisations.

Since I was first able to pick up Magoo's interpretation of Scrooge on video, I have watched it every year! 

As a result, can sing (not that you'd necessarily want me to) the delightful Jule Style/Bob Merrill numbers word- (if not note-) perfect!
Here's one of those songs...

Darrell Van Citters' superbly researched and written book, now in a new edition to celebrate the film's 50th anniversary, provides a detailed account of how this movie came to be made and filmed in the way that it was: the struggles to find a network, a sponsor (it was eventually Timex watches whose name fronted the transmission) and songwriters with Richard Rogers eventually backing off to make way for Styne and Merrill who were kicking their heels waiting to write Funny Girl.

Citters discusses the uniquely quirky thing about this film: the fact that it is the only Christmas Carol where the Ghost of Christmas Present precedes the Ghost of Christmas Past and explains the history behind the inspired solution for selling an audience on the idea of the affable Magoo playing the irascible Scrooge...

The answer?  

Magoo is performing in a Broadway production of A Christmas Carol. So, after a typically accident-filled journey to the theatre, Magoo steps on stage and 'acts' the role of Dickens' miser...

Rather surprisingly perhaps, Magoo manages to get through the show without mishap (at least until the curtain call) although there are occasional entertaining 'sight-gags' along the way, as when the Ghost of Christmas Past says 'You have never sen the like of me before' and Magoo responds: 'I'm not sure I see the like of you now!' prompting the Ghost to comment: You're the one who's too tight with a penny to buy a pair of spectacles!'

Darrell Van Citters' book is jam-packed with behind the scenes facts, photos and art including dozens of backgrounds, layouts, character sketches, cel set-ups and storyboard drawings (among them several sequences dropped or cut from the finished production), profiles of the creative team and the recording artists who spoke and sang their way through this musical Carol.

Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol comes in a regular trade edition as well as in a handsome slip-cased limited edition...

You can read more about the book, including details of how to order your copy here.

Cartoon characters from other studios would later assay Dickens' classic – among them Mickey Mouse & Co, Bugs Bunny and Friends, the Flintstones and the Jetsons – but none have the emotional range or fidelity to the original text as Magoo's production.

Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol was a small but ambitious project that turned out to be an enduring classic. Fifty years on, it remains – in the words of one of the film's lyrics – 'a star of shining Christmas gold'. And now so too is this wonderful book of the film of the book!

Thursday 10 January 2013


The windows in our new local Medical Centre, are set off with nasty rusty metal sections that, I assume, are intended to look 'contemporary', but which just look ugly and unfinished and are a (literally) open invitation to be stuffed with fag-ends, empty crisp packets, gum-wrappers and MacDonald's milkshake cups...

As for Zenith Window's window, it is, perhaps, not a great advertisement...

Why not take a look through some rather nicer windows on Window Gazing?

Tuesday 8 January 2013


As you are probably aware, according to the Chinese calendar, 2013 is the year of the snake...

And to mark that fact, here is a creepy little tale entitled The Man and the Snake written by Ambose Bierce and performed by me to music composed by David Hewson...


Sunday 6 January 2013


Now Christmas is past, 
Twelfth Night is the last.
To the Old Year adieu,
Great joy to the new!

When I was young, I never much liked this particular day, because last night being 'Twelfth Night', the Christmas tree had been taken down and the decorations packed away for another year. Not only that, but it also meant that a return to school was now imminent!

There are many ancient traditions – including much feasting and fun – connected with what has been called 'the forgotten holiday' and one of them is the superstition that it is unlucky to leave your decorations up beyond that date – what's more, if you forget to take them down in time, you have to leave them up for an entire year to avoid misfortune!

This has been the first year in many that we have had a Christmas – and, therefore, a Christmas tree – at home and as much as I have loved decorating it (even if it is an artificial one) and looking at it over the holiday, I really don't want it hanging around all year-long! Not only that, but it would mean that I would be deprived of the very real pleasure of 'rediscovering' the various tree decorations come another December.

Concerning those decorations, I have to confess that there are – surprise, surprise – rather a lot of Disneyesque nick-knacks on my tree (the morbidly fascinated will find examples here) but the items I value most are six elderly plastic birds that my mother and I bought in Woolworth's (price: 6 old pence each) fifty-eight years ago...

Flying about amongst the branches, they awake the spirit of Christmas Past and memories come flooding back of many Christmases: some happy and, sadly, quite a few not... But whatever recollections they bring to mind, I treasure them greatly...

Anyway, there is, I have just discovered, significant disagreement about exactly when Twelfth Night falls: many people consider it to be today – twelve days after Christmas Day – but officially, it seems, the calculation should be made from sunset on 24 December, Christmas Eve (from a time when the day was deemed to end when the sun went down as opposed to midnight) which would make Twelfth Night 5 January – the eve of Epiphany.

Epiphany, the feast on which, according to church tradition, the Christ Child was visited by three wise men bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, prompts a thought in my mind... How did this simple couple, Joseph and Mary – a humble carpenter and his very young wife – react to being given these curious and extravagant gifts? Gold for kingship; frankincense for priestly anointing and myrrh for embalming at death. Perhaps they were just yet another mystery among so many that had marked out their recent lives. According to Luke the Evangelist: 'Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart...'

But what did they do with these valuable presents once they had returned to the tedium of everyday life in Nazareth? 

At last year's London exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite art, I spent some time contemplating William Holman Hunt's painting, 'The Shadow of Death'. Completed in 1873, it depicts Christ stretching from his work in his father's carpentry shop and, in so doing, casting a shadow that foreshadows his crucifixion...

In a picture laden with symbolism, one particular detail drew my eye: Mary is shown upon her knees, turning and seeing the ominous shadow. But what intrigued me most was that, in Holman Hunt's imagination, Mary is disturbed in the act of looking in a chest containing –– the gifts of the magi...

As my plastic Christmas birds return to their tissue-paper nests, I will be wrapping-up and storing-away memories of yet another Christmas: one or two moments of sadness and regret, but, thankfully, many more of joy and happiness.

Moments and memories to be treasured up...

Images: The Epiphany is depicted in a mural titled "Adoration of the Magi" in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception at Conception Abbey in Conception, Missouri and was painted by Benedictine monks in the late 1800s.

William Holman Hunt's 'The Shadow of Death' hangs in The Manchester City Art Gallery

Thursday 3 January 2013


Today would have been the 121st birthday of J R R Tolkien, whose books live on in their own glorious right as well as in the sensationally successful film cycles created by Peter Jackson.

Last year, I renewed my associations with Tolkien's realm of Middle-earth once again as I began chronicling the making of The Hobbit film trilogy, but I can scarcely believe that it is all of thirty-two years ago that I first became creatively involved with the Tolkien 'interpretation industry' through my work on BBC Radio 4's audio dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings.

None of us involved with that marathon project realised that what we were making would turn out to be something that would endure for decades beyond its original broadcasts. But it did and it has!

Encouraged by the latest success of the filmic exploration of the world traversed by Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, the original series – on its own or with the BBC's earlier adaptation of The Hobbit – are back on the shelves sporting swanky new clothes...

If you have yet to encounter Tolkien 'on the air' with its brillinat cast headed by Ian Holm, Michael Hordern, Robert Stephens, John Le Mesurier, Peter Woodthorpe, Bill Nighy and Gerard Murphy, then – very immodestly – I commend it to you. More details will be found at AudioGO.

You can read the behind-the-scenes story of the making of the 1981 BBC radio series here.

And, if you've never heard it before, here's Fired by the Rings, a radio programme first broadcast on 5 January 2002, in which I presented a celebration of The Lord of the Rings and its interpretion in art and music, on stage, screen and radio.