Sunday 28 March 2021

Signed Books: THE LION'S WORLD by Rowan Williams


Today, known as 'Palm Sunday', marks the beginning of the season referred to in the worldwide Christian church as 'Holy Week' – commemorating the events leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, so I wanted to share a signed book that wasn't entirely out of sympathy with that theme. 

Hence my choice of The Lion's World (2012) by Rowan Williams, the immediate past Archbishop of Canterbury. 


I can claim only a passing relationship with The Right Reverend and Right Honourable The Lord Williams of Oystermouth, other than that he once invited myself and David to an event at his official London home, Lambeth Palace: a fascinating wine-and-canapes evening that saw all sorts and conditions of arty and media folk rubbing shoulders with one another in the Palace's Great Hall; among them, I recall, Simon Callow, delivering grandiloquent pronouncements in a extravagant-theatrical manner and Alan Bennett lurking in a corner, obviously somewhat out of his comfort zone, and murmuring to us that he was eager to make a speedy getaway as soon as was respectfully possible after Lord and Lady Rowan had made their initial circuit of the room.


His Lordship and I did have one other thing in common: we had both written and exchanged books about C S Lewis and the Land of Narnia. 



As you can see, Lord Williams signed my copy of The Lion's World


+ Rowan C:  


Now here's bit of ecclesiastical trivia for you... the signature follows the historic tradition for the signatures of Archbishops: the cross indicating his status as a bishop while the 'C' is shorthand for 'Cantuar', which is an abbreviation of the Latin name 'Cantuariensis' for Canterbury.


My other encounter with Rowan Williams was on Sunday 23 September 2012, a little over a month before the end of his tenure as Archbishop. The occasion was a service at our local church, St John the Divine, Kennington, during what was the last day of a series of visits that he made to parishes local to Lambeth Palace.


His Lordship is a man of great intellect and an authoritative speaker – delivering erudite addresses with not a single note in sight. He is also a warm and humorous man as can be demonstrated by a little anecdote from that event in 2012. Following the service, I introduced him to two of our closest friends: Sheila and Roger who had joined us for the occasion. 


"Archbishop," I said, "this is Sheila Shrigley, a Licensed Lay Minister at All Saints Church, Ascot." 


Greetings were exchanged and hands duly shaken. 


"And this," I went on "is her husband, Roger, who is a Quaker." 


"A Quaker!" replied the Archbishop, enthusiastically taking Roger's hand, "I should like to be one of those –– when I grow up!"

FORTY YEARS ON... Eric Fraser's LORD OF THE RINGS radio art: Week 4


Forty years ago, on this Sunday, the BBC continued its dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings with Episode 4: 'Trouble at The Prancing Pony'.

Here is Eric Fraser's original art for the illustration that appeared that appeared alongside the billing in the BBC's listings magazine, Radio Times, showing the shards of Aragorn's blade, Narsil –– 'the sword that was broken'...


"All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king."

Monday 22 March 2021

Signed Books: NOTES ON A COWARDLY LION by John Lahr


Today's volume from my collection of signed books is Notes on a Cowardly Lion, John Lahr's wonderful biography of his father Bert Lahr (real name Irving Lahrheim), American actor of stage and screen, vaudevillian and comedian and best known – throughout the world – for his role as the Cowardly Lion (as well as his counterpart Kansas farmhand, Zeke) in the 1939 MGM musical film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz.


The Cowardly Lion: Courage! What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage! What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the "ape" in apricot? What have they got that I ain't got?

Dorothy, Scarecrow and Tin Man: Courage!

The Cowardly Lion: You can say that again!


This book is an example of one of my favourite kind of signed books, which I might categorise as 'Subsequently Discovered'. 

I spotted it – an unassuming paperback – in a cardboard box on a trestle-table outside an antiquarian bookshop in London's Charing Cross Road. All the books were marked "50 pence to clear".

Being a fan of The Wizard of Oz and having an interest in American vaudeville theatre, I seized the book – not bothering to examine it (it was only 50 pence!), hurried into the shop, proffered a fifty-pence piece and duly received my purchase in a brown paper bag. 

It was only when I was sitting on my homeward bound train that I pulled the book out to have a closer look and discovered that it was signed by the author and inscribed "With admiration" to one of the great knights of the British theatre, Sir Ralph Richardson...



I was thrilled to have picked up – for a song – a truly wonderful 'association copy'.

There is, however, a slightly sad sting in the tail to this story in that, some years later, I had occasion to interview John Lahr and, during our pre-recording chit-chat, I told him the story of my copy of Notes on a Cowardly Lion. Unfortunately, Mr Lahr was not amused – upset, I imagine, that Sir Ralph had got rid of a  book that had been given to him "With admiration"! From that point on, the interview, regrettably, went downhill pretty fast...

Sunday 21 March 2021

FORTY YEARS ON... Eric Fraser's LORD OF THE RINGS radio art: Week 3


On this Sunday, 40 years ago: the BBC continued its dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings.

This is Eric Fraser's original art for the illustration on the Radio 4 programme page in the BBC's weekly listings magazine, Radio Times, created to accompany the billing for Episode 3: 'The Black Riders'...


Sunday 14 March 2021

FORTY YEARS ON... Eric Fraser's LORD OF THE RINGS radio art: Week 2


On this Sunday, 40 years ago: the BBC continued its dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings with Episode 2: 'The Shadow of the Past'. 

This is Eric Fraser's art for the programme billing in Radio Times depicting the One Ring subjected to fire and so revealing its doomful inscription...

This is the only one of Fraser's 26-episode illustrations of which I don't have the original drawing, so, this week, a photo of the image from the magazine will have suffice...



Wednesday 10 March 2021



This would seem to be an appropriate 'signed book' from my library to blog about in the week in which, forty years ago, the BBC's radio serialisation of The Lord of the Rings began transmission on their Radio 4 network. 

Whilst I don't have a signed copy of that book, I do have this...


Tolkien's The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and other verses from The Red Book, illustrated by Pauline Baynes.

One of several criticisms levelled against me for my work on the radio Rings series was (and still is) my excision of those episodes involving Old Man Willow, Tom Bombadil, Goldberry and the Barrow-wights. 

Confronted by the daunting task of compressing The Lord of the Rings into 26 episodes of 30-minutes each I decided that if I were to cut Tom and Co. it would give me two whole episodes to use for other – arguably more urgently needed – sequences later in the story. 

Also, more controversially, I believed that – as I saw it – the 'less-than-essential-hiatus' where Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin take what turns out to be a dangerous diversion only served to dull the dramatic pace of the adventure; since, once the Black Riders were known to be pursuing Frodo, that anxiety and danger were – from a dramatist's point of view – the necessary driving impetus of the story and should remain so until the company arrive in Rivendell. Anyway, right or wrong, that is what I chose to do...

However, I hope that (if not a defence of a forty-year-old decision) including this volume in my series on signed books in my library will, at least show my great affection for Tom Bombadil!

It is not, sadly, a first edition, but the third impression from 1968. Frankly, my pocket-money in 1962 (when the book was first published) would not have allowed for an outlay of 15 shillings –– even though, in today's money, that's equal to a mere 75 pence!

I had become infatuated with Tolkien's writing and obsessed with anything and everything to do with Middle-earth and I took it into my head to write a shamelessly fannish letter to the Professor at his publishers (then George Allen & Unwin) telling how much I loved his work and to ask him to sign one of his books for me. The three volumes of The Lord of the Rings seemed too heavyweight a prospect for packing, mailing and returning, whereas Bombadil was slim and light!

I seem to remember creating a border for my letter of Dwarvish runes and, I fancy, I might even have copied out something in Quenya in a totally inadequate facsimile of his own impeccable calligraphy... 

Did I expect to see my book again – and signed? Naturally! The naiveté of youth is, beyond everything, unquestioning!

I was not to be disappointed: the book was returned, duly signed, with an accompanying letter from M. Joy Hill, George Allen & Unwin's Press Officer, advising me that, in addition to signing the book, "on page 60 Professor Tolkien has made a correction to the last line of the poem on that page." 


Eleven years later, in October 1979, I was attending the Narnia Book Fair at Church House Bookshop in Westminster where I met – and interviewed for LBC (then local radio!) – one of the guests: the illustrator of C S Lewis' 'Chronicles of Narnia', Pauline Baynes. This was a truly red-letter day for me – meeting the artist whose career was inextricably linked to Tolkien and Lewis, two of my favourite writers. 

Knowing that I would be meeting Pauline, I had my Tolkien-signed copy of Bombadil with me and asked her is she would add her signature to the title-page; she demurred saying it wouldn't be right for her to sign on the same page as the Professor and, were she to do so, it could only devalue the book's worth.

Rightly, I hope, I insisted and, finally, she acquiesced. More importantly, it was the beginning of many years of happy friendship and collaboration.

So... here is that signed title-page... 


And the Professor's one, single-letter-word, textual correction on page 60 to the last line of the poem, 'The Sea-Bell'... 



And, a last word on poor old Tom: in 1992, eleven years after the BBC radio dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings, I attempted to make my peace with those fans who had been so outraged at the character's omission from the original broadcasts. I created a six-part series for BBC Radio 5, based on Tolkien's shorter fiction and, alongside Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wootton Major and Leaf by Niggle, included The Adventures of Tom Bombadil which was, essentially, the previously-ignored chapters from The Lord of the Rings... 


Sunday 7 March 2021

FORTY YEARS ON... Eric Fraser's LORD OF THE RINGS radio art: Week 1


On this Sunday, 40 years ago: the BBC began its 26-part dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings

This is Eric Fraser's original art for the illustration on the Radio 4 programme page in the BBC's weekly listings magazine, Radio Times, accompanying the billing for Episode 1: 'The Long Awaited Party' showing Bilbo about to make his farewell birthday speech...

The full Radio Times billing was as follows:

Sunday 8 March 1981



The Lord of the Rings: 1 The Long Awaited Party

by J.R.R. Tolkien 

prepared for radio in 26 episodes by Brian Sibley


Starring Ian Holm as Frodo and Michael Hordern as Gandalf


"Three Rings for the Elven kings under the sky
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie."

with John Le Mesurier as Bilbo, Peter Woodthorpe as Gollum, William Nighy as Sam and Gerard Murphy as the Narrator

(Repeated: Wed 10.30 pm) 


(Gerard Murphy is a member of the RSC)

Souvenir Tolkien posters based on this week's Radio Times cover, available at £1.00 each (p and p incl), from Radio 4 Poster Offer (PO and cheques payable to BBC Radio)


Thursday 4 March 2021



It was forty years ago this very week and it was one of the most exciting days of my life.

A Thursday morning in the first week of March 1981: I was on my way to the local corner-shop to collect the latest copy of Radio Times, the weekly BBC TV-and-radio-guide. The excitement was generated by the fact that a project on which I'd been working for almost a year was to be featured on the magazine's front cover.

I remember standing in the shop, holding it (well, them, actually, because, of course, I bought six copies!) almost unable to focus on the image. 

I knew it was – or would become – iconic!

And so it has remained...

The artist responsible for that cover was this man –– Eric Fraser...


I first became aware of Eric Fraser's work when I was still a young lad. Prior to WWII, my father had worked as a commercial artist and – while, on leaving the forces, he had chosen a new career as an architectural draughtsman – he never lost his passion for fine graphic art, making a point of bringing to my youthful attention the work of artists he especially admired. 

One such was Eric George Fraser (1902-1983), who not only shared my father's forenames but was, arguably, one of the greatest British illustrators and graphic artists of the twentieth century. In the public awareness, Fraser was best known for his prolific output for Radio Times, which is where (at my Dad's prompting) I began regularly seeking out his latest pieces of work: immaculately crafted illustrations deigned to fit the rigorous demands – and restrictions – of the programme columns in the magazine's pages. 

Here are just three of Fraser's illustrations: for the Hippolytus of Euripedes (28 September 1945); Silence in Heaven (11 March 1949) and Faust (7 April 1950) and...



In those far-off days before photography brought about the demise of magazine cover-art, Fraser would also occasionally produce stunning Radio Times cover designs such as his celebrated 1953 Coronation Issue and this 1962 Christmas Number...



Eric Fraser was also famous for having created 'Mr Therm', an  anthropomorphic sun-man character who appeared in adverts for the Gas Light and Coke Company (later British Gas) and that, in various forms, remained a busy company logo for forty years.


I would add that my copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare was enhanced by Fraser's fabulously dramatic illustrations...


Radio Times' choice of Fraser to illustrate our radio drama was hardly random: he was already an experienced chronicler of Middle-earth history, having redrawn decorations to the 1977 Folio Society's The Lord of the Rings that had been originally designed by the then Crown Princess Margrethe of Denmark, now Queen Margrethe II... 


Two years later, in 1979, Fraser had illustrated the Folio Society's companion volume of The Hobbit



When, in January 1981, I had heard the news that Eric Fraser – the Eric Fraser! – was going to be creating the Radio Times cover for The Lord of the Rings, I knew what I had to do. It just had to be done, and it had it be done immediately! If it was remotely possible, I simply had to own the original artwork for that cover. 

The decision made, I wrote a letter to Eric Fraser, care of the magazine's art editor, introducing myself as dramatist of the forthcoming radio production he was about to illustrate and expressing an interest in acquiring the art. 

Fraser's answer was interesting because he highlights a perennial problem faced by all free-lance illustrators – will the artist ever get the original art back from the publisher?



My memory is vague about how I used my 'influence' to persuade Radio Times to return Fraser's art after use – I mean, I was such a newcomer with no standing at the BBC and absolute zero influence! I assume I told the magazine's art editor that Mr Fraser and I were wanting to 'do a deal' and that sorted it; in any event, the art was returned and the deal was done: 40 guineas (note: guineas!) which, in 1981, felt like – and, I guess, was – both quite a chunk of dosh and, at the same time, a pretty good price.

Eventually, in the fullness of time, the original art was mine...

My perspicacity was rewarded because, the moment this issue of Radio Times appeared, the artist was inundated by offers to purchase the cover-art from a slew of BBC personnel from the series' producer, via the Head of Radio Drama and the Controller of BBC Radio 4 up to the Director General himself! There were some very grumpy people as a result of Sibley having had the wit to approach the artist before he had even finished drawing it!

Eric Fraser additionally made some small colour decorations for the feature article inside the magazine – one of which appeared on a page in which I was photographed addressing the Tolkien Society's Northfarthing Smial about the forthcoming dramatisation...


The artist also drew 26 small illustrations for the Sunday Radio 4 programme page in Radio Times depicting a story-aspect of each of the weekly broadcasts; due to industrial action at the printing works across several weeks during the series' six month run, the magazine was forced to produce a slimmed-down emergency issue and three of these illustrations never made it into print. However, here is the debut episode..

I couldn't have afforded to buy any of these additional illustrations,  but I was content to have acquired what swiftly became a celebrated example of Radio Times art and it was Eric Fraser's penultimate cover for the magazine, drawn just two years before his death in 1983.

Almost immediately, and continuing over the next few years, the image began appearing on posters, gramophone record-sleeves, cassette cases and sheet music... 


...and, even as late as  2002, a hacked-down version was used on a postcard advertising the series' thirteen-episode repeat...

Over the years I treasured the original (occasionally loaning it for exhibition) and then, in 2019, I learned that Sotheby's were to offer, at auction, the remaining Lord of the Rings art that
Eric Fraser had made for Radio Times.  

Once again, I knew what had to be done... 

And so I bid...

And bid again... 

And increased my bid... 

And increased it again... 

And again...  

And when the hammer came down (much more than 40 guineas later) I was the successful bidder and could now reunite the rest of Fraser's Rings art with the original Radio Times cover purchased thirty-eight years earlier! 

Well, almost reunite...

True, I had another a legendary image, used on the reverse of the BBC's poster and on boxed set of audio cassettes when it was issued...

(Interestingly, I've never met anyone who's mentioned that the illustration is, actually, 'wrong' in that Fraser depicts Gandalf holding the One Ring!)

And I also had that delightful decorative border...

Yes, and the artist's 'rough' colour-sketch for the cover...


BUT I only had twenty-five of the original twenty-six episode illustrations, the art for Episode 2, 'The Shadow of the Past', not being among the collection. This is what the drawing looks like, as printed in Radio Times...


...and whilst I have no expectation of ever now owning the full set, I would dearly love know who, if anyone, holds that fiery Ring! 

On the upside, however, I did have all those episode illustrations that, due to industrial action, had never appeared in Radio Times and so were there to be seen for the very first time: Episode 15: 'The Voice of Saruman', Episode 16: 'The Black Gate is Closed' and Episode 17: 'The Window on the West'...


So, that's the forty-year-old story behind one – quite particular – Radio Times cover!