Wednesday 1 November 2023


I first read this verse by the nineteenth-century poet Thomas Hood when I was, maybe, 10 or 11, and although I probably didn't completely understand the meaning of all the lines, I still remember the absolute, pure delight that was awaiting me in last one...


No sun—no moon!
No morn—no noon—
No dawn—
No sky—no earthly view—
No distance looking blue—
No road—no street—no "t'other side the way"—
No end to any Row—
No indications where the Crescents go—
No top to any steeple—
No recognitions of familiar people—
No courtesies for showing 'em—
No knowing 'em!
No traveling at all—no locomotion,
No inkling of the way—no notion—
"No go"—by land or ocean—
No mail—no post—
No news from any foreign coast—
No park—no ring—no afternoon gentility—
No company—no nobility—
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member—
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,

– Thomas Hood (1799-1845)

Today, the poem is often presented in a considerably edited-down form and is invariable given the title 'November', which pretty much demolishes the punchline!

[Photo: Brian Sibley]

Tuesday 31 October 2023


To mark the passing of the month of October and to welcome November's relentless autumnal onslaught, here are Joe Mugnaini's stunning cover illustrations for Ray Bradbury's books (above) The October Country and (below) The Halloween Tree.


Monday 30 October 2023


I recently unearthed this old paperback copy of The Lord of the Rings (cover art by Pauline Baynes): a volume that was the Bible for the youth of my generation. 

The edition is dated 1971 (when I was 22-years-old); fast-forward a decade, and this would be the copy that i used when adapting Tolkien's epic for the BBC's – now renowned – 1981 radio serialisation.


This truly great movie was released on this day 55-years ago in 1968. Based on a brilliant play/screenplay by James Goldman and played to perfection by a legendary cast of stars and newbies, headed by Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn as King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The Lion in Winter has the wittiest, most quotable dialogue in any Hollywood movie since All About Eve...
Henry: Did the Channel part for you? 
Eleanor: It went flat when I told it to. I didn’t think to ask for more.
Eleanor: Henry.
Henry: Madam.
Eleanor:Did you ever love me?
Henry: No.
Eleanor: Good. That will make this pleasanter.


Geoffrey (fourth of the five sons of Henry II): I know. You know I know. I know you know I know. We know Henry knows, and Henry knows we know it. We're a knowledgeable family.


John (youngest sons of King Henry II): Poor John. Who says poor John? Don't everybody sob at once! My God, if I went up in flames there's not a living soul who'd pee on me to put the fire out!
Richard: Let's strike a flint and see.

Eleanor: What family doesn't have its ups and downs?
The film also has a sumptuous score by John Barry and impeccable art direction, creating an almost suffocating sense of claustrophobia. 
I vividly remember my first (of very many) viewings aged 19-years at a London preview in 1968 with my best pal: we were both captivated by the film and dashed out and bought copies of Goldman's play-script which we would regularly read together – in voices that were somewhat extravagant impersonations of the two leads. I'll leave it open to speculation which us guys was most often cast as Queen Eleanor!

A nice story recently posted on the Turner Classics Movie Fan Site relates an anecdote from Anthony Hopkins who made his full-length theatrical movie debut in the film, playing Richard (later the Lionheart). Apparently, Hopkins expressed anxiety about his performance compared to such established names as O'Toole and Hepburn, Hepburn allegedly advised him:
'Don't act. Leave that to me; I act all over the place. You don't need to act. You've got a good face, you've got a good voice, you've got a big body. Watch Spencer Tracy, watch the real American actors that never act, they just do it. Just show up and speak the lines.' 
Hopkins later regarded this as the best acting advice he had ever been given.

Friday 27 October 2023


The Sibley/Weeks household having succumbed to the current virulent Covid variant, we have had to abandon our plans to travel to Lucca in Italy to attend next week's LUCCA 23: COMICS & GAMES TOGETHER, where I was to be talking about J. R. R. Tolkien and other fantasy writers.
My sincere regrets and apologies to fans who were expecting to meet me there. Hopefully, another year...
Meanwhile, there's still a wonderful programme of events to enjoy in a beautiful and fascinating city; see details HERE

Monday 16 October 2023


“All things are so very uncertain, and that’s exactly what makes me feel reassured.”
– Too-Ticky in Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson (1957)

Sunday 15 October 2023


I love maps! By which I mean that I am passionate about them – whether they depict real places or the let's-pretend realms of the imagination.

There cannot be anywhere better to write about the maps in my life than where I am now: Venice – or to be absolutely precise in case you want to locate it on a map: 2316 Calle del Pestrin, San Marco, 30124, Venice. You see Venice is both the most intricately and incompetently mapped city in the world.


When my husband, David, and I arrived here first, almost thirty years ago, we came clutching The Illustrated Venice Map by Magnetic North: chosen from Stanfords’ incomparable emporium, ‘Est. 1853’, at a time when it was the largest, and indeed only, map maker and seller in London and is still, today, the best starting point for the ardent traveller. I suspect that I selected this particular map of Venice (there were, at least, a dozen others) because it had little pictorial indicators of likely destinations: the Piazza San Marco – la Piazza (‘the Square’) – the Rialto Bridge, Santa Maria della Salute and Teatro La Fenice.


It was an Italian sitting next to us on the plane, helpfully advising us how best to reach our hotel with minimal chance of getting lost, who expressed, with surprise, his approval of our map, noting as we would soon discover that, unlike most tourist maps, it shows every calle, campo, ponte and fondamenta, mapping the city down to the shortest, narrowest of blind alleyways. However, it is much more than just that: it is also a map of a state of mind, a glorious figment of historical imagination. It has served us well, its folds worn to yawning slits that defy refolding; and, though rarely now referred to, we carry it still out of sentimentality.


The very first map of which I was aware – long before I understood that places, real or fictional, were capable of beingmapped – was of what I fancy must have been some piratical treasure island. It resided within the red (possibly) covers of a large gift book of tales, verses and puzzles selected to delight the younger reader. As I have it no longer (and, despite years of searching, have never found another) my recollections are imprecise: to my three-year-old self it seemed huge – of the proportions of a lectern Bible – and I hauled it around, insisting that any indulgent adult read to me from its pages.


My favourite story was that of Alice’s expedition into Wonderland that was serialised through the volume, chapter by chapter. But there was another story – pictorially told – of some adventurous, perhaps even swashbuckling, kind that featured a double-page spread, printed, my hazy memory thinks, in black and red and showing a map of an island. I believe I can almost make out its contours: its wavy coastline of coves and creeks; its chief attractions being mountains, forests and lagoons and, maybe, a spot significantly marked with an 'X'. I think of this map, existing now only in faulty memory and having never been seen again, as being mine alone. The next map to which I laid personal claim was, some might say, not a map at all – although I must beg to differ.


It came folded in half in a box together with a die and four bright plastic cars – green, blue, yellow and red. It was Christmas 1953, I was now four years old, and the radiantly yellow box-lid announced itself as containing ‘Enid Blyton’s LITTLE NODDY CAR GAME. Get to the Station with NODDY and his friends’.  




A snake of numbered squares crawled back and forth across the gaming board – or, as I knew it to be, a map of the route from Noddy’s house (square 1) to the Station (square 120) through a nursery-coloured landscape dotted with toy houses, roads and rivers, bridges, ferries, traffic lights and level crossings.




Making a journey as Noddy was – like all the great literary journeyings from The Odyssey to The Pilgrim’s Progress to Moby Dick – punctuated with all manner of random incidents leading to advances or retreats, dictated here by the roll of a die: ‘Big Ears shows short cut to No. 70’ or (this was in the politically incorrect ‘50s) ‘Golliwogs crossing road, miss turn’. Some fifty years after my mother had given my Noddy map-game to an undeserving cousin, I bought another in an antique centre and was comforted to find that my childhood memories were still intact, from landing on square 30 (‘Downhill advance to No. 35’) to getting stopped by Mr Plod the Policemen on square 80 (‘Fined! Licence out of date, back to No. 25’).


I now jump ten years, to August 1963 when the 14-year old me, now gripped in a passionate obsession with the life and films of Walt Disney, picks up a copy of National Geographic with a lead article (a satisfyingly staggering 50-pages long!) devoted to ‘The Magic Worlds of Walt Disney’ and find that it contains – to my breathless delight – a three-page, foldout pictorial map of Disneyland: a place, like Venice, that is both a reality and a fantasy 




Specially drawn by ‘J E Barrett, Staff Artist’, this is Disneyland before the coming of Pirates of the Caribbean (let alone the unlooked for arrival of Indiana Jones and Star Wars), when pack mules and mine trains still explored Nature’s Wonderland and when it was still possible to ride the Flying Saucers of Tomorrowland.




Truthfully, I cannot recall the countless hours in which I pored over that map, drawn back again and again by the pseudo-gothic lettering of ‘Disneyland’ and studying its detail until (had it been possible for me to go to Disneyland) I could have found my way blindfold and without missing a step from the hippo-infested waters of the Jungle Cruise via the blue-roofed towers and turrets of Sleeping Beauty Castle to the helter-skeltering Matterhorn bobsleds.


And when, after an interval of over twenty years, I finally passed through the turnstiles to ‘The Happiest Place On Earth’, I found myself walking, as if in a dream, through those foldout pages of National Geographic: the map and the place metamorphosing into a present experience.


These then were my three ‘personally owned’ maps. My life since has, of course, been crowded with a great many maps with which I have been deeply in love – and about which I have even written books – but which I always knew I shared with others: for example, the puzzling chessboard ‘map’ at the front of Through the Looking-glass; or Moomin Valley with its wolf-topped Lofty Mountains and that enticing off-shore island, home to the enigmatic Hattifatteners; or Bilbo’s Wilderland in The Hobbit with its crooked spine of the Misty Mountains marking the frontier beyond which lay the cobwebbed forest of Mirkwood and greater perils yet. 


Then there have been those cosily reassuring maps made by E H Shepard: of Winnie-the-Pooh’s ‘100 Aker Wood’ and its surroundings (including the best-ever map location: ‘Where the woozle wasn’t’); and the rural home of the inhabitants of The Wind in the Willows with a river–– No! Sorry, Ratty, The River! – curling its way from Toad Hall to Pan Island and the Weir beyond. Or Pauline Baynes’ ornate charts of Narnia and Middle-earth: as evocative as the work of any fifteenth-century cartographer and meticulously embellished with cartouches portraying the various sites in the stories – Cair Paravel or Minas Tirith – realised in gleaming gem-like colours. 


None of these, however, can ever truly supplant those earliest depictions of the ordered middle-class world of Noddy’s 1950s Toyland; or the ever-beckoning pleasures Disney’s Garden of Earthly Delights as it was in the early ‘60s; or, again, that long-lost, foggily-recalled mysterious island map that first lured an unsuspecting three-year-old into succumbing to the unappeasable dreams of Elsewheres and Othertimes.

[Written in Venice, December 2016; Revisited in London,2023]


Saturday 30 September 2023



Another piece of contemporary comic-book cover-art; this one by Jon Bogdanove for Knight Terrors: Superman, Issue # 2 (variant cover B). 

Bogdanove (best known for co-creating the title title, Superman: The Man of Steel) has created a stunning piece of art with a powerful image artfully achieved through its depiction of energy, movement and the simultaneously in-focus above-and-below water perspective. The outstretched grasping hand breaking the surface is, for me, an exciting and intensely dramatic gesture –– and, incidentally, very scary for a thalassophobe....... 

Er... WHAT?

Oh, just go and look it up!

Thursday 28 September 2023


I was born in London (Clapham, actually; South London Hospital for Women & Children, precisely) and lived in Wandsworth until I was five years old. Then – as result of a rather too-longish story for here and now – my family moved to a row of quaint cottages ('Heath Cottages' they were called) in Chislehurst. 

Twelve-point-something-miles from London and at that time (1953) still a rural village with a stables, a market garden, all those sweetly antique facilities (butchers, bakers, fishmongers, ironmongers, grocers and greengrocers, a rather good library, a flea-pit cinema with a corrugated roof in which – if it rained – it was too noisy to hear the film) and – my chief delight – a blacksmith who, whenever I looked in to watch him shoeing horses at his forge, would give me old horse-shoes.

After the dull streets of Wandsworth, Chislehurst was green and idyllic: a cricket ground, woods and ponds (caves, if you dared to go down there) and a local celebrity-tramp, 'Smokey Joe', who lived in the woods in an improvised 'house' made of old blankets and tattered lace curtains! 

The village had a Victorian, 'Tudor-style', arched Water Tower (requiring use of a driver-controlled one-way traffic flow accessed by nothing bigger than a single-decker bus), a village sign depicting Queen Elizabeth I, in 159, knighting Sir Thomas Walsingham IV (patron to Christopher Marlowe) and a cockpit, once used for cock-fights but, mercifully no longer in service!

I was educated at the village Church of England Primary School (dedicated to the original Father Christmas, St Nicholas, whose associated Parish Church contained the earthly remains of the aforementioned Tho. Walsingham); and, having triumphantly failed my 11+ examination, Chislehurst Secondary School for Boys.     

I attended, at various times in my variegated spiritual life, no fewer than four out of the five local churches (two 'high', one 'low' and one Methodist, although not in that order) and I worked in the village at the Local Council Education offices and much later – after many other non-village jobs – sitting at my typewriter as a freelance writer banging out scripts for the BBC. By then, of course, Chislehurst was no longer so much a rural beauty-spot as a dormitory for London commuters, the local blacksmith was now a Barclays Bank and the Post Office an Indian restaurant.

I loved my child life in Chislehurst (certainly more than I did the often emotionally stressful relationships in Heath Cottages), but it was only recently that I found myself nostalgically riffing on the theme of Those Were the Days which prompted me to look up whether there were any such things as transport or tourist posters for Chislehurst. And, yes, there were...

The one at the top of this post is contemporary and produced by The Chislehurst Society featuring the village pond, the cricket ground, the Church of the Annunciation (one of the 'high' ones), the caves, and what looks to be a blissfully happy couple of Chislehurstians.

The earliest Chislehurst poster I came across dates from 1914 and seems to depict what I assume was not an agressive local resident, but an early 'cave-person', suggesting just how well known was the once-believed prehistory of the subterranean labyrinth of Chislehurst Caves. Created for London Transport, this work by Tony Sarg (1880-1942) is obviously inspired by what was at the time a theory (frankly a legend) that the caves likely dated back at least 4,000 to 6,000 years. Unless this unattractive fellow was an ancestor of Smokey Joe. 


From 1922 comes a black-and-white print – of what, presumably, must have originally been a colour poster – presenting the drabbest conception of the rural paradise of my childhood. Nevertheless, it is the work of the highly influential graphic designer and poster artist, Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954). 


So, there's glory for you.The next poster first appeared seven years later in 1929 and is the work of 'CWB', Cecil Walter Bacon (1905-1992) and takes us back to the time of romantic myth with a couple of Druids busily doing whatever Druids would have done in the Caves if they had ever been there to do it! 


I should confess at this juncture that, despite living in Chislehurst into my late 'forties I never visited the Caves: my memories mainly being of the floor-shaking vibrations we experienced from the weekend pop-concerts that thudded deep beneath our living room floor every weekend – oh, yes, and one October when the village became the focus of national attention as a result of Eamon Andrews hosting a not-very-creepy Halloween TV show live from the Caves. Finally, here's a contemporary poster created in 'retro style' (by an uncredited artist) for purchase as a framed wall decoration. Shown is, to the left, the timbered building that, when I was a child, was the local branch of Martin's Bank (impressively embellished, in those days, with the sign of a gilded grasshopper); and, to the right, the popular hostelry, 'The Rambler's Rest' (rumored, back in the day, to have once had a secret way into and out of those enigmatic Caves!) and, on its right-hand side, the end house of Heath Cottages –– just a few doors down from where I lived for so many years.


Tuesday 19 September 2023


It's been quite a while since I posted any comic cover-art, so here's a stunning new piece by Eisner Award-winner Christian Ward featuring Batman suspended upside down in a monstrous green tentacled grip against a lurid blood-red sky.

This dramatic creation is destined for the cover of Batman: City of Madness #2, to be published this December. 


Tuesday 22 August 2023


Everyone's going nuts over Amazon Prime's Red, White & Royal Blue the gay rom-com based on Casey McQuiston's best-selling book of the same name. The premise: an enemies-to-friends-to-lovers story in which the Romeos in question are, respectively, the son of the first female President of the United States and the second (and therefore 'spare') son of the King of England.

It's not difficult to see why it's a hit: it's quirky and, obviously, 'queerky'; it's corny, cute and sweetish (though mercifully not over-sugared); it's fluffy, fuzzy and funny – if quite a long way short of Richard-Curtis-style comedy. And, in case you wondered, its lead actors (Taylor Zakhar Perez and Nicholas Galitzineare) are unashamed eye-candy-men and their relationship is... well...HOT. And I mean hot in a way that future seasons of Heartstopper cannot (and absolutely shouldn't) think of trying to emulate.
However, the high-octane sexiness is craftily filtered through a golden lens of innocence, so that the messiness of lust and desire are neatly neutralised by the honest-to-goodness purity of true love's dream.
If the film is 'about' anything, it's a hotch-potch of musings about Politics and Protocols, Duty, Family and Country and what happens when they impinge on individual choice and personal happiness.
Matthew López's direction is workmanlike – which is a compliment rather than a criticism, because it never gets in the way of the storytelling. The supporting cast (including Uma Thurman as POTUS) are good-to-excellent with the notable exception of Stephen Fry's toe-curling cameo as the King of England, which is self-consciously awkward and, frankly, both miscast and misplayed – although, thankfully, for only one scene towards the end of the movie!
The problem with Red, White & Royal Blue (and, I'm sorry, but there is a problem) is simply that these fairy-tale kingdom versions of White and Buck Houses and are burdened by too many attempts to draw (or imply) parallels with characters already familiar to viewers of The Crown
The 'Let's Pretend' Britain found here could have been more convincingly sold to us had it strayed into a more Ruritanian representation of privilege, position, pomp-and-circumstance instead of employing character names like Philip, Beatrice and, especially, Prince Henry – better known as Harry – which have totally misleading implications of satire that really does not serve this slight but entertaining story of the romance between Britain's Prince Charming and Washington's Mr Disarming.

Thursday 17 August 2023


The death of Sir Michael Parkinson at the grand age of 88 is a reminder of a lost art-form – or at least (if you disagree with 'art') then a lost aspect of premier journalism. He was the doyen of the TV 'chat-show': a true successor and refiner of the art of the television interview, previously pioneered on America's The Dick Cavett Show and, in Britain, on John Freeman's Face to Face.
'Chat-show' is too trivial a term for Parkinson's achievement as telly's Torquemada. It's true that 'Parky, as he was affectionately referred to be legion of viewers, was a man with the sharply honed mind of a seasoned inquisitor, but his mode of torture was invariably tempered with a genuine fascination with (and, often, admiration for) his 'victims'!. Above all, he was more intent on exploring the thoughts and views of his interviewees than in promoting his own; more determined to showcase his subjects than in ever pushing his own ego.
We worked together, for a few years, when I was a regular TV/Radio critic on his Sunday morning Radio 2 programme. I loved our easy, warm conversations and an annual joy for our group of reviewers (news, sport, film, TV etc) was to be invited to a delightful, intimate Christmas lunch hosted by Michael and where we each received an 'Award' for our work over the preceding year – all with wonderfully absurd category titles and, on at least one occasion, the opportunity to form an impromptu orchestra with kazoos and swanee whistles!
Not so long ago, I wrote to Michael to congratulate him on the BBC's then recent Parkinson at 50 series: an anthology of memorable moments (and there were so many!) from fifty years of the show: hilarious chats with Peter Ustinov, Dudley Moore, Kenneth Williams and Billy Connolly; delightful exchanges with James Cagney, David Niven and Ingrid Bergman; unforgettable encounters with Orson Welles, Muhammad Ali and Kermit and Miss Piggy; and, in what was his all-time favourite interviewee, an intense and incisive intellectual conversation with mathematician and philosopher, Jacob Bronowski.
Responding to my email, Michael replied:
Dear Brian
Many thanks for your charming letter which stirred lots of wonderful memories. It served as a reminder of how much I enjoyed doing our show on Radio 2. It was a very happy time for me made more so by a group of colleagues, including yourself, who just happened to be very good at what they did.
I am glad you enjoyed PARKINSON AT 50. We had a lot of great reactions and if I am allowed an opinion I think it was a marvellous reminder of a great team I worked with through the years and of the time when you were allowed to do a talk show without performing like a halfwit.
With every best wish
"A reminder of ... the time when you were allowed to do a talk show without performing like a halfwit."
Yes, Michael that just about sums it up! I won't say, in Hamlet's words: "I shall not look upon his like again", because I hope I may, but to reflect on Parky's career is to look with unqualified admiration on the absolute gold-standard for what being a chat-show host should be: a person who is on top of his research; not bound by pre-planned questions, but always open to seizing the opportunity of the moment and – above all – not just an 'asker' but a 'listener'. 
Art: 'Parky', a pastel portrait of Sir Michael Parkinson by Glyn Overton. Check her other artwork HERE

Friday 11 August 2023


Whether or not you remember – even hold as beloved – those childhood immortals Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin before they were appropriated by Walt Disney back in 1966, I think you'll enjoy Enchanted Places, a double-CD recording of A. A. Milne's verses (and Pooh's inimitable 'Hums') from the quartet of nursery classics: When We Were Very Young, Winnie-the-Pooh, Now We Are Six and The House at Pooh Corner – all of them accompanied by irreplaceable decorations by the magnificent Ernest H. Shepard.
Today, however, I guess there many Pooh-lovers who will be unfamiliar with the musical settings that were composed during the height of Mr. Milne's public popularity; although if you mention titles like 'They're Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace', 'Hush, Hush, Whisper Who Dares (Christopher Robin is Saying His Prayers)', 'Halfway Down the Stairs' and 'Cottleston Pie', then you may recall having heard them sung by performers as diverse as Gracie Fields, Robert Tear, David Tomlinson and Burl Ives – not to mention Robin and Rowlf from The Muppets!
The music was the work of H. Fraser-Simson, a popular composer of British light music and the long-running operetta, The Maid of the Mountains, and these delightful settings that have endured for almost 100 years and are now available on this new double-CD – the first-ever complete recording of the Milne/Fraser-Simson collaboration – released by EM Records.
The songs are performed by baritone Grant Major, accompanied at the piano by John Kember and singer and pianist deftly present the songs with considerable wit and a lightness of touch that is perfectly suited to the verses’ delightful mix of humour, sentiment, nostalgia and nonsense.
I might, immodestly, add that there's a cameo appearance by Yours Truly on Disc 2, narrating Milne's amusing introduction to his song, 'The King's Breakfast', and I also wrote the liner notes telling the story of Mr. Milne and Mr. Fraser-Simson and their enchanting collaboration, illustrated with rare Milne family photos from my persoanl collection.
This recording will certainly please all lovers of light verse and light music and will delight the young and the young-at-heart.
Enchanted Places is available from Amazon HERE

Tuesday 8 August 2023


"Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family ––– in another city."

– George Burns (1896-1996)

[Caricature by Dave Woodman]

Sunday 6 August 2023


"That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history."


Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)


 [Cartoon: David Low (1891-1963)]