Tuesday, 4 July 2017


Two hundred and fifty-five years ago, today, the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and an Oxford colleague, the Reverend Robinson Duckworth, took the three daughters of the Dean of Christ Church – Lorina, Alice and Edith Liddell – on a boating trip.

As they rowed along on that 'golden afternoon', Dodgson improvised a fantasy about the curious adventures of a little girl named (like one of the girls on the trip) 'Alice', who followed a White Rabbit in a waistcoat with a watch down a rabbit-hole and found herself in a true land of wonders...

At Alice’s request, Dodgson wrote out the story – first calling it Alice’s Adventures Under Ground – and added his own distinctively idosyncratic illustrations.

By 1865, it had grown (like someone who had nibbled an EAT ME cake) into Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and was published under the authorship of 'Lewis Carroll' with illustrations by the legendary Punch cartoonist, Sir John Tenniel.

The book was made Mr Dodgson’s alter ego one of the most famous men in Victorian England. It also revolutionised children’s literature by abandoning, at a stroke, the long and piously-held tradition of moral-and-improving tales for the young in favour of zany, witty nonsense that had no underlying message other than fun...

July the 4th is also, of course, American Independence Day and is interesting to note how many true literary successors to Lewis Carroll – among them L Frank Baum, James Thurber, Ogden Nash and Maurice Sendak – have sprung up in America.

But then perhaps this shouldn’t really surprise us, since the Americans have always shown themselves to be far greater lovers and defenders of Wonderland (and Looking-glass World) than the English have ever been…

Maybe there are reasons for this affinity between the American sensibility and Carroll’s nonsense realm: for one thing, Alice is a highly independent and self-determining individual (a truly revolutionary notion for a child’s book of the 1800s); for another, the Wonderlanders with whom she mixes are a wildly disparate conglomeration of diverse species – animals, humans, animals-dressed-as-humans and humans-with-animal-masks – all of whom (for the most part) rub along together but who are, together, fiercely territorial!

I find it fascinating – and humbling – that, in 1948 (by which time the original manuscript of
Alice’s Adventures Under Ground
had been sold and was in the possession of an American collector), a group of US well-wishers, led by the Librarian of Congress, should have started a fund to raise the considerable sum of money required to buy back the manuscript and send it home to us!

That first foray into Carroll's underground wonderworld now resides in the British Library and maybe we should remember the American act of selfless generosity which made that possible the next time we look at, say, the Elgin Marbles…

Meanwhile, time to raise a cup of tea (courtesy of Hatter, Hare & Dormouse: 'Specialist Teas for the Discerning Palette') and join in the toast-----

Happy 155th Birthday, Alice!

Happy 241st Birthday, America!

This blog post is a edited reprint of a post from 2007

Friday, 30 June 2017


Oxford's annual 'Alice's Day' commemorates that legendary day – 4 July 1862 – when the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and his friend the Reverend Robinson Duckworth took Alice, Lorina and Edith Liddell, the three daughters of the Dean of Christ Church on a boating trip during which he told the girls a story that would become Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

This year the Lewis Carroll Society is participating with a trio of talks at The Story Museum...

Click to Enlarge

Thursday, 29 June 2017


As a young man in my twenties, I developed a friendship with Michael Bond, the creator of Paddington Bear, who died Tuesday aged 91. We corresponded regularly and I spent time with him and his family at their then home in Haslemere.

Following a change in Michael's marital status, we lost touch for over 30 years until, in 2014, BBC Radio 2's Arts Show reunited us by sending me to talk to Michael about his new book, LOVE FROM PADDINGTON. As a small tribute to a gentle man with a real gift for storytelling, here's our last conversation...

Saturday, 24 June 2017


Mid-summer madness: intrepid fire-jumpers at Emborios on Kalymnos – you just have to hop through three fires and then dive off the end of the jetty straight into the sea!

Friday, 23 June 2017

Monday, 19 June 2017

Sunday, 18 June 2017


What could be prettier than the sight of a typical little blue-and-white Greek boat moored in a peaceful harbour...

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Friday, 9 June 2017

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Saturday, 13 May 2017


Eleven Years Old Today!


Saturday, 29 April 2017


Who knew (if you'll pardon the pun) that there would ever be a series of MR. MEN books that would sell to grown-ups who weren't buying them for their kids? But here they come...

Created by Adam Hargreaves in the style of his dad's famous books, these are the first of the DR. books. Of course, Who-purists will remind me that it should be 'Doctor' not 'Dr.' but that's just because Roger Hargreaves' creations were 'Mr.' not 'Mister'.

I won't pretend that I've been a constant fan and devoted follower of Doctor Who throughout his 54 year-long regeneration process, but I've always checked out each new incarnation of the Doctor if, for no other reason, because of a sentimental attachment to my youthful memories of where it all began...

To be honest, I've never quite got over the fact that I missed the very first appearance of Doctor Who on our black and white telly or the fact that, whenever I mention this, David reminds me that he was watching!

It was teatime – 5:15 in the afternoon of 23 November 1963 (the day after the assassination in Dallas of President John F Kennedy) - when the BBC transmitted episode one of 'An Unearthly Child' with William Hartnell as the enigmatic Doctor.

Come Monday morning, everyone at school was talking about this amazing new TV show about a Time Lord zapping through time and space in a machine called a TARDIS that was disguised as a then commonplace piece of British street furniture – a police telephone box.

The following Saturday, I was on the sofa (I was already too old to be hiding behind it!) ready to watch the next episode and – wonder of wonders! – in response to a phenomenal public reaction to the series' debut and the fact that other hapless youngsters had also missed the beginning, the BBC preceded the second episode with a repeat of the first! Brilliant! I was hooked...

It's a truism (but true for all that!) that everyone's favourite Doctor is the one they watched when they were growing up. For me it was first and foremost, the irascible, grandfatherly William Hartnell and here's proof of my devotion...

The First Doctor

I also still remember when the cantankerous Hartnell transmogrified into the quirkily eccentric Patrick Troughton and how utterly, fantastically exciting was that first regeneration

Here's the fan picture I wrote for at the time...

Ther Second Doctor

And now – what fun! – Dr. Second is going to look like this...

As they used to say on those pre-health-and-safety cereal packets containing giveaway toys ––– er... sorry... I mean chocking hazards –––  "BE SURE TO COLLECT THE FULL SET!"

Monday, 24 April 2017


As any regular reader of this blog will testify, there can be few more dedicated devotees of the late Ray Bradbury than I. We were friends for 30 years and I have several binders filled with his correspondence and a huge collection of his books, but even my reverence has its limits....


“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you."Ray Bradbury 

When you're ready to get and stay drunk on writing, seek blessings from Saint Ray.

Your candle will feature the “sainted” writer’s image on the front, and a prayer or other message on the back. Currently available prayers:
✑ prayer for essay writers
✑ prayer for readers
✑ prayer for creative writers
✑ prayer for prelims exam success
✑ prayer for dissertation writers 
✑ prayer for thesis writers
The top of your candle will be tied with a ribbon and a charm that's related to writing, the writer's work, and/or the prayer you’ve chosen, usually a pen nib or book.

Candles are made from hand-poured, unscented, non-GMO soy wax. The wicks have cotton cores. They are approximately 8.5” tall and 2.5” in diameter. Each can burn for up to eighty hours depending on the environment. Safety instructions are included. 

£12.14 plus shipping  

Note: Sainted Writers candles are not official merchandise of the authors or publishers. I seek trademark- and copyright-free elements for every design. 

There are lots of sainted writers awaiting your petitions including Tolkien and Rowling...

You can view the entire company of saints (from Douglas Adams to Jeanette Winterson) here

Tuesday, 18 April 2017


An historic piece of Tolkien-related artwork goes under the hammer in a couple of days: Barbara Remington's original cover design for the 1965 Ballantine three-volume, authorised American paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings. 

click image to enlarge

The auction house refers to this as a is a "landmark illustration" which is certainly true! A pirate edition of Rings was being published in the USA by Ace books and Ballatine were desperate to get the Tolkien 'authorised edition' on sale with all haste. 

For the cover art they turned to Barbara Remington an artist, illustrator and designer who lived in New York's East Village and mixed in arty circles that included Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Lowell and others. In 1965, she had provided the cover art for Ballantine's authorised US edition of The Hobbit... 

The design featured fanciful vignette of, presumably, Hobbiton along with a lion, two emus and a tree spouting pink bulbs.... 

Tolkien was not amused and wrote to Rayner Unwin at his publishing house, Geroge Allen and Unwin:
I think the cover is ugly; but I recognize that a main object of a paperback cover is to attract purchasers, and I suppose that you are better judges of what is attractive in USA than I am. I therefore will not enter into a debate about taste—(meaning though I did not say so: horrible colours and foul lettering)—but I must ask this about the vignette: what has it got to do with the story? Where is this place? Why a lion and emus? And what is the thing in the foreground with pink bulbs? I do not understand how anybody who had read the tale (I hope you are one) could think such a picture would please the author. 
Barbara Remington, in an interview many years later, explained these curiously worrying embellishments: 
I worked for Ballantine, and as a practice, always read the books before doing the artwork. I didn’t have this luxury with the Tolkien Books, something I wish I could have changed. Ballantine was in a hurry to get these books out right away. When they commissioned me to do the artwork, I didn’t have the chance to see either book, though I tried to get a copy through my friends. So I didn’t know what they were about. I tried finding people that had read them, but the books were not readily available in the states, and so I had sketchy information at best... [Tolkien] was especially perplexed about the lion on the cover, because there are no lions in the story. He requested that Ballantine remove the lions from the cover, so they painted them over for later books.
Although, as a sop to Tolkien, the lion was air-brushed out of Middle-earth for the 1966 reprint, the 'emus' survived and reappeared on the front cover of The Fellowship of the Rings when Ballantine rushed their authorised edition of The Lord of the Rings onto the US market. Once again, Remington had to design the covers without having an opportunity to read the book... 
Ace books released an unauthorized edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, without Tolkien’s permission. There were some questionable copy laws that weren’t universally accepted. Ballantine bought the rights to the three books from Tolkien, and wanted to beat Ace before they had a chance to release the second two books of the series. So Ballantine authorized the release of all three books at once. This was unheard of. They came to me saying, 'We want you to draw all three cover pictures now.' And this was sight unseen... There wasn’t any time. They wanted them right away, and I had to draw all the covers at once...

click on images to enlarge

The covers reproduced above are from the collection of Oronzo Cilli, visit his blog: Tolkieniano.Collection and follow him on Facebook.

Regarding the Rings covers, Barbara Remington recollects:
Nobody was aware of ... the magnitude of these books, or the impact they would have... I’ve done many fantasy covers, and always read the books first...  If I’d had the time to actuallyread the books first, which was my habit to do, I’d have definitely drawn different pictures. I’m a big Tolkien fan, and love these books, having read them many times... After reading his work, I was in awe of Tolkien. I knew there was something special about him. If I [had] read The Lord of the Rings first, I don’t think I could have drawn the cover art... I’d have felt intimidated. These books were so special, I would have perhaps felt overwhelmed.
As the piece now up for auction shows, Remington's cover designs for the three Rings volumes was made as single piece of art – so that the published books could be laid side-by-side to form a single landscape. Indeed, Ballantine used the entire image as a wrap-around slip-case design for the boxed set... 

click on images to enlarge

A hugely popular poster, titled 'Wilderness', was also produced using this accidentally iconic image!

Avid Tolkien collectors should note that Heritage Auctions' estimate is a mere $20,000-$30,000.  

Sunday, 16 April 2017


Charming vintage (1940s) Easter paintings by Tove Jansson...

Visit the official Moomin website


[Photo: Brian Sibley]

Friday, 14 April 2017

Good Friday

[The Kelham Rood in St John the Divine, Kennington. Photo: Brian Sibley]

Thursday, 13 April 2017


Now, that is... er... well... profound...


I'm a big fan of Tate Britain, but their disabled loos are the most inconvenient conveniences I have ever used, BECAUSE...


...it is impossible to use the loo without triggering the hand dryer which remains at full throttle for the duration, reaching incendiary levels of heat whilst blowing the loo-paper out of reach.

Having been built to accommodate a wheelchair, there are acres of wall space that could have been used to mount the dryer other than right above where you sit!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017


A memorable day, yesterday, with David and I being invited to lunch at Sotheby's auction house in London to celebrate the sale (today) of an astonishing array of cartoons, caricatures and drawings....

The unmistakable work of the (truly) legendary artist and satirist, Gerald Scarfe...

Photo: David Weeks

We were in celebrated company: in addition to Gerald, his wife, Jane Asher, and their son, Frederick, there were – among others – Felicity Dahl (widow of Roald) and Donald Sturrock (Dahl's biographer) and sitting next to David (to his great delight) Nick Mason of Pink Floyd!

The sale features a staggering range of Scarfe's work including many delicious inky assassinations. Here are Thatcher, Blair and Obama...

A sardonic future-vision: Prince William, leapfrogging his father, Prince Charles to seize the crown...

A clutch of Showbizers: Mick Jagger, Julie Andrews (in Mary Poppins), Nigel Hawthorne (in Yes, Minister) and Ian McKellen...

Also for sale are examples of Gerald Scarfe work for the theatre: McHeath in The Beggar's Opera and a costume designs for Drosselmeyer in the ballet, The Nutcracker and for the title-character of the operatic version of Roald Dahl's The Fantastic Mr Fox...

And, of course, Scarfe's work on two memorable – vastly different – film projects: Pink Floyd  – The Wall and Disney's Hercules...

On a wall by itself in the pre-sale exhibition (and in a class-act all of its own) hung one of Gerald Scarfe's most celebrated – and, at the time, notorious – portraits.

In 1964, The Times commissioned the artist to mark Winston Churchill's final day in the House of Commons, but the submitted picture was deemed too controversial to publish. 

The drawings is an extraordinary piece of work: the pathetic, decaying, sunken-eyed Churchill dominates the meticulously drawn architectural setting with Conservative politicians (including Reginald Maudling and Alec Douglas-Home) peeping out from behind his hunched bulk and the Speaker of the Commons, Sir Harry Hylton-Foster, lurking in the shadowy recess of the Speaker's Chair.

Six months later, when Churchill died, Peter Cook used the drawing on the cover of the satiric magazine, Private Eye... 

Bidding opens on this piece of British national (and cartoon) history at £100,000...