Thursday, 30 September 2010


I just recover from answering one meme (the one asking me to list my frequently watched movies) when, knock me down with a feather, along comes another one: this time courtesy of my friend SCB at Where there are Meadowlarks...

Here are THE RULES (for there must always be RULES) as laid down by SCB:

1. Go through the alphabet, and for each letter, think of a book you've read that starts with that letter (A, An, and The do not count).

2. You must write down the FIRST book you think of for any given letter. This may make for some odd choices, but them's the breaks.

3. You must have actually READ the book. (I thought of lots that started with some letters, but I hadn't read them.)

4. If you think of a more impressive-sounding book for a particular letter, but you've already written your first thought down, you CANNOT change to the more impressive-sounding book. As an example, you have to leave "Fifty Famous Fairy Tales" (the Whitman Publishing pink and white one) on the list, even if you come up with fifty more impressive books afterwards.

5. If you can think of a book for X, you win... my lasting admiration (I can't afford real prizes!)

6. You can then tag as many people as you like. The more the merrier.

So, here's the list I drew up...

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

Doctor Dolittle – Hugh Lofting

The Exploits of Moominpappa – Tove Jansson

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

Gormenghast – Mervyn Peake

The Hobbit – J R R Tolkien

It's Too Late Now – A A Milne
(The autobiography of Pooh's creator)

Just So Stories – Rudyard Kipling

A Kid for Two Farthings – Wolf Mankowitz

The Lord of the Rings – J R R Tolkien

Mary Poppins – P L Travers

Noddy in Toyland – Enid Blyton
(Nostromo by Joseph Conrad would have sounded better, but there it is!)

The Once and Future King – T H White

Peter and Wendy – J M Barrie

Quentin Durwood – Sir Walter Scott

Ring of Bright Water – Gavin Maxwell

Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury

Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

Utopia - Thomas More

The Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader' – C S Lewis

The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Graham

EXterminator! – William S Burroughs (Oh, well, it was worth a try!)

Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories – Dr Seuss

Zen in the Art of Writing – Ray Bradbury

I suppose it's not too surprising that there are two titles by Tolkien and three by Bradbury – plus, of course, Carroll, Milne and Peake – but the preponderance of children's books suggests that I have already entered my second childhood which is, I guess, pretty accurate!

I hesitate to tag anyone, but (if they'd like to do it and have the time) then I'll tag Gill, Sheila, Sharon, Suzanne and anyone else who fancies having a go...

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


Matthew Parris' guest on this week's edition of Great Lives (BBC Radio 4 today at 16:30), is the cartoonist Gerald Scarfe who nominates Walt Disney as his life of greatness.

Gerald, who later worked on the Disney Studio's Hercules, fell under the Disney magic when, as a young boy in 1940, he saw Pinocchio. An aspiring artist, he copied the film's characters and says that the villains later influenced his own, often savage, satiric style.

The expert 'witnesses' on the programme are veteran animator, Richard ('Dick') Williams (the man behind Who Framed Roger Rabbit? as well as the wonderful, Oscar-winning animated version of A Christmas Carol) and Yours-Truly.

Dick and I go back a long way: as a young man with ambitions to be an animator I used to visit his studio (then in London's Soho Square) where I met several of animation's elder statesmen: including Ken Harris (responsible for among other cartoon creations, Warner Bros' Wile E Coyote); Grim Natwick who animated both Betty Boop and Snow White; Art Babbitt who gave life to the Three Little Pigs and Snow's nemesis, the Wicked Queen; and Shamus Culhane who animated Miss White's dwarfs and, later Woody Woodpecker.

I had not, however, realised just how far back Dick and I went, until he recalled our first meeting when he had asked me how old I was and I had owned up to being –– fifteen! Where the heck did those intervening forty-five years go...?

You can hear Gerald, Dick and I talking about Walt Disney – exploring some of the facts, exploding some of the myths – on Great Lives on BBC Radio 4 at 16:30 this afternoon. The programme will be repeated on Friday at 23:00 and can also be heard, after its initial broadcast, via BBC iPlayer.

Monday, 27 September 2010


Tonight at 10:00 pm, BBC Radio 2 will be broadcasting the fourth programme in my eight-part documentary series celebrating The Musical. Presented by Bill Kenwright, 'Pushing the Boundaries' will focus on shows that challenged what was and was not suitable subject matter for a musical.

Victor Spinetti reminisces about Joan Littlewood and her controversial production of Oh, What A Lovely War, Elaine Paige and Paul Nicholas recall being part of the first British 'tribe' of Hair, while composer Jerry Herman and others discuss his groundbreaking musical centered on a gay relationship, La Cage Aux Folles...

That's tonight on Radio 2 and, afterwards, for the next seven days on BBC iPlayer.

Thursday, 23 September 2010


Never having previously had a book of mine announced with a film commercial, I was understandably excited when my forthcoming volume, Harry Potter Film Wizardry, was accorded this treatment...

Two minutes of ecstatic marketing wizardry and yet, evidently, no time to mention the writer! Still, there's no mention of J K Rowling either!

Never mind: at the time of posting, the 'trailer' has already clocked up more than 22,000 viewings on YouTube, so let's just hope – at some not-too-distant point – that a few magical royalty cheques will serve as compensation for my anonymity!

Incidentally, I'm not being a spoilsport, but – whilst I haven't yet seen a copy of the finished book – I don't think the pictures move about as much as they do in the advert!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010


Commenting on yesterday's post about my radio series, The Musical, Sheila noted that the programmed was reviewed by Elizabeth Mahoney in The Guardian.

Not surprisingly, Ms Mahoney picked up on Tim Rice's comment:

"All musicals are ten minutes too long. In fact, everything in life is ten minutes too long!"

What a great comment! Incidentally, at the end of our recording session, I thanked Sir Tim for a great interview –– and then won a laugh by apologising for the fact that it hadn't ended ten minutes earlier!

Monday, 20 September 2010


The third programme in my radio documentary series, The Musical, will be broadcast on BBC Radio 2 tonight at 10:00 pm and can, afterwards, be heard for the next seven days via BBC iPlayer.

Entitled 'Breaking the Mould' and presented, this week, by Michael Ball, this episode looks at shows that have revolutionised the way musicals are staged or, in the case of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!, which debuted in 1943, virtually established the genre in the first place.

Among the interviewees are Paul Nicholas, Tim Rice, Richard Stilgoe, Elaine Paige, Hal Prince and Stephen Sondheim and other shows discussed include Show Boat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats, The Lion King and Kander and Ebb's masterpiece (originally choreographed by the legendary Bob Fosse) Chicago...

Thursday, 16 September 2010


Lambeth's Catholics welcome His Holiness Pope Benedict...

Monday, 13 September 2010


Tonight: the second programme in my BBC Radio 2 documentary series, The Musical, is broadcast at 10:00 pm. Presented by Daniel Evans (Merrily We Roll Along and Sunday in the Park with George), the episode is entitled 'Drawn from Life' and looks at musicals based on the lives of real people.

The programme features a two of musical theatre's greatest divas: Patti Lupone who talks about following the great Ethel Merman into the role of Mama Rose, mother of burlesque stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee and Elaine Paige who discusses the challenges of portraying Argentinian political leader, Eva Peron. There are also contributions by Stephen Sondheim who, with Jule Styne, wrote Gypsy, and Tim Rice who wrote the lyrics to Andrew Lloyd Webber's music for Evita.

And to whet your appetite, here are the two great show-stopping numbers from those shows...

Thursday, 9 September 2010


I have been tagged by Good Dog to list some of the films that I will happily watch several times over – or, in my case, have already watched many times over.

This is not my list of the Greatest Movies Ever Made, just a selection of those that I will happily re-watch whenever the opportunity arises. There's a month's worth here (thirty-one of them) and, following Good Dog's example, I am not giving the titles – just showing you a scene from the movie. Some are easily identified, others are harder. How many can you name?

If it helps they are (ignoring definite and indefinite articles) in numerical/alphabetical order...

Good luck!

Now, of course – as is the way with memes, I have to tag others. The rule are:

01. Provide a non-exhaustive list of films you’ll happily watch again and again. [Note you don't have to match my 31!]
02. There is no rule 02.
03. Reprint the rules.
04. Tag three others and ask them to do the same.

And my chosen victims are Irascian, Ryan Rasmussen and Steven Hartley and anyone else who wants to join in...

Now which of those movies shall I watch first?

Monday, 6 September 2010


Over the last eighteen months to two years, I have been working on a series of eight hour-long documentaries for BBC Radio 2 celebrating the most popular and successful form of theatrical entertainment in the world –– The Musical.

Each programme is presented by a leading name from the world of musical theatre beginning with Siân Phillips who hosts 'Stories with Songs' tonight at 10:00 pm.

Future presenters include Whoopi Goldberg, Sheila Hancock, Daniel Evans, Julia McKenzie, Bill Kenwright and Michael Ball.

Today, the musical is a global entertainment form, but even though you can now experience many of the same shows in the theatre districts of the major capitals in the world, for most of us it's still associated with the place where it was born – Broadway: the road that runs the full length of Manhattan and especially that part between 42nd and 53rd Streets that is known as The Great White Way...

Whilst the musical is a genre of theatre, when you look at individual shows you find that they're a mass of other genres: there are comedies, dramas and histories, and shows that address social, political and even religious ideas.

But whatever the subject matter, one thing is certain, to be a good musical, you need a good story or 'book'. This opening documentary asks, if the book is so important why are there so few musicals that have an original story as opposed to being adapted from some other medium?

The series is produced by my good friend Malcolm Prince and among its contributors will be Stephen Sondheim, Patti Lupone, Arlene Phillips, Maury Yeston, John Barrowman, Elaine Stritch, Maria Friedman, Sandy Wilson, Victor Spinetti, Ruthie Henshall, Don Black, Tim Rice, Donna McKechnie, Gillian Lynne, Elaine Paige, Richard Stilgoe, Paul Nicholas, Marvin Hamlisch, Liz Robertson, Joel Grey, Thomas Schumacher, Michael Grandage, Cameron Mackintosh and Bobby Lopez.

Among the shows featured in this first programme are The Boy Friend, Chess, Starlight Express, Sunday in the Park with George and A Chorus Line...

Following transmission, the shows can be heard again for seven days via the BBC iPlayer.

Saturday, 4 September 2010


Here's a question for you...

Is this art?

You see, the thing is, it has a title and an accredited artist...

So, "What," you ask, "are Polychrome Elevations?"

To which I reply: they are garishly painted staircases at London's Southbank Centre...

Yellow (1)

Pink (1)

Yellow (2)

Pink (3)
Oh, and (even though I didn't photograph it) there's also a blue one!

What I want to know is this: did Peter Newman buy the paint and wield the roller – or did he simply chose the colour and call in the decorators?

Wednesday, 1 September 2010


Following the recently published revised editions of John Howe and my J R R Tolkien map books, West of the Mountains, East of the Sea: The Map of Tolkien's Beleriand and the Lands to the North and The Road Goes Ever On and On: The Map of Tolkien's Middle-earth...

...there now comes There and Back Again: The Map of Tolkien's 'The Hobbit'...

As with the earlier volumes, this publication contains some superb new drawings from the pencil of John Howe who is currently down in Wellington, New Zealand working on the design of Peter Jackson's (hopefully still) forthcoming production of The Hobbit.

While you wait, you can get a feeling for what John's input the film would be like from his artwork for our new book which includes this drawing of Mr Bilbo Baggins' hobbit-hole, Bag End...

Bag End
...the story's villain, Smaug the Magnificent and his golden dragon hoard...

And one of Tolkien's most intriguing characters, Beorn the skin-changer, seen here in his terrifying ursine form...


There and Back Again: The Map of Tolkien's The Hobbit will be published on 3 September.