Thursday, 31 October 2013


Many strange things are alleged to have happened on Halloween. One that most certainly did occur was the death of a man whose name was – in his lifetime and has remained in the 87 years since – synonymous with Magic...


Throughout his life, Harry Houdini diced with death – accepting challenges to undertake life-threatening stunts and dangerous escapes. 

Following the death of his beloved mother, he sought to discover whether there was a means of contacting the departed: a quest that led him to expose fraudulent mediums and spiritualists who faked contact with the dead for financial gain.

And so he danced with the Grim Reaper – cheek-to-bony-cheek – until his own tragic death on 31 October, 1926.

The story of Houdini's life, death and what did (and didn't) happen afterwards is told in this radio programme which was first broadcast on this night in 1996 to mark the 70th  anniversary of the legend that was HOUDINI...


Monday, 28 October 2013


I will be flying in on The One Show (BBC One) tonight to chat with Gyles Brandreth about P L Travers, Walt Disney, Mary Poppins and the new film starring Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks, Saving Mr Banks.

The programme starts at 19:00 at some point, after which, I will pop up!


As we edge closer to Halloween – that dark night when spines are tingled with tales of terror – allow me to introduce you to–––


Historical figure...? Or a nightmare creation of myth and legend...? 'Jack the Ripper' – whose true identity remains a mystery – is both.

In 1988 to mark the 100th anniversary of the serial killer's frightful reign of terror, I went to London's East End and walked the dark streets and shadowy courtyards – many unchanged in a century – where Jack performed the fearful atrocities that were to terrify all London and send shock-waves throughout the Empire and the world...

This is the story I brought back and broadcast on the BBC World Service. The story of–––


Wednesday, 23 October 2013


I spent several hours on Monday afternoon in Guy's Hospital waiting for and then receiving my first infusion (via 'drip') of Infliximab, the latest drug regime for my psoriatic arthritis.

Reading the description of this medication developed from a 'mouse antibody' (for the curious: see full details below) this seems – regardless of whether of not it helps my condition – probably the ultimate 'collectible' for a Disney fan!!

The side-effects, of course, are obvious...

Mind you, if the rest of the body looked that buff, I might not complain...

"Infliximab is an artificial antibody. It was originally developed in mice as a mouse antibody. Because humans have immune reactions to mouse proteins, the mouse common domains were replaced with similar human antibody domains. Because the antibodies were produced from one cell grown into a clone of identical cells, it is called a monoclonal antibody."

Sunday, 20 October 2013


This year's London Film Festival closes this evening with the premiere of Saving Mr Banks, Disney's film account of the difficult time the studio's founder experienced, in the early 'sixties, when making what was to become one of his most successful movies – Mary Poppins.

The new film stars Tom Hanks as the Hollywood dream-merchant and Emma Thompson as P L Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books, who was fiercely protective of her heroine and feistily determined to be heard in script conferences with the film's screenwriter, Don DaGradi, and the soon-to-be-legendary Oscar-winning song-smiths, Richard and Robert Sherman.

Saving Mr Banks, which skillfully interweaves, the Burbank back-stage story with that of Pamela Travers' difficult childhood growing up in Australia, has brought back many memories of this extraordinary – but far from easy – woman who was, for many years, a friend and, for a brief while, a collaborator when, in the mid '80s, we worked on a to-date unmade sequel to Disney's 1964 box-office triumph, provisionally entitled Mary Poppins Comes Back.

What followed (or, at least, some of what transpired) is revealed in an article by Vincent Dowd, who recently interviewed me for the BBC World Service –– Mary Poppins: Brian Sibley's sequel that never was.

At the time all this was happening, another friend of mine, Academy Award-winning Animator Richard Williams, was working for the Disney studio as Animation Director on Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Dick made me a drawing that still hangs on my wall as a reminder of a project that nearly-almost-might-have-happened...

In the end, like the hapless Roger, I (and Mary Poppins 2) went headfirst down that manhole, but it was a memorable trip!

You can read more in past blog-posts about P L Travers and 'our' film, here and here.

Saturday, 19 October 2013


Anticipation is building towards the release of the next step in the journey of Peter Jackson's Hobbit, 'There and Back Again' – and, of course, in my accompanying book!!

Here are some souvenirs of an earlier (but, in Tolkien-time, later!) Hobbit odyssey: my 1981 BBC radio serialization of The Lord of the Rings. Corney slogans but, at the time, these were eagerly snapped up and worn with pride!

Thursday, 17 October 2013


There is a general rule about the glass-blowers of Venezia is that they are capable of making vitreous replicas of just about anything that exists in the real world – and much that does not!

Over the years, as we've window-shopped while strolling through the city's labyrinthine ways, there have  been many amazing and amusing items that have caught our eye and made us marvel or, more often, chuckle, at the Venetians' inventiveness and tenacity, but – without question – this is one of the most quirkily delightful...

Monday, 14 October 2013


Today is Winnie-the-Pooh's 87th birthday – if you date his literary origins from his first appearance under that name – and 'under the name of Sanders' in A A Milne's book, Winnie-the-Pooh, published on this day in 1926. 

Mind you, he had already made his bow, two years earlier, in When We Were Very Young, under the rather less impressive moniker, 'Teddy Bear'.

I shall be celebrating 'The Best Bear in All the World' (as Christopher Robin calls him) this evening with a talk to the members of the famous Garrick Club of which Milne was a member and, though royalties on his books, a major benefactor.

Entitled Mr Milne, Mr Shepard and that Bear of Very Little Brain, it will look at Pooh's history and the contributions of AAM, his son, Christopher (who was responsible for Pooh before the bear started having adventures in the '100 Aker Wood') and illustrator Ernest H Shepard who drew the pictures that are now as integral a part of the books as the words they decorate.

Here, to mark the event, is a suite of three Shepard illustrations for Pooh's second book, The House at Pooh Corner (1928), which were originally owned by my friend the artist and illustrator, Pauline Baynes, and came to me after her death. 

Shepard drew a series of five illustrations depicting Pooh's friend Piglet plating a 'haycorn' and of these three, only the central drawing was used in the book along with two others of Pooh planting the haycorn and jumping up and down on the earth once the hole had been filled in.

This the first time these previously unseen pictures have been published...

Saturday, 12 October 2013


My first career ambition – when I was six years old – was to be a Punch and Judy Man.

Every year, for several years, we holidayed at the Kentish seaside resort of Broadstairs and, in 1955, I had a unforgettable experience. My obsession with P&J ensured that – day in, day out –  I'd be there watching the show on Broadstairs sands. I saw it so many times that, eventually, I knew the politically incorrect dialogue and knock-about action by heart: Mr Punch laying about him with his slap-stick, clobbering poor Judy, the hapless Baby, the Clown and the Policeman; the crocodile stealing the sausages and Mr P's final rendezvous with the Hangman...

One day, the Punch & Judy Man (or 'Professor' as they are known in the business), having noticed my daily attendance, called me over and asked why I kept coming to see the show. I told him how much I loved puppets and how I thought I might, one day, like to follow him into the profession.

Being a naturally garrulous child I also told him that it was going to be my birthday in a few days time – 14 July – when I would be six!  In response, he made me the most wonderful offer: as a birthday treat, I could join him in the booth and help with the show! Today, no one would dream of suggesting a child should be closeted in a little, dark tent with a stranger, but those were more innocent times.

The birthday eventually rolled around and I was beside myself with excitement as the Professor held back the flap of the tent and I went inside.

Throughout the show, I had the hugely responsible task of taking the puppets as they finished their scene and handing him the characters for the next scene...


Decades passed and, one summer, David and I drove down to Broadstairs for a day-trip. I hadn't been there for years and I was repeatedly overwhelmed by waves of nostalgia and the memories of seemingly endless sunny days that, again and again, came flooding back.

Stopping to buy a postcard to send to my parents to remind them of those happy holidays we shared, I spotted this book...

Thinking it would be the perfect reminder of days gone by, I picked it up and began leafing through the pages of black-and-white images, only to be pulled up short by this one...

July 1955, and a sea of young laughing faces watching – what else but a Punch & Judy show...

July 1955!  

I was on holiday in Broadstairs in that very month, that actual year...

Goodness! I might so easily be somewhere in that crowd...  

Mightn't I...?

I examined the photo closer and, suddenly, there I was! 

And there I still am: in the midst of the throng, the young Brian Sibley – aspiring Punch & Judy Professor – watching with rapt attention and laughing with delight!

The years fell away as I unexpectedly encountered my former self and, for a minute or two, I was six once more!

Ah, well, too late now, I guess, to start up in a new profession..

Thursday, 10 October 2013


Next month – November 23 – will mark the 50th anniversary of the death of C S Lewis, an event overshadowed, at the time, by the assassination of President John F Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.

In the five decades since, Lewis' life and work – from that much-loved septet of children's classics, 'The Chronicles of Narnia', to a pew's-length of theological books – have been increasingly discussed and analysed by writers and commentators until the number of books about C S Lewis have grown to vastly outnumber the substantial number he wrote himself.

With so much Lewisiana out there, anyone playing catch-up might not be entirely sure where to begin. Well, I have come across the perfect solution: a new book in the 'Brief Guides' series...

Paul Simpson's well-researched, highly accessible and very readable A Brief Guide to C. S. Lewis is an affectionate and enthusiastic tribute to Lewis' work, providing a concise yet fact-filled introduction to Lewis' fiction, an overview of his other writings, a biography and a look at all the many different versions of his stories that have appeared on radio, TV, stage and film. 

In doing so, the author draws on new interviews with (to quote the publisher's blurb) "some of the many talented people who have worked on these adaptations". In compliance with current requirements for transparency, I need to  declare an interest in that I am among those whom Mr Simpson interviewed about my radio dramatisations of The Chronicles of Narnia, my book Shadowlands and the various incarnations through which that particular project passed on its journey from small to big screen.

Mention of Shadowlands – the story of the love between Lewis and the American writer, Joy Davidman, and their battles with the grisly spectre of cancer – prompts me (if you'll pardon the indulgence) to mention the re-publication, today, of that particular volume with a new introduction and a most generous Foreword by Alistair McGrath, C S Lewis' most recent biographer.

You can order Paul Simpson's A Brief Guide to C S Lewis here.
And get your copy of Shadowlands: The True Story of C S Lewis and Joy Davidman here.

Monday, 7 October 2013


Reading Nanette Newman's recent article in The Telegraph about her late husband, Bryan Forbes, reminded me of one of several occasions on which I interviewed Bryan over the years.

At the time I was working with TV filmmaker, Norman Stone, on a proposed documentary about Peter Sellers for Arena. The programme was never made (at least not by us) but we spent several months in research which involved meeting with members of Sellers' family and his many friends and colleagues.

Norman and I went to visit Bryan and Nanette who were most hospitable and, after several glasses of wine, we fell to talking about the other potential interviewees for the series - a list that included Mel Brooks, Britt Ekland, Lynne Frederick, Eric Sykes, Irene Handl, Lionel Jefferies, Jerzy Kosiński, Harry Secombe and legendary, globe-trotting TV presenter, Alan Whicker.

It was at that point that Norman volunteered that I did a mean impression of Mr Whicker and Bryan and Nanette encouraged me to demonstrate it.

Put on the spot, I awkwardly declined; however – a couple of bottles later – conviviality reigned, my inhibitions evaporated and I suddenly and unrestrainedly launched into my impersonation...

When a few hours (and few more bottles) later, we were about to leave, Bryan said that he wanted to give Norman and I one of his books: Norman received one of the Forbes film memoirs and I was given a copy of his novel, Familiar Strangers...

...which he duly signed on the title page –– not to me, but to the impersonated Alan Whicker...

Nanette, looking over Bryan's shoulder said, "You can't write that! Anyone who sees it will think Brian has stolen it from Alan Whicker!"

Without missing a beat, Bryan took the book back and added a further explanatory inscription!!

 I must remember to leave a note in the book for the benefit of my executors!

Thursday, 3 October 2013



This you will recall was the picture for which I invited captions...

Well, that produced what I can only describe as a bumper crop of witticisms and sillinesses (submitted via these pages and my Facebook page) that are, arguably, the best selection of entries that I and my guest judge, Sophie Walpole, have ever had to assess.

There were, as you will see, some frequently visited themes and a lot of unexpected flights of fancy.

So, here are your offerings beginning with the–––

 (Or, in view of the photo, maybe HOPPERS-UP)


We told Lance Armstrong that doping affects your health.


Keppel is saying: Well Betty, you only have yourself to blame for trying out a sandblast dance.


George Osborne [UK Chancellor of the Exchequer] is telling those assembled at the party conference: "You see, even stripped of everything he has by our latest policies, Barry here still has a leg to stand on."



 A legend in his own lifetime.



Undercover officers catch the Hallowe'en bike thief: caught bang to rights without a leg to stand on, he proved 'armless.


I told Wiggo his training diet for the Tour of Britain was too extreme.



[In the style of a ventriloquist] "I was in Kirates o'the Karigean, you know, so this nusic hall chenttrillo... kentrillo.... kwizm gisness is a git of a kungdown..."



"Oh, the boots on the other foot now!"


"Now will you put the underpants on and pose for the caption picture."


I think we have the bare bones of a caption competition here.


"I can't wait for the second leg."


"Well, you feed the dog then."


"Legless again, eh ? I thought you had no-body to go out with."


"Well, it’s the only option if you still need to lose more weight."



 "'E may look in a bad way, but 'e's 'armless."


"He hasn't got a leg to stand on."



Man on left: "Ah, yes, I see what you mean... female pelvis... the hat isn't quite right is it?"


Skeleton: "You said it was a formal do... I feel silly in this hat."


"I've heard that you went on a diet, but this is ridiculous."


Skeleton: " When I said I'd like a leg up I didn't mean that you should remove the leg, idiots!"


"OK, we bought the bike now you can hop it..."


"Nice boot... where's the other one?"


"He's had a skin-full, I'm sorry to say."


...Times were tough... we only had a skeleton staff back then.


The earliest diet fads were a little bit hit and miss.



"In your opinion, Mr. Bones..."

[Old black-face Vaudeville, American]


"I'm a doctor, Jim, not a miracle worker!" [Star Trek]



"That's what happens when you miss the last bus home."



"Perhaps you'd like to try something in an open-toed pump?"



Man on left: "I've a bone to pick with you."


Skeleton: ""Sadly, I haven't got a leg to stand on."


Man on right: "That'll cost you an arm and a leg, then."



"We weren't joking when we said pay your dad's funeral bill or up he comes..."



 "I've got a bone to pick with that Jake the Peg about unauthorised theft."



The total abandonment of the rules about who can marry led to some curious combinations.



 "... which is why we called it a bone-shaker!"


 (Ones that particularly tickled my funny bone!)


When the new "short exposure times" failed to live up to their billing, little Johnny and Peter regretted getting their teacher in for the school photo.



"As I recall, the knee-bone is SUPPOSED to be connected to the shinbone."



Alleged cheat in hopping race loses first leg.



"I guess you don't really need cycle clips."



Mr. Houdini is helped from his Water Torture Cell after discovering that it was accidentally filled with acid.



This is the way all coalitions end.



"We told him not to wait for Simon Cowell to applaud."




Harry is saying to Larry: Larry you dopey fool, thinking you could sit through The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey without a large popcorn and jumbo Coke for basic sustenance.


The two Atos inspectors decided Henry was definitely fit for work...

[Atos is the controversial company Atos, which conducts fitness-to-work




"The bunion operation was not a great success."


Many thanks for taking part and CONGRATULATIONS to the WINNERS!

Another caption competition will be coming soon!