Friday, 18 August 2017


The passing of Bruce Forsyth (aged 89) marks the end of an era of British TV light entertainment. Forsyth was one of those celebrities to whom words such as 'Legendary' and 'Iconic' can be applied without accusation of hyperbole.

Sir Bruce Joseph Forsyth-Johnson, CBE, is remembered best as a TV host whose shows became inextricably linked with his name: Sunday Night at the London Palladium, The Generation Game, The Price is Right, You Bet! and Strictly Come Dancing, but there was much more to Bruce than a witty compere: he was a singer, a mean hoofer, an occasional actor in films (Star! and Bedknobs and Broomsticks) and memorable for his multi-character performance in the 1964 stage play, Little Me. In 2012, he was recognised by Guinness World Records as having the longest television career for a male entertainer.

On the occasion of Bruce being given his knighthood in 2011, I posted a recollection of having me and interviewed him a few years earlier. In a bad pun on his famous catchphrase, "Nice to see you! To see you –– nice!", I called the piece...  


How delighted we all were when Bruce Forsyth finally became Sir Bruce in the Queen's Birthday Honours last week.

I realise that this post will be largely inexplicable to my overseas readers, but here, in the UK, Brucie is nothing short of a National Treasure. He made his TV debut, aged 11, in 1939 ("Was there television in 1939?" asked one media commentator), before going on, three years later, to become 'Boy Bruce, the Mighty Atom' playing the variety theatres with a song, dance, and accordion act.

Full-on stardom came in 1958 when he began hosting the hugely TV variety show, Sunday Night at the London Palladium with his famous maxim, "I'm in charge!"

As a TV host, he was the reason, in the 1970s, that we tuned-in in our millions every Saturday night to watch Bruce Forsyth and the Generation Game with its nationally adopted catch-phrases ("Good game! Good game!", "Didn't he do well?" and, of course, "Nice to see you! To see you – nice!") and having adopted him, via 'the box', into our extended families, we followed his later successes on stage, occasionally on film, and on a succession of game and talent shows, Play Your Cards Right, You Bet, Bruce's Price is Right and, most recently, Strictly Come Dancing.

Bruce has been part of British life for as long as most of us can remember and I've always been an admirer: because he is one of that tough breed of multi-talented entertainers who got their break in vaudeville and can truly be described as 'survivors' – able to endlessly reinvent themselves.

I was delighted, therefore, back in 2009, to have the chance to meet and interview Brucie when I was making a duet of radio programmes as a tribute to the BBC impresario, the late Bill Cotton.

I visited the Forsyth home (just over the hedge from the famous Wentworth Golf Club!) and spent a couple of hours talking about various aspects of his long career. At the end of the interview, I asked him to sign my copy of his autobiography, Bruce, which he did, adding: "Try to believe it!"

Then I produced something else, tucked in the back of the book: a fan photo that I had requested in the 1960s and which, on its arrival, I had been bitterly disappointed to find had a printed signature!

"Now, I've finally got to meet you," I said, "would you mind if I asked you to do the job properly?!”

Laughing, Bruce explained how, when he first experienced stardom, he was totally unable to cope with the extensive fan mail. He recalled how, on arriving at his agent’s office one day, he saw a line of GPO mail-sacks stacked up along the hallway. When he asked what they were, he was told him, they were all for him! As with a number of stars, printed fan cards were an inevitable solution and, in many ways, a more honest option than those signed for others by agents' secretaries.

Anyway, Bruce was much amused that I had kept the photo (however unsatisfactory) for fifty years and happily did the deed, adding a dedication and a second signature – this time, as he noted, "in real ink”!


Thank you, Sir Bruce! Rest in peace.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017


Here's a puzzle for you: this photo is from a time when I was something of a mover and shaker – whereas, nowadays, I can scarcely move and, were I to shake, bits of me would probably fall off! Anyway, who are my luncheon companions? One's easy, the other a little more difficult.

Answer (with anecdote) below...

Not sure of the year (sometime early-1980s); the place: The Dorchester hotel; the event: The Society of Authors/Pye Radio Awards lunch.

I was Chair of the SOA Broadcasting Committee and (being also Chair of the Judges) had written the script for the MC of the ceremony, the noted British TV broadcaster, Mr (later Sir) Robin Day. I rehearsed Day during in the morning and he was characteristically brusque bordering on bloody rude.

The guest of honour was Princess Alexander and I was seated on the top table between HRH's husband, the Hon. Angus Ogilvy (he was still to be knighted at that point), and Aubrey Singer, then Managing Director of Radio at the BBC.

Robin Day had been seated towards the end of the table nearest to the podium he would use for the ceremony. Shortly before lunch, Day, was looking for his seat and was disgruntled to find where he had been placed. "I'll sit here," he announced, "next to Angus, we've known each other for years." Then picking up my place card, he said: "I'll change places with this chap Sibley; who's he anyway?"

"He's me," I replied, "we've been working together all morning."

"Well, you can change places, can't you?"

Before I could answer the boss of Pye stepped in and explained that that was NOT possible: Royal protocol meant that members of the Royal Family were briefed on who they would be sitting next to and those arrangements could not then be altered.

"Nonsense!" said Day. "Angus doesn't need briefing about ME!"

But Mr Pye was not for turning, so the frustrated Day picked up Aubrey Singer's name card and swapped it for his own. "Very well, then Singer will have to sit down the end!" And MD of Radio or not, so he did!

This photo was taken just as Robin Day leaned across me and said: "Something I've always wanted to know, Angus: what honour did the Queen offer you when you married the Princess? You've never revealed what it was or why you turned it down."

As Ogilvy was wondering what to reply (it was an Earldom he had rejected, by the way) , the Toastmaster called everyone to their feet for the National Anthem. As we rose, Angus Ogilvy whispered to me: "Saved by a Toastmaster!"

Saturday, 29 July 2017


It was with great sadness that heard of the death of a long time (some 30+ years) Disney friend, Marty Sklar. Rightly known as Walt's 'right-hand man', he wrote the first book about 'Disneyland' and worked with the Boss on speeches and many important projects including writing the script for the promotional film that introduced the world to Walt's concept of an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, shown a matter of weeks before his death in 1966. His role in expanding the Disney theme park franchise from its Anaheim origins to the four corners of the world, is a legendary legacy.

I had the great pleasure to work with Marty on a number of BBC radio programmes about Walt Disney and the Disney company and he provided the title – ‘Waltopia' – for a BBC TV documentary I made in 1982 on the creation of what was by then called EPCOT Center. During my interview with Marty, he recalled how, on first hearing of Walt's plans for a futuristic city, he had quipped: "You know, Walt, I've got the perfect name for your project – Waltopia!" Not only did Marty supply the show's title, he was the film’s opening and closing contributor with a number of appearances in between!

And when my producer Norman Stone and I went out to join the press contingent covering the opening of EPCOT, it was Marty who ensured that on the night before the opening day ceremonies – while the rest of the press corps were being entertained at Rosie O'Grady's nightclub in downtown Orlando – Norman and I had invitations to the exclusive black-tie party for the dedication of the park's iconic attraction, Spaceship Earth.

I have many fond memories of Marty, but one that I especially hold dear was being invited to the opening of the French Pavilion at EPCOT's World Showcase. During the ceremony, Marty spotted me seated on the elegant gilt chairs arranged outside the pavilion. He took something from his pocket, wrote on it and then, catching the attention of a cast member, indicted that it should be delivered to me. It was one of his business cards on which he had written: "Brian! This is some sort of Utopia where a Brit gets invited to the opening of France in America! Marty."

I had first become aware of the name 'Martin A. Sklar’ many years earlier when, as a young Disney fan living in the UK (without any hope of ever making it to California), I was given a copy of his book on Disneyland, brought back for me by some rich friends! Years later, when I realised that the author, 'Martin A. Sklar', was the same 'Marty' I had got to know at (as it then was) WED Imagineering, I carried it all the way to LA in order to get it signed!

Marty was one of the great unsung heroes of the Disney kingdom and I – like many others I am sure – came to value his insights into Walt and his world along with his integrity, candour, quite authority and personal modesty. More than that, I treasured the relationship I enjoyed, across a number of years with him: his friendship (much more than just professional courtesy) meant a great deal to me and I fondly salute his memory.

Here's a typical note from Marty: a truly gracious gentleman of great charm...

From Deadline Hollywood

Marty Sklar, the man who supervised the design and construction of Tokyo Disneyland, the Disney-MGM Studios, Disneyland Paris and other theme park attractions, has died at his home, Disney said tonight. He was 83.

Having started as an intern for Walt Disney, Sklar finished his 54-year career at Disney as the International Ambassador for Walt Disney Imagineering. That role meant traveling to art and design colleges and architecture schools to lecture and attract talent.

During his career, Sklar worked closely with Walt Disney and was instrumental in creating, enhancing and expanding Disney’s creative vision. Sklar was named a Disney Legend in 2001.

“Everything about Marty was legendary – his achievements, his spirit, his career,” said Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company. “He embodied the very best of Disney, from his bold originality to his joyful optimism and relentless drive for excellence. He was also a powerful connection to Walt himself. No one was more passionate about Disney than Marty and we’ll miss his enthusiasm, his grace, and his indomitable spirit.”

Born on February 6, 1934, in New Brunswick, NJ, Sklar was a student at UCLA and editor of its Daily Bruin newspaper when he was recruited to create The Disneyland News for Walt Disney’s new theme park in 1955. After graduating in 1956, he joined Disney full time and would go on to serve as Walt’s right-hand man — scripting speeches, marketing materials and creating a film showcasing Walt’s vision for Walt Disney World and Epcot, according to Disney.

During this period, he also joined WED Enterprises, the forerunner of Walt Disney Imagineering, and later would become the creative leader of Imagineering, leading the development of Disney theme parks and attractions for the next three decades. He retired as EVP and Imagineering Ambassador on July 17, 2009, Disneyland’s 54th birthday. Disney marked the occasion by paying tribute to Marty with the highest Parks and Resorts recognition, dedicating a window in his name on Disneyland’s City Hall.

“Marty left an indelible mark on Disney Parks around the globe and on all of the guests who make memories every day with us,” said Bob Chapek, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “He was one of the few people that was fortunate to attend the opening of every single Disney park in the world, from Anaheim in 1955 to Shanghai just last year. We will dearly miss Marty’s passion, skill and imaginative spark that inspired generations of Cast, Crew and Imagineers.”

He also authored books about Disney including Dream It! Do It!: My Half-Century Creating Disney’s Magic Kingdoms (2013), and One Little Spark!: Mickey’s Ten Commandments and The Road to Imagineering (2015).

Skalr is survived by his wife of 60 years, Leah; son Howard and his wife, Katriina Koski-Sklar; grandchildren Gabriel and Hannah; daughter Leslie; and grandchildren Rachel and Jacob. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Marty’s name to Ryman Arts.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017


Some may suppose that the American Eagle is still the national bird of the USA, but I think there may be a contender hoping to rule the roost.

This usurper comes to you via the talents of my friend, artist and mosaicist, Martin Cheek, who has created this mosaic portrait of 'Donald'...

Martin writes...
Media: My own hand made murrini and glass fusions, Mexican Smalti and Sicis Iridium 

Description: ‘Donald’ is a golden pheasant. Pheasants are related to peacocks and just like their relatives they like to strut their stuff. Donald is very pleased with himself…..and wants everyone to know it! In China people think of Golden Pheasant as a sign of good luck, best fate and prosperity.

If you are interested in owning this mosaic then please message me for more details on Facebook (click here for link)
Donald, you say...? Ah, yes, of course!

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...