Monday, 1 September 2014


News comes of the death of British composer and playwright, Sandy Wilson, aged 90.

Wilson is best-remembered for his enduringly popular musical, The Boy Friend, written in 1953 as an affectionate, light-as-air spoof on the theatrical musicals popular in the 1920s.

Beginning life at London's Players' Theatre Club, The Boy Friend opened in the West End, in an expanded form, in 1954 and ran for 2,078 performances, making it, briefly, the third-longest running musical in West End or Broadway history after Chu Chin Chow and Oklahoma! until its record was broken by Salad Days.

The Broadway production, opening in 1954, starred Julie Andrews as Polly Browne, the central character who is search of the eponymous boy friend. It was Andrews' American debut and established her true star potential.

I interviewed Sandy Wilson, a few years ago, when I was researching and writing a BBC Radio 2 series on 'The Musical' . To be precise, I interviewed him twice!

The first 'attempt' (that's the only way I can describe it) did not go well: he was ill-at-ease, took offence at some questions, baulked at answering others, was generally reluctant to discuss the musical genre in general and refused point-blank to comment on the contemporary scene. In short, the interview was a complete and utter disaster. The man who'd written the song 'I Could Be Happy With You' was obviously anything but – and nor was I!

At the end of this uncomfortable encounter, Wilson grudgingly signed my copy of his autobiography (ironically, under the circumstances, entitled, I Could Be Happy) adding the inscription: "Well, I tried!"

The following day, I decided I wasn't going to leave it at that... I found a period greetings card in the shape of a fan featuring '20s 'flappers' in a carnival setting, wrote an abject note asking whether he might possibly consider giving me a "second chance", because I couldn't possibly conceive of our making a series of programmes for the BBC on the musical without his involvement.

He instantly replied, graciously saying that the failure of the interview was entirely his fault and, yes, he'd "be happy to try again"! So, we did: he was a pussycat and I knew what pitfalls NOT to fall into! The interview was a success and our second meeting ended with his sitting at the piano playing me some of his numbers...

Those two visits to Sandy Wilson's London flat will, for completely different reasons, long live in my memory...

In 1971, The Boy Friend was filmed by Ken Russell, starring Twiggy and Christopher Gable. The movie proved to be less about spoofing 1920s stage shows as the Busby Berkeley film musicals of the 1930s and, to Wilson's understandable chagrin, included songs written by other composers including 'You Are My Lucky Star' from Singin' in the Rain. But for all that, it had all the usual, unpredictable Russell extravagances, some brilliantly staged numbers and a top-flight cast giving terrific, high-energy performances.

Here, from that film, are the legendary Tommy Tune with Antonia Ellis and the Boys and Girls singing and dancing their way through Sandy Wilson's effervescent 'Won't You Charleston With Me?'

Alexander Galbraith "Sandy" Wilson

Wednesday, 27 August 2014


This month marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Swedish-speaking Finnish novelist, painter, illustrator and comic strip author, Tove Jansson (1914-2001) who created the legendary Moomins who enchanted so many of our childhoods.

Forty years ago, I began an occasional correspondence with Tove in which she told me a little about her stories, pictures and, in particular, her admiration for Lewis Carroll.

In 1975, she sent me this adorable little drawing featuring Moomintroll, Snufkin, Sniff and their friends...

You can read more of my thoughts on Tove and her creations HERE

And you can visit the Moomins on their official website, HERE

Friday, 22 August 2014


Today would have been the 94th birthday of my late literary hero, Ray Bradbury.

I'm remembering my friendship with Ray with a cartoon I made for his birthday back in 1983. The brontosaur kid is reading Ray's book, Dinosaur Tales...

And here's Ray's letter in response...

Click image to enlarge

Just one of so many happy memories... but how weird it feels to think that, at the time when we had this exchange of communications, Ray was two years younger than I am now...

Monday, 18 August 2014


BBC Radio 4 has a long and noble history of tackling the unlikely in a daring – even outrageous – way: yesterday, writer Ian Sansom, decided to attempt an adaptation of the 14th Century poetic allegory, Piers the Plowman...

Ian found himself locked away in a Curfew Tower in the Glens of Antrim...

...and, calling from a nearby phone box, seeking help from a certain radio dramatist...

You can read about this bizarre and rarefied – but rather splendid – programme here...

The programme is repeated on BBC Radio 4, next Saturday at 23:30 or, for the next six days, you can catch up with Ian Sansom's wild experiment (and my fleeting cameo) by Clicking Here! 

Friday, 1 August 2014


I've been involved in some fairly weird and wacky radio projects over the years, but this is probably the most bizarre piece of bonkersness I've ever perpetrated...

Some time (I'm not exactly sure when) after the BBC launched Radio 5 in 1990, someone at the network came up with the idea for a zany experimental series entitled The Last in the Present Series.

Each episode was intended to spoof radio and to provide a solo vehicle for a different writer/presenter/performer. I have a vague memory that Simon Brett was another contributor – but that may be a terrible libel!

Anyway... my episode – Time for Rhyme – was a spoof radio programme in which a children's presenter (plus meddlesome kid sidekick) blunder around the network, eavesdropping on or interrupting the regular output – that's about the measure of it, EXCEPT that all the programmes also happen to feature characters or situations from well-known Nursery Rhymes.

I provided all of the voices - for better or worse – many of which are (or were) supposed to be impersonations of British household names.

So here it is: 25-minutes of Sibley silliness...

...incidentally, I'm not sure it was all my fault, but The Last in the Present Series proved to be EXACTLY THAT!!
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Sunday, 27 July 2014


A Venetian angel sounds reveille…

Monday, 14 July 2014


Not really RETIRING, of course – I've never earned enough money to get myself a decent pension! So I'll just have to keep on working till the ink runs dry...

Monday, 7 July 2014


Back in 1972, my 23-year-old younger self put on a 'One-Man Show'as a fund-raiser for Christ Church, Chislehurst., aided and abetted by my best friend, Ash, and the church organist on the pianoforte...

On the bill were monologues, songs, sketches and skits and featured my then extensive repertoire of vocal impersonations advertised as being subject to change "as the fancy takes me or the voice leaves me"!

The programme had cover-art (I use the word 'art' loosely) featuring some of those whose voices I borrowed. One or two of the caricatures owe something to the work of artists I hugely admired – among them Hirschfeld and Trog – others were (as Bert says in Mary Poppins) "all me own work from me own memory..."

I wonder how many of my subjects you can identify, although you probably have to have been born in Britain and been around in the '60s and '70s to get them all...

Feel free to guess – and I'll reveal the answers later...

Friday, 4 July 2014


There's another reason for celebrating today – 4 July – apart from its being American Independence Day and that's because 152 years ago an Oxford mathematic don, the Reverend C L Dodgson, took the three daughters of the Dean of Christ Church on a boating trip on the river Isis and wove a story to entertain his young passengers that featured the middle daughter, Alice Liddell, and was eventually written up as Alice's Adventures Underground...

...and was later refined into that classic of nonsense we now know as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865 by Dodgson under the pen-name, Lewis Carroll...

To mark this occasion, it seemed to me that a song might be called for – well, two songs actually – so here's an extract from my second-ever radio programme for the BBC, The Tune's My Own Invention about the music written by various composers down the years as settings for the songs in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-glass and What Alice Found There...

The programme, first broadcast over thirty-five years ago in 1978, was written with my good friend the late Antony Miall and, between us, we provided all the character voices –– with the exception of Alice who was played by Miss Eva Haddon!

In this sequence Tony, as well playing the piano, speaks, sings and weeps for the doleful Mock Turtle while I growl away as the Gryphon.

Won't you come and join the dance...?



Photo: © Brian Sibley 2004