Monday, 31 December 2012

IT'S THAT TIME OF YEAR...

...and the clock is ticking!

Sunday, 30 December 2012

LEARICAL DELIGHTS

This year marked the bicentenary of the birth of Edward Lear, nonsense poet, painter of birds and landscapes and sometime drawing-teacher to Queen Victoria.

I have always been intrigued by the life and work of Lear and, in particular, his struggles with what must have seemed, to a buttoned-up Victorian, the doubly unbearable curse of epilepsy and homosexuality.

Maybe this mental suffering spurred the creation of the bizarre characters and sadly unrequited lovers in the various volumes of  Nonsense Songs and Stories that he wrote and illustrated from 1846 onwards...


A recurrent theme within the pages of his books are eccentric partnerships or unfulfilled liaisons famously including the Owl and the Pussycat, the Nutcracker and the Sugar-Tongs and Mr Daddy-Longlegs and Mr Floppy Fly depicted here (engaged in their favourite pastime of 'battlecock and shuttledore') by that staggeringly gifted draughtsman (and a recent addition to the blogosphere) John Vernon Lord...


All these characters (along with many others) appeared in To Sea in a Sieve, a musical play which I created in collaboration with my friend the composer, David Hewson.

It was first staged at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1989 with myself as Lear and the wonderful Polly March as the Pussycat to my Owl, the Lady Jingly Jones to my Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo and the Jumbly Maid ('with her sky-blue hands and her sea-green hair') to my Dong with a Luminous Nose.

Polly also played Ann, Lear's mother-substitute sister; Augusta ('Gussie') the former child friend to whom Lear almost proposed marriage; the aforementioned Queen Victoria and a fearfully  loquacious parrot! David Hewson's music was performed by the talented Stephen Daltry and our combined efforts were well-received – apart from the critic who mentioned that we sang a song about 'a DOG with a luminous nose'!


The following year, 1990, saw To Sea in a Sieve have a successful run at The Theatre Upstairs at London's (now long gone) Westminster Theatre. Miss March and I reprised our roles with, on this occasion, the composer at the piano.

Here for (I hope) a little year-end amusement and enjoyment is a recording Polly, David and I made of the songs and poems featured in To Sea in a Sieve...

Click the arrows to play




You can read more about Edward Lear in an informative article on the website of Poetry Foundation


Friday, 28 December 2012

MORE NEWS FROM BETHLEHEM

Just before Christmas, I posted A Birthday at Bethlehem, a programme I wrote in 1983 starring Peter Goodwright and Thora Hird. The same year, I wrote four monologues for Peter Goodwright to perform on the 'Pause for Thought' slot on Terry Wogan's Radio 2 morning show.

The Donkey Salesman who made a fleeting appearance in the earlier programme got to do his own turn (enabling the successful Flight into Egypt) and was joined by an Apprentice Angel, a Civil Servant in the court of King Herod and a genuine Biblical character, Simeon...

I hope you enjoy these little thoughts as we once more head away from the Christmas season towards the New Year...


Image: 'The Flight into Egypt' by Sandao Watanabe

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

HIGH JINKS!

In Britain, the day after Christmas (Boxing Day, as we call it) is traditionally the day when families head off to the theatre for a seasonal outing.

So, as a treat for my blog readers (and as requested by some of you, following previous postings of John Moffatt and Elisabeth Welch performing songs from the show) here is Hit the Heights, a revue that I compiled for the BBC sometime in the '90s as part of their Christmas programming on Radio 4.

For the year in question, the output of the radio drama department was themed to the 1920s with a fictional family spending each night at the theatre, 'seeing' a show which opened during that decade. I was asked to put together a revue that reflected the many such shows that proliferated in the London West End and on Broadway at the time.

I did my research at the Westminster Library, where thousands of play and show scripts are kept that were once part of the Lord Chamberlain's office, in the days when scripts for public performance had to be submitted to the Lord Chamberlain for approval or censorship.

I took advantage of having the scripts in this form to put back a number of lines and jokes that were originally thought too risque for an audience and were excised by the Chamberlain's infamous 'blue pencil'.

What is fascinating is how the writers got around the threat of censorship by the cunning use of innuendo – as you'll hear in the sketch about the house with a room where George Washington slept!

I was particularly surprised to discover that Noel Coward's well-known and much performed song 'Poor Little Rich Girl' was originally sung as part of a dramatic interlude in which a 'street-walker' offers a warning to a young society girl who almost gives in to the desires of her boyfriend.

Anyway, here is Hit the Heights with songs by Porter, Gershwin, Coward, Rogers and Hart, and starring a company led by John Moffatt, Una Stubbs, Charles Kaye, Nikolas Grace and Elisabeth Welch.

Enjoy!



Tuesday, 25 December 2012

AWAY IN A MANGER...


And is it true? And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?


And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,
No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -

That God was Man in Palestine
And lives to-day in Bread and Wine. 

                                   – John Betjeman


Photo: David Weeks © 2012

NOEL

Wishing you a joyous and peaceful
CHRISTMAS


St John the Divine, Kennington, Christmas 2012 © David Weeks and Brian Sibley

Monday, 24 December 2012

GOOD NEWS FROM BETHLEHEM

Today's the day and tonight's the night when, all the world over, the story of the first Christmas will be retold anew.

Rummaging though a stack of old programme cassettes, I came across this little seasonal offering that was my own contribution to the endless retelling of the 2012-year-old tale...

First broadcast on Christmas Day 1983, it was entitled A Birthday at Bethlehem and starred two of my favourite people for whom I wrote early on in my career: Thora Hird and Peter Goodwright. The readings are by Peter Bartlett and the music is from Tarleton's Jig. 

 
I hope you enjoy it and have a wonderful Christmas Eve in preparation for a glorious Christmas Day!

Click arrow to play

Image: Nativity by the brilliant Chinese artist, He Qi

Sunday, 23 December 2012

THE SPIRIT OF GIVING

May I ask you a possibly tricky question? Have you started doing up those presents yet?  

Do you find yourself asking, 'Why do we do this every year?' Well, of course, the answer is simple: because the very first Christmas was marked by the giving of gifts brought to the new born Jesus by wise men... 

Anyway If you are contemplating grappling with unruly rolls of gift-paper and unraveling spools of ribbon, here's a little playlet to pass ten-minutes while you are trying to find the end of the sticky-tape...

It is an adaptation I made many years ago for BBC Schools Radio of O Henry's famous story, The Gift of the Magi...

  

Images: 'The Adoration of the Magi' by Quentin Massys, 1526.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

HIGH ON THE HOG

The other day I was celebrating Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the greatest story to ever be inspired by the festival of Christmas. In 1996, I made a programme for the BBC marking the publication of a new seasonal amusement  by a man who was – and still is – our greatest fantasy writer, Terry Pratchett.

In Discworld, Pratchett's parallel universe, the equivalent to our Father Christmas is the weirdly-named Hogfather who grants children's wishes and brings them presents on Hogwatchnight (December 32nd).

When certain forces decide to eliminate the Hogfather because he does not fit into their view of the universe, that most enigmatic of Discworld's inhabitants, Death, decides to take on the Hogfather's job in order to maintain people's belief in the character. Dressed in a long red cloak and a beard, Death does his best – or worst – and things start to become complicated because he inevitably takes the children's wishes rather too literally!

I hope you enjoy my conversation with the remarkable Mr Pratchett. The reader is the wonderful Stephen Thorne – my sometime Treebeard and Aslan!


Friday, 21 December 2012

75 YEARS OF SNOW

A few weeks ago, I blogged a review of a couple of new books published to mark the 75th anniversary of the release of Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs...


Today, seventy-five years on from the film's premiere at Hollywood's Carthay Circle Cinema, I want to pay tribute to Adriana Caselotti (1916-1997), the woman who lent her speaking and singing voice to the film's heroine...

Rather than retell her story, I am going to let you hear it from the lady herself in an archive recording of a  long-distance, virtual-interview which I conducted in June 1987 while researching for the book Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Making of the Classic Film which I wrote in collaboration with Richard Holliss to mark Miss White's 50th birthday.

I mailed my questions to Adriana and she answered them onto tape. The quality isn't great: it was recorded in a very echoey acoustic and there are one or two amusing stops and starts (and a few inaccurate answers!) but it gives a good idea of what a fascinating person she was.

As you will quickly deduce, she was something of an eccentric, but she was – once you became acclimatised to the near-exhausting enthusiasm – an utterly charming and adorable person. I loved her dearly...

Anyway, here's Snow White's adventures as she herself recounted them, aged 71...


Alas, she never did visit England, but I visited Los Angeles and got to meet her in person at her extraordinary Polynesian style home (with an anachronistic wishing well and a Japanese bridge in the garden!). I knew I was in for an experience he answered the door-phone as Snow White, telling Grumpy: 'Brian's at the door!' and singing 'I'm Wishing'!


On the subject of singing, here's another unique recording for you: the seventy-year-old Adriana singing six karaoke numbers that she recorded in November 1986: 'Bésame Mucho', 'Strangers in the Night', 'Harbor Lights', 'Autumn Leaves', Beyond the Reef' (both vocals!) and 'I Left My Heart in San Francisco'. This recording concludes with 'I'm Wishing', from Snow White, recorded (as she explained in the interview above) for the Fantasyland Wishing Well in Disneyland in 1983, when she was age sixty-seven...


I corresponded with Adriana up until the end of her life and made a number of memorable visits to see her, by myself or with dear friends – on various occasions, Richard and Chris, Muir, Michael and Malcolm – all of whom shared my affection for this wonderful character...


Every visit was commemorated with some keepsake of our friendship... 



Finally, here's The Fairest of Them All – a vintage BBC radio feature marking Snow White's 50th anniversary that I wrote and presented on the BBC World Service programme strand, Meridian on 8 December 1987...


And if you're not snowed-up by now, you can read the story of the making of this iconic film on today's post over on my sister blog, Decidedly Disney.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

JUST A THOUGHT

Being at home for Christmas for the first time in many years we have a Christmas tree. Decorations from years long gone and forgotten have emerged from their tissue-paper cocoons in order to dangle proudly from the branches...

But where was the fairy to go on the topmost limb? She has taken quite a bit of finding and while I was looking, I found myself thinking back to a monologue I wrote in the 1980s for a Christmas concert on BBC Radio 2 in which Dora Bryan gave voice to the thoughts of a fairy on a Christmas Tree...

I think you might enjoy it...


PS: I did eventually find our fairy (except that she sports a halo as well as a wand, so she may actually be an angel in disguise) and she is now safely atop the tree – well as safe as it is possible to be up there...

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

A CHRISTMAS HUMBUG

One-hundred-and-sixty-nine years ago today ≠ 19 December, 1843 – the London publishing company of Chapman and Hall issued a small red-bound book by one of the greatest writers of the day. Almost instantly this volume was hailed as a masterpiece and the intervening years have done nothing to diminish its reputation.

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol introduced into our language the names of 'Ebenezer Scrooge', 'Jacob Marley', 'Bob Cratchit' and 'Tiny Tim' along with the phrase 'as dead as a doornail' and that egregious seasonal appellation, 'Bah, Humbug!' that has resolutely lingered on – as is testified to by this festive offering from Tesco's cake department...


Writing in Fraser's Magazine in February 1844, William Makepeace Thackeray expressed the opinion that A Christmas Carol was 'a national benefit and to every man or woman who reads it, a personal kindness.' He continued: 'The last two people I heard speak of it were women; neither knew the other, or the author, and both said, by way of criticism, "God bless him!"'

There is, seemingly, no end to the permutations worked on Dickens' original: the story has been turned into a score or more of films and TV productions, untold stage adaptions (including operas, ballets and musicals) and recordings on radio, gramophone and CD. There have been versions featuring The Flintstones, The Jetsons, The Muppets, Mickey Mouse and Mr Magoo and even (heaven help us) Barbie! There have been black Scrooges, Jewish Scrooges, female Scrooges and, this year, a gay Scrooge...


But it really doesn't seem to matter how often this little tale is re-presented, re-interpreted, referenced and parodied by illustrators, cartoonists, dramatists, composers and filmmakers, the glorious spirit of Dickens' original fable always manages to shine radiantly through.

In 1993, I celebrated what was then the 150th anniversary of the publication of this most remarkable book with a radio feature entitled, obviously, Humbug! If you've never heard this programme – or even if you have! – you can tune-in below as an accompaniment, perhaps, to a glass of something warming and an early mince pie!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

NO-PANTS PANTOS

As we hurtle towards the Christmas Pantomime season–––

"Oh, no, we don't!" –– "Oh, yes, we DO!"

–––here's a revisionist treatment on some of those fairy-tales that are so beloved by panto producers. These American versions (as you can see from this picture of Jack and his outsize beanstalk ) are  particularly notable for –– a marked absence of pants!

The following saucy re-writes of our childhood fantasies are from Happy Endings, this year's 'Broadway Bares' burlesque show: a fundraiser for the organization, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, a non-profit organisation, based in New York, created as the theatre community's response to the AIDS crisis.

'Broadway Bares' was founded in 1992 by American theatre director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell and, to date, its events have raised over $5 million.

So, well done them and let's ring up the festive curtain on...

Cinderella (or, should that be Sinderella?)...



Little Red Riding Hood ('It's behind you!')...



The Emperor's New Clothes ('It's behind him!')...



Puss in Boots ('Watch out, Mice!')...



Snow White (and... er... the Garden Gnomes?)...



Not to mention Snow's perennial nemesis, the Wicked Queen...



Rapunzel (The last to let you down!)...



Goldilocks and the Three Bears (but which one is Baby Bear?)...


And Sleeping Beauty (who is, poor girl, clearly tired out from reading too many books late at night!)...


Sunday, 16 December 2012

KNOCK, KNOCK, WHO'S THERE...?

Thirteen Dwarves and a Wizard...


A secret mark on his round green front door is, for Bilbo, the confusing start to a bamboozling evening of Dwarvish mayhem and the beginning of an Unexpected – but long-awaited – Journey...

Yes, as you cannot fail to have noted: the first of Peter Jackson's trilogy of films, The Hobbit, is finally in the cinemas and packing in the denizens of modern-day Middle-earth in their droves!


Quite a few of the critics are carping: it's too long, too indulgent, too repetitive, too 'baggy' (well, it is about a Mr Baggins of Bag End!) and complaining that it bores from over-burdening a slight novel with an injection  of that sense of urgency and life-and-death drama that was an inherent quality of The Lord of the Rings but which is not an ingredient of Tolkien's first foray into Middle-earth.

The truth (as I see it) is that the critics would have carped whatever Peter Jackson had given us: if he had put the original book on film it would have been nothing more than an episodic series of exploits piled one on top of another without any driving narrative than a succession of dangerous encounters with weird and wonderful creatures. Tolkien's thirteen Dwarves are, for the most part, hardly fully-fleshed characters and the mission of Thorin and Company, as presented in the book, is hardly comparable with the struggle to save the world that later falls on Frodo Baggins.

Tolkien wanted to re-write The Hobbit to make it more closely integrated into his later discoveries of concerning the War of the Ring, just as he sought to make that story part of the much older mythology of Middle-earth that was The Silmarillion. For my money (although, actually, my ticket was free!), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey brings the story into a form that extends and adds to what is now the Rings film mythology. As a result, the Quest for Erebor has a deeper resonance that links it to the darker dangers encroaching on Middle-earth... 

Is the prologue too long? Not for me: like everyone, I was waiting for 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit...' but the back-history of the Dwarvish kingdom of Erebor (dizzying vistas of carved stone halls and vast mining enterprises) and the coming of Smaug in a torrent of fire provides an exciting 007-type overture before the safe and secure bucolic beginings at Bag End. We are then permitted a brief opportunity to enjoy the familiar surroundings of the Shire while Bilbo is introduced to the the roistering company of Dwarves, before setting off into the wild, from which point on it's pretty much full speed ahead: trolls, orcs, Elves, stone giants, goblins, wargs and eagles until the cliff-hanger ending.

Performances are excellent: Martin Freeman perfectly capturing the fussy, pompous, worried, seemingly-ineffectual Bilbo and Richard Armitage providing a Thorin who has noble, kingly bearing, flawed by melancholy and unbending pride.


Thorin's troop of thirteen (a daunting challenge in terms of en masse characterisation) are distinct and separate personalities whom we gradually get to know while Sylvester McCoy's Radagast the Brown is a delightfully quirky addition to the ranks of wizardhood and an accessible conduit to understanding the rising menace of the Necromancer (aka Sauron) and the corruption which he is already bringing upon Middle-earth.


Ian McKellen is safely back as Gandalf the Grey in near-control of the goings-on: by turn wise, solemn, cantankerous and twinklingly mischievous.
And other familiar friends look in from time to time (Ian Holm as the older Bilbo with Elijah Wood's Frodo, and Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee as Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman) and, of course, Andy Serkis as the schizoid Gollum/Smeagol who ricochets between playful and homicidal and whose 'Riddles in the Dark' encounter with Bilbo is the plum prize of the whole show.


Talking of showmanship, there are inevitable moments where the Peter Jackson's Barnum-esque three-ring-circus strays perilously close to excess (and for some will be deemed to have overstepped the bounds of credulity) with hurtling falls survived without harm, Harold Lloyd danglings from vertiginous heights and extreme calamities avoided by beyond-miraculous serendipity; but Jackson in Middle-earth without the occasional roller-coaster ride would now be unthinkable.

There has been much talk about the alleged demerits of the film's 48fps format – most of it frankly Luddite nonsense that, I suspect, its critics will eventually come to regret and recant. I loved the hyper-reality it gave the film and the vividness and intensity of the imagery – especially when soaring over the stunning New Zealand landscape.


The 3D gives the film depth and immersiveness, heightening mood and enhancing the action with, happily, few those traditional poke-in-the-eye effects that crudely yank you out of the story.

J R R Tolkien's The Hobbit, is charming, delightful and filled with a joie de sprit, but in terms of the History of the Ring, it is little more than an accidental prelude. Peter Jackson's The Hobbit has all the inventiveness of the book set within the context of the formidable drama that begins within the pages of The Silmarillion and finds its resolution in The Lord of the Rings. The amalgamation of the intimate and the epic works its spell and, I believe, will continue to do so until, two years down the line, we have all been There and Back Again...

And, of course, you can read about the making of the film in this quite exceptional publication!!


To quote Starburst: The Hobbit: The Offical Movie Guide is detailed, pretty and a very nice size (size matters, in cases such as this). It does a great job of whetting the appetite for the forthcoming film and celebrating the minds behind it. To paraphrase a certain Smeagol - the preciousss is nice. Juicy. Scrumptiously crunchable. Well, maybe not that last bit. It is only a paperback, after all.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

UNCLE WALT & ME

I am recalling an event that happened forty-six years ago today...

I am getting ready for school and, suddenly, there is my father calling up the stairs: 'Brian... Walt Disney has died!'

Downstairs I heard the murmuring drone of radio voices as my father – busy brewing early-morning tea – listens, as he does every morning, to the BBC Radio news programme, Today.

I ought, perhaps, to have dashed downstairs to catch the reports, absorb the details, gather up the tributes. After all, Walt Disney was my hero. A strange idol for a teenage lad, maybe – but that is what he was.

I collected every book, magazine and trivial snippet that I could find about Disney and his studio. I was forever copying pictures of Disney characters in my sketch-books – in fact my youthful ambition was to be a Disney artist, to animate those fabulous beings that appeared in his films. I longed to be a part of that mystical process that created characters out of pencil, ink and paint and then imbue them with a power to move people to laughter or tears. I was, I admit, obsessed by the man and his movies.

Later that morning, on my way to school, I would buy the daily newspapers and – in a corner of the playground at morning break – pore over the obituaries; but, at the moment of first hearing the news, I had only one response: I sat on the edge of my bed and wept.

For the first time in my young life I experienced that bizarre phenomenon: a feeling of overwhelming grief at the death of someone whom I did not really know. Not only had I never met Walt Disney, I had – rather surprisingly – never even written him a fan-letter. Yet, I felt – as many others have felt on hearing of the death of some public figure, president or pop-star – that I had lost a friend, been bereaved of someone who held a unique place in my affections. The loss felt achingly huge; a void had yawned open in my life that I doubted could ever be filled...

In the four-and-a-half decades since that day, I have continued to study – and occasionally write about – Disney's life and work. I have also had the privilege of meeting many of those who knew, worked with, loved and (sometimes) loathed the man. Such encounters have brought me very close to feeling that I understand at least something of the unique personality and character that was Walter Elias Disney.

But I have never been – never shall be – as close to him as I was on that morning when my father called upstairs to tell me the news that Walt Disney had died...


That memory triggers another from six or seven years later...

My early fascination with Disney movies had been suddenly intensified when I borrowed R D Feild's book, The Art of Walt Disney from my local library. Here was someone who, unlike my Mum, didn't think of 'cartoons' as kid's stuff you ought to have grown out of by the time your voice breaks.

I wanted a copy of The Art of Walt Disney more than anything else in the world and began scouring the second-hand bookshops, which is how I stumbled on Fred Zentner. He later became The Cinema Bookshop in London’s Great Russell Street, but when I first met him he was selling film books, stills, posters and other gems – including a copy of the much-lusted-after Art of Walt Disney – from the basement of the Atlantis Bookshop, in Museum Street, just round the corner from the British Museum. Once found, I began, bit by bit, buying up Fred's stock of Disneyana.

Then came the day when he placed into my hands a copy of The Story of Walt Disney by Walt's daughter, Diane Disney Miller, as told to Pete Martin. It was a first edition American hardback, published by Henry Holt & Co (New York) in 1956. It still had its original dustwrapper with a portrait of Walt by studio artist, Al Dempster...


And what's more, it was ––– SIGNED!

There, on the half-title page, in green biro, with that distinctive bold handwriting was the inscription...

 
It was his very signature – including the little circle over the 'i' in 'Disney' that I emulated in my own signature. This man – whom I had never met but who exercised an obsessive fascination over me – had held this book, opened it and inscribed his name inside.

'How much is it?' I whisper, holding my breath.

'Forty pounds,' he replies.

All those years ago, yet I remember the conversation as if it were yesterday.

It was an awful lot of money!

I wanted it! No, I craved it! But, FORTY POUNDS...

Forty pounds for a book? My mother would go bananas! Besides, I couldn't afford it. I didn't have forty pounds. I didn't know when I ever would have forty pounds. But, right there and then, I desired that book with a passion that, call me eccentric if you will, I have scarcely felt about anything since.

But, how was it possible? FORTY POUNDS! It was way beyond my meager means. Then Fred Zentner showed himself to be a man who understood the full anguish of desire, because he made me an offer. If I paid him ten pounds a month for the next four months, he would keep the book for me until I had paid the full forty.

So, month on month, I made my pilgrimage to the Atlantis Bookshop, looked at the swirling green signature and paid another ten pounds.

Then, one day, it was mine.

Fast-forward thirteen years. I am standing in the Archive at the Walt Disney Studio in Burbank, California, talking to Archivist, Dave Smith. I am there researching a television documentary about EPCOT Center and I mention, in conversation, that the prize of my Disney collection was an autographed copy of The Story of Walt Disney

Dave Smith laughs and asks a question that almost brings the universe crashing down around my ears.

'Are you sure it's actually signed by Walt Disney?'

'Of course! It says so, in green biro: ‘Best Wishes Walt Disney’!'

'That may be,' he replies, 'but many people at the Studio – some of them distinguished animators – signed books and pictures on Disney's behalf.'

I look stunned. But, Dave goes on: 'The Disney signatures by these other artists are more like the famous logo signature that appears on Disney movies and merchandise. Walt's personal signature, however, is quite distinctive. Would you like to see a GENUINE Disney signature?'

Nothing could be simpler: within seconds I could know whether or not I owned the real thing. Or, I could leave things as they were. Except, of course, that now I couldn't. Dave Smith had sowed a terrible seed of doubt...

I hesitate for no more than a second: 'Yes, let's see a GENUINE Disney autograph…'


Then, relief and joy! 'It is just like mine!'

When, a few years later, I got to know Diane Disney Miller, I asked her about the book and she told me that her father used to sign copies for sale in the bookshop at Disneyland, which was very probably where my copy had originally been purchased.

She also explained that whilst The Story of Walt Disney carried her name as author (and, indeed, included many of her own reminiscences) it had been Walt himself who had collaborated directly with Hollywood biographer Pete Martin on the book. However, her father had decided that it would be better if his life-story were presented as if told by his daughter, partly because he felt that to tell it himself might appear arrogant, and partly because he wanted the recently married Diane to earn some money.

A decade passed and I found myself in San Francisco working with Diane in co-presenting a radio series for the BBC about her father. On this occasion, I had carried the treasured volume with me and I asked her to add her signature to the book’s title page.

Diane was modestly reluctant – since, as she had already told me, she didn’t consider herself in any sense the book’s ‘author’. However, eventually, she graciously relented and inscribed the book...


A few more years down the road, I had acquired a British edition of The Story of Walt Disney published by Odhams Press (London) in 1958...


I decided to take it with me when I attended the Los Angeles premiere of the documentary Walt Disney: The Man Behind the Myth in which I appeared (albeit briefly) as an interviewee. At the party afterwards, chatting with Diane and her husband Ron, I produced this volume and asked whether the book’s Non-Author would oblige with another inscription!

Appreciating the joke, she unhesitatingly agreed. Beneath the printed sub-title – ‘An intimate biography by his daughter, DIANE DISNEY MILLER, as told to Pete Martin’ – she wrote: 'Actually, Brian - we know better, don’t we? Warmest, warmest regards, Diane.'


Nowadays, the autograph business is big business: copies of the recent reprint of The Story of Walt Disney with Diane's signature sell for several hundred dollars and someone, in a recent American auction, paid over three thousand dollars for a copy of the original edition signed (also in green biro!) by Walt.

So, all in all, I think that original - and seemingly astronomical - forty pounds of mine was money incredibly well spent!

It is not, however, for any financial value that I treasure these volumes, but for the even more valuable memories and associations that they hold…


Post Script:

Here's a link to a good article on the evolution of the Disney autograph, which includes the one in my signed copy of The Story of Walt Disney, depicted in the above post...


Friday, 14 December 2012

TOO PERSONAL

Apart from marvelling at technology that can create such a cleverly personalised sales-ad...


...I would like to advise my friends that a green jumper with snowflakes, jolly Santas, candy-cane trimming and my name on it is absolutely NOT on my Christmas wish-list!

Just thought I'd mention it now...