MY LIFE & TIMES...
THE SHORT VERSION
"The play's the thing," said Hamlet, so I'll begin with my stage productions, which include, most recently, a dramatisation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, staged by Flat Pack Productions at Greenwich Playhouse to considerable critical praise.
My interpretation of Dickens' "ghost story of Christmas" received two previous amateur outings, staged by The Lansbury Players who also took on my epic dramatisation of J R R Tolkien's The Hobbit.
Other shows include To Sea in a Sieve, a musical drama, based on the life and writings of the nonsense poet Edward Lear, created with composer Dave Hewson and performed at the Edinburgh Festival and at the Westminster Theatre in London with myself in the title-role and Polly March as Everyone Else!
Alphabeasts was a light-hearted musical entertainment drawn from the verses of that modern master of nonsense verse, Dick King-Smith, and staged at the King’s Head, London, with Sue Bloomfield and myself performing the songs, accompanied by composer, Dave Hewson.
There were more high jinx in England Our England, a revue created and performed with Polly March and Tony Miall to inaugurate the St James Theatre in Valetta, Malta; while, on a rather more sombre note, The Autumn People was a concert work on the theme of the dark carnival written for narrator, singers and musicians (once again with a score by Dave Hewson), premiered at The British Music Information Centre.
Among my critically-acclaimed radio dramatizations is the BBC’s legendary serialization of Tolkien's sprawling tale of the hobbits, warriors and wizards of Middle-earth The Lord of the Rings with Ian Holm as Frodo, Michael Hordern as Gandalf, Robert Stephens as Aragorn, John Le Mesurier as Bilbo, Peter Woodthorpe as Gollum and Bill Nighy as Sam.
The series still lives on, twenty-five years later, as CD and cassette collections and, rather wonderfully, has achieved the status of a radio classic.
Another BBC radio serial - almost as gargantuan as Rings - was C S Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia (all seven books from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to The Last Battle) which featured a cast that included Tom Wilkinson, Richard Griffiths, Timothy Spall, Maurice Denham, Martin Jarvis, Fiona Shaw, Sylvester McCoy, John Sessions and Stephen Thorne as Aslan. The Narnian Chronicles are also available on CD.
However, it was to be my two 90-minute radio plays based on Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan and Gormenghast starring Sting, Freddie Jones, Bernard Hepton, David Warner, Eleanor Bron, Judy Parfitt, Maurice Denham and Sheila Hancock that won me a prestigious Sony Gold Radio Award.
Other dramatisations and serials include include two seasons of Tales of the Bizarre based on the stories of my friend, Ray Bradbury; James Thurber’s The Wonderful O; J B Priestley’s The Thirty-First of June; Laurens Van Der Post’s The Night of the New Moon and E T A Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse-King.
I've had the privilege of working with some amazing actors including Jack Dee in Roald Dahl’s much-loved Danny, the Champion of the World, Wendy Hiller in P L Travers’ The Fox at the Manger; Jean Anderson in Frank Baker’s Miss Hargreaves; Patricia Routledge in Lucy M. Boston’s The Children of Green Knowe; Michael York and Simon Ward in Jeffrey Archer’s A Matter of Honour and Anton Rodgers, Alec McCowen and Anna Massey in my version of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.
And, while I'm name-dropping, I might mention that scripts for radio revues and entertainments have been performed by Thora Hird, Penelope Keith, Dora Bryan, Peter Goodwright, Una Stubbs, Leslie Phillips, Jeremy Lloyd, Beryl Reid and others.
My dozens of radio features have ranged across a wide diversity of subjects from the history of the weekend to an account of the "naughty 'nineties" and from Middle-earth to LEGOland.
Among my many documentary series for radio have been the BBC’s millennium history of the movies, A Century of Cinema, co-presented with David Puttnam; a celebration of film music, The Sound of Movies; a tribute to Judy Garland, No Place Like Home; a history of the Disney Studio, 'Aint No Mickey Mouse Business; , To Be It’s Magic!; and the story of soap-operas, To be Continued...
I wrote the words for Jeff Wayne's concept album, Spartacus, performed by Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones and made script contributions to various TV shows and several animated films, including the Oscar-winning film, The Wrong Trousers. I am especially proud of my screenplay for an animated version of Moby-Dick featuring the voice of Rod Steiger as the doomed Captain Ahab.
In addition to writing for radio, I began to be heard on radio: firstly as a reviewer and then one of the regular presenters of the BBC's legendary arts programme, Kaleidoscope. I have also presented BBC TV's First Light, Radio 4's film programme, Talking Pictures, and the World Service arts show, Meridian; as well as hosting the film and theatrical quizzes Screen Test and Break a Leg. And, in addition to all of that, I have contributed to such shows as Night Waves, The Green Room, The Afternoon Shift and occasionally provide entertainment reviews to Radio 2's Sunday Supplement.
My most recent book include Mary Poppins: Anything Can Happen if You Let It (a celebration of Miss Poppins on the page, on the screen and on the stage); The Golden Compass: The Official Movie Companion and Peter Jackson: A Film-maker’s Journey, the authorized biography of the New Zealand film director who - like me - has had something of an obsession with The Lord of the Rings.
Other books include Shadowlands - The True Story of C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman; (heard last year on BBC Radio 2, read by the late Ian Richardson); The Land of Narnia; The Book of Guinness Advertising; A Christmas Carol - The Unsung Story; The Thomas The Tank Engine Man - The Story of the Reverend Awdry and His Really Useful Engines and Three Cheers for Pooh!
I collaborated with fellow film historian, Richard Holliss, to write The Disney Studio Story; Mickey Mouse: His Life and Times and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - The Making of a Classic Film. Other film books include the award-winning The Lord of the Rings - The Making of the Movie Trilogy; Chicken Run: Hatching the Movie, and the best-selling Cracking Animation which he wrote in collaboration with Peter Lord, co-founder of Aardman Animations.
My latest book (to be published by Lion in March) is 50 Favourite Bible Stories, illustrated by Stephen Waterhouse and narrated on three CDs by chosen by Cliff Richard as part of his celebration of fifty years in show-biz.
Read my feature on the making of the BBC Radio's The Lord of the Rings: The Ring Goes Ever On
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