19 Dec 2012

Jon Snow meets The Snowman

He lives along a winding Sussex land, the house is behind tall hedges. It is when you get inside that you instantly know where you are – in a winter wonderland of crazy memorabilia ranging from china snowmen to a musical teddy called “Pooh”, except that he looks like a lump of just that.

When you push the potty on his head an exasperating, supposedly musical sound issues forth. There are books everywhere. There’s an upset can of baked bean on a velvet arm chair, except that while the chair is real the beans in the can are not.

There’s a half-eaten ham sandwich in front of the fire. Except that it isn’t. Upstairs, there is the-most amazing studio festooned with images from the 21 books that he’s written.

And finally, there is him: Raymond Briggs, at 78, sitting in front of a breathtaking view though a window that is north facing. A large, round magnifying glass lit with a bulb hangs over his desk. He makes tiny strokes with a pen as he illustrates a picture of himself at 105, except that he is in fact 78.

Raymond Briggs: inspired by The Snowman

Raymond Briggs tries to cut a dash as a grumpy, old man. In this, he is unsuccessful. For in reality, he’s the same child that we all are, as inspired by his Snowman, his Father Christmas and so much more, as any of our own children.

I’ve come to talk to him about the first Snowman film since the very first, 34 years ago. He has resisted for more than three decades. He has steadfastly refused to return to the black blobs that are the Snowman’s buttons: the carrot nose and the funny hat. And actually he hasn’t returned. For the Snowman and the Snowdog, which airs on Channel 4 at 8pm on Christmas Eve, is made by the same team that made the original Snowman. In the digital age they have returned from the pencil and the crayon, executing 200,000 separate images to animate this sumptuous film.

Raymond Briggs is a complex combination of opposites. One of the greatest children’s writers who has ever lived, whose work is sold in more that 150 countries across the world, he buys his own clothes from Oxfam. His shirt cost £3. He is enormously informed by the humble beginnings that he experienced with his father and mother. She was in service. He was a milkman – toiling in appalling conditions: pushing a handcart through snow, ice, heat and rain, his was a very hard life. As hard as that of the grumpy old Father Christmas that Briggs wrote of in 1973. But amazingly, he has very little interest in Christmas, and almost no interest in children – he has none of his own.

When Raymond Briggs writes a book he has no sense of who will read it, merely that he is on a journey and he seems almost surprised that anyone wants to join him on it.

Far from grumpy, he’s one of the sweetest men I have had the pleasure to meet and one of the most gifted. His laugh is infectious as you will see from the interview that I did with him which you can see above.

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