Friday, August 12, 2022

Raymond Briggs 1934-2022

Raymond Briggs, graphic novelist, illustrator and author, died on Tuesday, 9 August 2022, of pneumonia at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton, at the age of 88.

Born in Wimbledon on 18 January 1934, the son of Ethel (nee Bowyer) and Ernest Briggs, a milkman, and educated at Rutlish School in Merton, Surrey, and Wimbledon School of Art. Following his National Service in the army (1953-55) he went to Slade School of Art and the University of London, eventually gaining a National Diploma in Design and a National Diploma in Fine Art.

Since 1957 he has been a full-time freelance writer and artist, and since 1961 a part-time lecturer in illustration at the Faculty of Art at Brighton Polytechnic.
Briggs' early books included The Strange House (1961), Midnight Adventure (1961), Ring-a-Ring o'Roses (verse, 1962), Sledges to the Rescue (1963), The White Land: A Picture Book of Traditional Rhymes  (1963), Fee Fi Fo Fum: A Picture Book of Nursery Rhymes (editor, 1964) and The Mother Goose Treasury (editor, 1966), for which he received the Kate Greenaway Medal.

Briggs' best works were often to be the retelling of classic stories in surprising ways.
Jim and the Beanstalk (1970), for instance, was an adventure very much like Jack's, but Jim finds the giant is now mellowed and afflicted with all the problems of age. Similarly Father Christmas (1973) is not the jolly, cheerful Santa most children know and love. It was the first book for which he adopted his distinctive comic strip format that he has since used frequently, and it led to a breakthrough with audiences: the grumpy, grumbling Father Christmas was hugely popular and earned Briggs his second Kate Greenaway Medal in 1974, and earned for himself a sequel, Father Christmas Goes on Holiday (1975).

Fungus the Bogeyman (1977) was a grotesque creature who reveled in the world of slime and bogies and rotting things that hold attraction amongst young children for whom a fart is as finely crafted a joke as the Two Ronnies 'Four Candles' sketch.

The bittersweet The Snowman (1978) was filmed and first shown in December 1982 and has since become a regular Christmas event, and When the Wind Blows (1982), a horrifying tale of nuclear armageddon, has been adapted for radio (1983), theatre (1983) and film (1986). Later works included The Tin-Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman (1984), The Man (1992), The Bear (1994) and Ug: Boy Genius of the Stone Age (2001).

Briggs' work became more biographical. The story of his parents was the inspiration for Ethel & Ernest: A True Story (1998), which won the illustrated book of the year at the British Book Awards. It was filmed in 2016. Notes From the Sofa (2015) collected Briggs' regular column in The Oldie.

Other awards include the Boston Globe-Horn Book Prize in 1979; the Victoria and Albert Museum Francis Williams Prize in 1977 and 1982; and Children's Rights Workshop Other Award in 1982; the Kurt Maschler award in 1992; and the Phoenix Picture Book Award in 2014. Briggs was installed in the British Comic Awards Hall of Fame in 2012 and the appointed a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List in 2017 for services to literature. A study of his works, Raymond Briggs by Nicolette Jones, appeared in 2020. A BBC documentary, Raymond Briggs: Snowmen, Bogeymen and Milkmen, was broadcast in 2018.

Briggs was married in 1963 to painter Jean Taprell Clark. She died from leukaemia in 1973. Briggs lived in Westmeston, Sussex, with his partner Liz, who died in 2015. He had no children.

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