Drawing: Sir Stirling Moss

Drawing of Stirling Moss

On Easter Sunday this year British motor racing legend Sir Stirling Moss passed away peacefully at his Mayfair home, aged 90, after a lengthy illness. Widely regarded as one of the greatest drivers of all time, even though he did not win a Formula 1 World Championship, Sir Stirling will always hold a unique status in motorsport. He won 16 F1 Grands Prix and was runner-up in the world drivers’ championship on on four occasions between 1955-1958, finishing third for the following three years.

Not limited to F1 racing, he was considered the ultimate all-rounder with 212 victories in various motor racing categories. After becoming a professional driver at the age of 18 in 1948, Sir Stirling was the first Brit to win his home Grand Prix with a narrow victory over his illustrious Argentine teammate Juan Manuel Fangio at Aintree on the 16th of July, 1955.

I drew this portrait of him based on that day, his face with the imprint left by his goggles protecting him from the onrushing oil, dirt and track debris while driving his Mercedes W196. Some, including Sir Stirling believed the five-time world champion, who dominated the first decade of Formula One had allowed him to win his debut Grand Prix in front of a home crowd, a claim the South American consistently denied, saying Sir Stirling was “simply faster that day”. Sir Stirling famously lost out on the 1958 F1 title by a single point to compatriot Mike Hawthorn after vouching for his rival, preventing him from being disqualified when he was accused of reversing on the track in the Portuguese Grand Prix.

A crash at Goodwood in 1962 prematurely ended his involvement in top-level motorsport, leaving him in a coma for a month and partially paralysed for half the year. Such was his aura, which has never faded, the Evening Standard ran bulletins of his progress as a matter of national concern. He did continue to race historic cars and legends events until the age of 81.

The rhetorical phrase “Who do you think you are, Stirling Moss? was the question supposedly often asked by British policemen when stopping speeding motorists. Sir Stirling himself was apparently asked that very question by an officer who took some convincing about the identity of his esteemed infringer. Compactly built, soft-spoken, patriotic, modest and competitive, Sir Stirling once said, “I’m a racer, not a driver” and motor racing in the 1950’s was not so much a technical challenge, but more a test of instinct and daring. He was knighted in 2000.

I sent the sketch to Sir Stirling two years ago, hoping he could sign it, but received a very nice reply from his wife, Lady Susie, explaining that he was still suffering from a serious chest infection, caught while on holiday in Singapore and after months in hospital, was convalescing at home. He would be happy to sign it for me once he was feeling better. Sadly Sir Stirling never recovered. However, a few years earlier, he kindly signed and dedicated a photo for me, commemorating his 1955 victory.

R.I.P Sir Stirling.

Autographed photo of Stirling Moss

Drawing: Sir Ian Holm

Montage drawing of actor Ian Holm

The virtuosic British actor Sir Ian Holm, who, according to the New York Times, had “a magic malleability with a range that went from the sweet-tempered to the psychotic,” sadly passed away on Friday, aged 88, following a battle with Parkinson’s disease. I drew this montage sketch a few years ago, which incorporated three of his most defining performances, two from the stage (Lenny and King Lear) and one screen (Sam Mussabini) portrayal.

The stage was his initial and natural stamping ground, becoming a star with the Royal Shakespeare Company, after graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1953. He originated the role of the sleek, entrepreneurial pimp Lenny in Sir Peter Hall’s London premiere of Harold Pinter’s THE HOMECOMING at the Aldwych Theatre in 1965, which transferred to the Music Box Theater on Broadway two years later, collecting four Tony Awards, including Sir Ian’s win for Best Performance by a Featured Actor. He reprised the role for the 1973 film adaptation, also directed by Sir Peter.

In 1976, at the height of his career, Sir Ian suffered from acute stage fright, later described as a breakdown, playing Hickey during previews for Eugene O’Neill’s London production of THE ICEMAN COMETH. He left the show and never returned to the stage until the early 1990’s. His lengthy hiatus from the theatre was cinema’s gain.

His first major film role was Ash, the calm but chilling, technocratic android is Ridley Scott’s ALIEN (1979). He would go on to play many memorable movie performances, including the ‘ultimate passport to screen fame’, the homely Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins in Sir Peter Jackson’s series of Tolkien trilogies. He features in THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001) and THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003) and as the elder Bilbo in THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012) and THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (2014).

In his moving tribute after Sir Ian’s passing, Sir Peter recalled meeting him for dinner in London, where they discussed the possibility of him playing THE HOBBIT’s older Bilbo. He was very sorry, initially declining because he had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and no longer could remember lines and certainly couldn’t travel to New Zealand. But he agreed to do it after it was decided to shoot his part in London. “l know he was only doing it as a favour to me,” said Sir Peter, who held his hands and thanked him with tears in my eyes. “We witnessed a wonderful actor delivering his last performance,” he said.

In 1982 Sir Ian received an Academy Award nomination for his supporting role as the straw-boated, pioneering athletics coach Sam Mussabini in CHARIOTS OF FIRE, winning a special award at the Cannes Film Festival and a BAFTA, his second from the British Academy, having previously collected the famous golden mask for playing Flynn in THE BOFOR’S GUN (1968). Sir Ian received a further four BAFTA nominations throughout his distinguished career.

Sir Ian was once asked what would entice him back to the stage. He replied a new Pinter play and that’s what triumphantly happened. In 1993, his portrayal of Andy, an angry bitter man facing death in MOONLIGHT at the Almeida Theatre was was recognised by the London critics at their annual awards. Following that success he returned to Shakespeare in 1997, performing a ‘stocky, grizzled, bullet-headed’ title role in KING LEAR directed by Sir Richard Eyre on the Cottesloe stage at the National Theatre, winning an Olivier, a Critics’ Circle Theatre and the Evening Standard Award. Sir Ian also received an Emmy nomination for the televised version. “This is Holm’s Lear,” wrote the International Herald Tribune’s Sheridan Morley, “and we are unlikely to leave this century with a better… piercing to the heart of the character as king and father he exploited all his emotions and at a crucial point, mad on the heath, he dropped his cloak to reveal an old man’s nudity.”

While I had the privilege of meeting Sir Ian on a couple of occasions, I had not drawn a sketch. Eventually this was rectified and sent to him in 2016, hoping to get it signed. But it was returned with a letter from his agent, apologising, but he was unable to personally sign autographs any longer, understandably for health reasons. A small black and white photo with a pre-printed signature was enclosed.

However In 2000, when Sir Ian was filming LOTR in Wellington, New Zealand, he did sign a small copy of a poster for one of my personal favourites, Atom Egoyan’s THE SWEET HEREAFTER (1997), which surprisingly, at the age of 65 was his first lead role in a film and arguably his greatest screen performance as Mitchell Stephens, a troubled lawyer who tries to persuade bereaved families to sue following a fatal school bus crash in a small Canadian community.

RIP Sir Ian.

Autograph of Ian Holm on The Sweet Hereafter poster

Drawing: Tilda Swinton

Autographed drawing of actress Tilda Swinton

Just prior to the March Covid lockdown the British Film Institute hosted a Tilda Swinton season, during which the celebrated British actor was presented with its highest honour, the BFI Fellowship recognising her contribution to film culture, independent film exhibition and philanthropy and her “daringly eclectic and striking talents as a performer and filmmaker… for her work is which is powerful and far ranging and as such occupies a unique place in our collective film history.” Tilda responded saying she “was very happy and touched,” sharing the honour with her “beloved film-making playmates, living and departed.”

After finishing school Tilda spent two years as a volunteer in Africa, before studying for a Social and Political Sciences degree at Cambridge University, where she also performed on stage. She joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1984, appearing in MEASURE FOR MEASURE. Her screen career, which includes small independent and mainstream projects to international blockbusters AVENGERS:ENDGAME and THE CHRONICLES OF NANIA, began with experimental films directed by Derek Jarman, beginning with CARAVAGGIO in 1986. She went on to appear in a further six films by the late renowned British director.

Her supporting performance as Karen Crowder, the ruthless lawyer on the verge of a mental breakdown in the 2007 legal thriller MICHAEL CLAYTON, was recognised with both BAFTA and the ACADEMY AWARD victories, as well as Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations. Tilda won a BAFTA Scotland award for her role as Ella Gault in the erotic drama YOUNG ADAM (2003). She has also developed a live performance art installation with producer and friend Joanna Scanlan, entitled THE MAYBE in 1995, where she was asleep in a glass box on public display at the Serpentine Gallery in London. It was repeated the following year in Rome and again in 2013 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Tilda appeared in person at the BFI on London’s Southbank on numerous occasions during the 1-18 March season, introducing screenings and participating in Q+A’s. Always friendly and accommodating with fans, she kindly signed my quick portrait sketch at the venue during the final week.

Drawing: Fanny Ardant

Autographed drawing of actress Fanny Ardant

While my physical ‘stalking’ at stage doors and events in London came to an abrupt halt in March – the 14th to be precise – due to a you-know-what, the mail has continued to be delivered, albeit reduced, but a signed treasure arrived recently, a sketch I sent to one of France’s most admired actresses, Fanny Ardant, back in 2009.

More than a movie star, Fanny was part of cinema history, the muse and companion of the great French new wave director Francois Truffaut during the early 1980’s, before his early death. Fluent in English and Italian, she has appeared in more than eighty motion pictures since 1976, including Hollywood and British films, thirty theatre productions and twenty TV dramas. She has also become an acclaimed director and screenwriter.

At this year’s Cesar Awards in Paris, a couple of weeks before France went into lockdown for the aforementioned you-know-what, Fanny won her second Cesar for her supporting portrayal of Marianne in the romantic comedy-drama LA BELLE EPOQUE, having previously won for Best Actress in 1997, for her comedic role of Eva, the gay bar manager in PEPALE DOUCE. She has also been nominated for two Moliere theatre awards. Last year Fanny directed the opera LADY MACBETH OF MTSENSK at the Greek National Opera.

The sketch, drawn in my fine black biro style, prior to the 4B pencil take over, was accompanied by a signed photo. It took eleven years, but well worth the wait.

Autographed photo of Fanny Ardant

Drawing: Roddy Doyle

Autographed drawing of writer Roddy Doyle

With eleven novels, two collections of stories, a memoir of his parents, eight children’s books, a number of plays and screenplays and an opera translation, Roddy Doyle is firmly established as one of Ireland’s best-loved writers. Described as ‘an entertaining evening of sprawling conversation’, his UK and Ireland speaking tour arrived at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on London’s Southbank just days before the coronavirus lockdown.

The website provided a nice, concise summary: “From THE COMMITTMENTS to THE GUTS there’s no mistaking the rich humour, authentic dialogue and contemporary crossover of Roddy’s writing with a knack for perfectly and intimately portraying everyday Irish life in a remarkably concise form of prose.”

Initially his first three novels were written while he worked as an English and Geography teacher. THE COMMITMENTS, set in Northside, Dublin was published in 1987. It tells the story of Jimmy Rabbitte, a young music fanatic who assembles a group of working class youths to form a soul band named ‘The Commitments’. Roddy wrote the screenplay for the 1991 film version with established comedy duo Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, winning a BAFTA for Best Adapted Screenplay. The acclaimed musical-comedy-drama, directed by Alan Parker has achieved cult status. From 2013-2015, a stage version played the West End at the Palace Theatre.

THE COMMITMENTS was the first of The Barrytown Trilogy series, followed by the equally successful THE SNAPPER (1990) and THE VAN (1991). Both have been adapted for the screen. In 1993 Roddy became a full time writer. That year his novel, PADDY CLARKE HA HA HA, looking at Dublin life in 1968 from the perspective of a ten-year-old boy, won the Booker Prize.

I met Roddy at his signing session after the March speaking event, where he kindly autographed my portrait sketch.

Drawing: Louis Theroux

Autographed drawing of documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux

It just so happens that while as I was contemplating my next post subject today, (20 May) it’s Louis Theroux’s 50th birthday, so what better reason to select him. After graduating from Oxford University, the British-American documentary filmmaker and author moved to the US and worked as a journalist, before becoming a TV presenter on Michael Moore’s satirical news magazine series TV NATION, providing off-beat cultural segments. He was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1995.

This led to a series of BBC Documentaries- LOUIS THEROUX’S WEIRD WEEKENDS (1998-2000) following mostly American subcultures and WHEN LOUIS MET… (2000-2002) accompanying a British celebrity, interviewing them during their daily lives. He won a BAFTA Award for each. He’s currently podcasting a BBC Sounds series called GROUNDED, speaking to celebs under covid lockdown.

Louis was a guest on Graham Norton’s BBC Radio2 show in September last year at the programmes studio in London’s Wogan House where he signed for me.

Drawing: Bjorn Ulvaeus

Autographed drawing of Bjorn Ulvaeus from Abba

With the cancellation of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, which was to have taken place over the weekend in Rotterdam, the BBC aired a tribute substitute EUROVISION: COME TOGETHER, hosted by Graham Norton and featuring a shortlist of 19 songs from the past 65 years with viewers asked to vote for their favourite. ABBA’s ‘Waterloo’, a song about the joys of surrendering to love, was declared the viewers favourite of all time.

Written by the Swedish supergroup’s two B’s – Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Anderson – with lyrics by Stig Anderson, it won the 1974 Eurovision contest held in Brighton, topping the charts in several countries, selling six million copies and launching ABBA’s rapid rise to become one of the most popular international group ever. The previous year they were third with ‘Ring, Ring’.

At the 50th Anniversary of Eurovision in 2005, ‘Waterloo’ was also declared the best song in the competition’s history. After the group split in 1982, it was supposed to be a temporary break, said Benny in a recent interview, but both he and Bjorn were persuaded by Sir Tim Rice to get involved in musical theatre and didn’t see the immediate need to go back to ABBA. They have written the music for two of the most successful and acclaimed West End and Broadway productions, CHESS (1984), the Cold War allegory with Sir Tim and MAMMA MIA! (1999), the jukebox musical written by Catherine Johnson and based on Bjorn and Benny’s backlog of ABBA hits. The title is from their 1975 chart topper.

After Saturday’s tribute show, the BBC joined other European broadcasters to present EUROVISION: EUROPE SHINE A LIGHT, honouring the 41 songs that would have competed in this year’s contest, interviewing, via satellite a host of past winners including Bjorn, who said that the Eurovision celebration “allows you to escape and be happy and even forget about the coronavirus for a little while.”

Appropriately he was a guest on Graham Norton’s BBC Radio 2 show at in September, last year, where he signed this quick portrait sketch for me as he was leaving the studios at Wogan House in London.

Drawing: Fernando Meirelles

Autographed drawing of director Fernando Meirelles

Brazilian film director Fernando Meirelles is not only an excellent filmmaker he’s an even better human being. I have had the privilege of meeting him in London on a few occasions and they have always been memorable. The last time was outside the Corinthia Hotel on the northern bank of the river Thames on the first Sunday in February this year as he prepared to go to the BAFTA Awards. His latest film THE TWO POPES with Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce playing Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis respectively was nominated for Best British Film.

Fernando became interested in filmmaking while studying architecture at the University of São Paulo. “An architect is someone who really doesn’t know how to build a building. They need engineers, just as directors need writers and actors. What both architects and directors do is bring a vision”, he has said. He followed the film path and with considerable success winning over 65 awards.

After initially working in television, he made his first feature MENINO MALUQUINHO 2:A ADVENTURA in 1998. Based on Paulo Lin’s best-seller CIDADE DE DEUS, his 2003 film adaptation, CITY OF GOD went on to huge success. It was a low budget production, with an intimidating story of the growth of organised crime in a Rio de Janeiro superb, involving over 350 characters, using mostly inexperienced actors.

Fernando was nominated for a Best Director Oscar and his direction was also recognised at the Cannes Film Festival. His next feature, John Ie Carre’s thriller THE CONSTANT GARDENER (2005) was nominated for four Academy Awards, ten BAFTAS, including Best Film and Director and three Golden Globes. BLINDESS, the story of a city ravaged by an epidemic of instant white blindness was nominated for the Palm d’Or in 2008.

Away from cinema and TV, Fernando has directed an opera, Bizet’s PEARL FISHERS and was one of the directors of the 2016 Olympics opening ceremony in Rio. He is also a farmer. He plants sugar cane, avocado, coffee and mahogany, developing ways to produce organically on a large scale. His future plans involve working on projects related to the environmental crisis and climate emergency. But he is quoted as saying, “I will never stop making a film. I can’t help myself.”

It was great to catch up with him for a brief chat at the Corinthia, where he signed for me on 2 February, before heading to the BAFTA ceremony at the Royal Albert Hall.

Drawing: Mike Figgis

Autographed drawing of filmmaker Mike Figgis

One of the most innovative filmmakers in the business is Mike Figgis, the British director, screenwriter, musician and composer. After initially working in theatre as a director and performer he made his feature film directorial debut with the neo-noir thriller STORMY MONDAY in 1988 featuring Sean Bean, Tommy Lee Jones, Sting and Melanie Griffith. Six years later he directed Terrance Rattigan’s THE BROWNING VERSION based on Terrance Rattigan’s 1948 play with Albert Finney in the lead role. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and a BAFTA for Mike’s screenplay.

The following year he received two Academy Award nominations for Direction and Adapted Screenplay for the romantic drama LEAVING LAS VEGAS. Nicolas Cage starred as a suicidal alcoholic who moves to Las Vegas to drink himself to death after being fired from his LA law firm. It was based on the semi-biographical novel by John O’Brien, who shot himself two weeks after signing away the movie rights. His father said the novel was his suicide note. The low budget film was shot on 16mm with Mike composing his own musical score. Nicolas loved working with the smaller camera, said it was less intimidating and allowed the actors give more relaxed, nuanced performances. He won the Best Actor Oscar.

TIMECODE (2000) is an experimental film with a ensemble cast that included Salam Hayek, Stellen Skardgard and Holly Hunter. Four continuous 93 min hand-held takes were filmed simultaneously by four cameramen beginning at 3pm on 19 November in 1999 with the cast improvising, using a predetermined structure. It follows a group of people in an LA office, prepping a movie. The screen was divided into quarters to show each take.

Since 2008 Mike has been Professor of Film Studies at the European Film School, teaching summer seminars in Saas-Fee in Switzerland. He is also an Associate at the London Film School.

Mike signed and returned my quick portrait sketch after I sent it to his London-based production company, Red Herring.

David Mitchell in Upstart Crow

Autographed drawing of David Mitchell in Upstart Crow in the Gielgud Theatre on London's West End

Ben Elton’s BBC TV Blackadder-esque Shakespearean sitcom UPSTART CROW first screened in May 2016 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. In early February this year the stage version – or as Ben puts it, “an entirely original excursion, not a TV adaption,” opened at London’s Gielgud Theatre, directed by Sean Foley, with BAFTA- winner, David Mitchell reprising his lead role. The derogatory title refers to a critique of Shakespeare by his arch-rival Robert Greene, “an upstart crow, beautified with feathers.”

It is set in 1605, with Shakespeare, depressed after the death of his son Hamnet, needing to come up with a successful new play. In his LondonTheatre review Jack Hudson said that the TV series “has made an easy transition to critical acclaim in the West End. The Show is a hit-packed with intelligent, textured humour, acute historical insight, barbed wit and the welcome inclusion of a break-dancing bear.” It has been nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Entertainment or Comedy Play.

David kindly signed my Bard sketch when he arrived at the Gielgud for the final Saturday matinee before the production shut down due to the Covid-19 lockdown.