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.

Drawing: Roger Deakins

Autographed drawing of cinematographer Roger Deakins

At one of the many crossroads earlier in my life, I entertained the notion of following a path to cinematography, influenced by the wonderful work of legendary lensman such as Haskell Wexler, Conrad Hall, Freddie Young, Vilmos Zsigmond, Gordon Willis and Sven Nyvist. I even subscribed to ‘American Cinematograper’, which proved a source of inspiration for my own, less ambitious super 8 and 16mm epics.

Often cited as one of the most influential cinematographers of all time is the Englishman Roger Deakins. ‘Sight & Sound’ listed him as one of the greatest artists of light and shade in movie history. His first dramatic feature as DP was ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER PLACE in 1983, directed by his former schoolmate Michael Radford, who he teamed up with again the following year, appropriately to shoot the film version of George Orwell’s NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR. Roger used a bleach bypass process where silver is retained in the print to give it a washed out look reflecting The celebrated author’s bleak vision. Such ingenuity would be the hallmark of his illustrious career.

In 1991 he shot BARTON FINK, the first of 12 collaborations with Joel and Ethan Coen. Three years later he received the first of his 15 Academy Award nominations was for THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. Roger achieved a degree of notoriety, as much for his acclaimed body of work as for his surprising lack of success at the Oscars. It would take until his last two noms to win the converted gold statue, consecutively, for BLADE RUNNER 2049 in 2019 and again this year for the Sam Mendes helmed (their fourth collaboration) war film 1917, renowned for its continuous ‘single’ tracking shot – actually ‘two takes’ with a blackout just over an hour into the film, when the main protagonist Lance Corporal Will Scholfield is knocked unconscious, separating afternoon to dusk then night to dawn. He is also credited with being the Camera A Operator.

Among his many other accolades, Roger has received ten BAFTA nominations, winning five, including his Academy winning films and the Coen’s THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (2001), NO COUNTER FOR OLD MEN (2007) and TRUE GRIT (2010) and has won five American Society of Cinematographer Awards.

I was very pleased to catch Roger at the Corinthia Hotel in London as he left for the Royal Albert Hall to attend this year’s BAFTA Awards in early February.