After 28 days since its release in October last year, THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT became Netflix’s most-watched limited series, amassing a staggering 62 million views. Headlining the miniseries was 25 year-old Argentine-British actress Anya Taylor-Joy, playing orphan Beth Harmon, a chess prodigy struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as she strives to becomes the world’s greatest player. As most countries grappled with the global Covid pandemic, with its enforced lockdowns and restrictions, many people turned in droves to watch the seven-episode drama based on the 1983 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis.
It was a stellar year for Anya. She also starred in the title role as Emma Woodhouse in the comedy-drama EMMA, a film adaption of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel. TIME magazine listed her in the 100 most influential people of 2021. Anya came to prominence as Thomasin in the supernatural horror film, THE WITCH in 2015, receiving the Trophee Chopard at the Cannes Film Festival two years later. She also received a BAFTA Rising Star Award nomination.
This year she received Golden Globe nominations for both her Beth and Emma portrayals, winning for the former. She also won the Screen Actors Guild Award for the same role. Anya kindly signed and inscribed my sketch, which I posted to her in London earlier this year.
The infamous line, listed in various polls as the funniest ever in film, uttered by Brian Cohen’s mother, Mandy to the gathering crowd, after her son, born on the same day as their neighbour Jesus, is subsequently mistaken for the Messiah in the cult 1979 religious farce MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN.
Regarded as the British comedy troupe’s masterpiece, and by a number of critics as the best comedy film of all time, the cutting-edge, controversial movie was banned in Ireland, Norway and several parts of Britain, securing its a place in cinematic history. It was directed by the late Python, Welsh genius Terry Jones, who also appeared as Mandy, as well as various other roles including a saintly passer-by, and an alarmed crucifixion assistant.
Sadly we lost Terry last January at the age of 77. In early 2016 he directed the world premiere of JEEPERS CREEPERS , Robert Ross’ play about the life of comedian Marty Feldman at the Leicester Square Theatre in London. After drawing this quick portrait sketch of Terry and as Mandy Cohen, I caught up with him at the venue during rehearsals, where he was happy to sign.
The 89 year-old maestro, John Williams, considered one of the greatest and most influential film composers of all time, producing the most popular, recognisable and acclaimed movie scores over the past seven decades (including JAWS, the STAR WARS sagas, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, ET, THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL,the INDIANA JONES and JURASSIC film franchises and SCHINDLER’S LIST to name only a handful). He has won 25 Grammys, five Oscars, seven BAFTAs, four Golden Globes, three Emmys and a myriad of other accolades, which sums up his spectacular contribution to film music. His 52 Academy Award nominations are the second most by an individual, behind Walt Disney. He has had a long association with Steven Spielberg since 1974 scoring all but five of his feature films.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting the maestro once, when he and George Lucas were at ShoWest in Las Vegas in the 1990s. He was conducting the local symphony orchestra performing a number of STAR WARS medleys. From 1983 to 1993 John was principal conductor of the Boston Pops succeeding Arthur Fiedler. While there he signed a card for me adding the opening few bars of the infamous dum dum dum dum Intro to JAWS. A few years ago I sent this sketch to his agent hoping to get it signed, but unfortunately it wasn’t possible.
John was scheduled to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra in October 2018 which gave me an opportunity to get the drawing signed in person, but due to a last minute illness he was unable to attend.
The ‘dazzlingly versatile’ Canadian actor, Christopher Plummer, who passed away on Friday at the age of 91 once said, “I just can’t tell you what fun I’ve had being a member of the world’s second oldest profession. I’ve had a wonderful life, seeing the world and they’ve paid for it.” Few acting careers, which straddled seven decades, have had such longevity and impact.
After his cinema debut in Sidney Lumet’s theatre drama STAGE STRUCK with Henry Fonda in 1958, Christopher featured in over 120 movie productions. His biggest hit and arguably best-known role was the singing Austrian widower and retired anti-Nazi naval Captain Georg von Trapp in Robert Wise’s 1965 classic musical THE SOUND OF MUSIC, with Dame Julie Andrews. Although it proved to be his breakthrough performance to stardom, he always felt uneasy. Initially reluctant to take on the role, his open distaste for the film has mellowed over time. “I’ve made my peace with it”, he said in a 2018 Guardian interview.
Christopher first appeared on Broadway in 1953 in THE STARCROSS STORY, a play that closed on opening night. However after such an inauspicious start, he finished with seven Tony Award nominations, winning for the title roles in CYRANO DE BERGERAC (1974) and BARRYMORE (1997). In 1961 he made his West End debut as King Henry II in BECKET for the Royal Shakespeare Company at London’s Aldwych Theatre, later transferring to the Globe. For his performance, he won the Evening Standard Award.
While he gained recognition for his film, television and theatre performances throughout his distinguished career, it wasn’t until 2010 that Chris received his first Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Leo Tolstoy in THE LAST STATION and like the proverbial London bus, followed by two more in quick succession. “Well, I said it’s about time. I’m 80 years old for God’s sake. Have mercy”, he said after the nomination announcement. He didn’t win on that occasion, but was successful on the second attempt, two years later for Best Supporting Actor as Hal Fields, who comes out gay in his senior years, becoming the oldest recipient of the Oscar. He also won the BAFTA, Golden Globe and SAG awards. In 2018 he continued to break the records when, at 88 he became the oldest nominee for his performance as multi-billionaire oil tycoon J.Paul Getty in Ridley Scott’s crime thriller ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD (2017). “There’s not that many old actors.They all died. I’m one of the last men standing,” he quipped.
With over seventy small screen appearances, Chris has also been nominated for seven Emmy Awards, winning twice for his work on the miniseries THE MONEYCHANGERS and his narration of the children’s TV series MADELINE (1994).
I found a final quote, “I’m too old-fashioned to use a computer. I’m too old-fashioned to use a quill,” but he did use a black sharpie to kindly sign a couple of portrait sketches I sent to him at his home in Weston, Connecticut a couple of years ago.
As George Takei, Christopher’s co-star in STAR TREK Vl (1991)” said in his tribute, “Rest in eternal music.”
After only a handful of first class matches the young Bruce Taylor found himself elevated to the New Zealand national cricket team and on a plane to India with many of his boyhood heroes. It was 1965 and the ‘quintessential tall all-rounder’ was selected for the Second Test at Eden Gardens in Calcutta, after a late call up when Barry Sinclair fell ill. It was a stellar start to his international career, scoring 105 coming in at #8 and taking five wickets for 86 runs.
Fifty-five years on he is still the only player in test cricket to have achieved the debutant double-a century and a ‘fifer’ in their first test. He would go on to play a further 29 Tests, scoring nearly 900 runs at an incredible strike rate of 488 and taking 22 wickets at an average just over 20 plus two ODI’s before retiring in 1973. An aggressive left-hand batsman and right-arm fast medium bowler with a high arm action than made him a very dangerous attack weapon, generating seam movement and bounce. His highest test score was 124 off 83 balls against the formidable West Indies side at Eden Park in Auckland in July 1973, going from 38 to 50 in two hits, straight driving the legendary Garry Sobers into the big stand twice in a row. After his playing days were over he became a selector for Wellington, Otago and the national teams.
Sadly, Bruce died today at the age of 77.
Cricket New Zealand, in acknowledging his passing, described him as a ‘force of nature’ and the many media obits referred to him as a ‘genius’ and one of New Zealand’s great cricketers. I drew this sketch of ‘Tails’ as part of a Best NZ XI series sometime in the 1990s, which he signed.
Back to my culinary collection. There’s nothing like a lockdown-our third and counting-to catch up on things that need catching up. In this case, Rick Stein’s 2017-18 series ROAD TO MEXICO, where he starts in Northern California and follows the cooking trail south to Mexico, inspired by a journey he made in the late 1960’s. In the opening episode he visited the legendary food activist and humanitarian Alice Waters at her equally legendary landmark restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay.
Alice pioneered ‘California cuisine’, which is driven by local seasonal and sustainable ingredients. It was the source for the ‘farm-to-table movement’. She was part of the Free Speech Movement that swept the UC Berkeley’s Campus in the 1960’s, and developed a love of cooking, hosting small gatherings to discuss politics with her peers. As an undergraduate, majoring in French Cultural Studies, she continued her studies and culinary interests in France, living on fresh, simple local produce, discovering the concept of market fresh cooking.
Influenced by her European experiences, Alice opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley in 1971, named after a favourite character in a trilogy Marcel Pagnol films. It was described as the culinary outpost of the West Coast counterculture that defined the 60’s. She established a network of local farmers, artisans and producers believing that “food is a way of life, not just something to eat.” The upstairs Chez Panisse Cafe was established in 1980 with a more modestly priced a la carte menu.
Chez Panisse has survived two fires, the first in 1982 came within ten minutes of completely destroying the building resulting in an extensive rebuild. The second in 2013 damaged the front patio and facade resulting in a four-month closure.
The restaurant was awarded a Michelin Star in 2006 and for the majority of that decade Chez Panisse was ranked as one of the top 50 Restaurants in the World by Restaurant magazine, reaching #12 in 2003. The prestigious publication also presented Alice with a Lifetime Achievement Award, citing her as one of the most influential figures in American cooking over the past fifty years. One of the restaurants many culinary innovations is the Goat Cheese Salad, which first appeared in the 1970’s. It consists of rounds of chèvre marinated in olive oil and herbs, coated in bread crumbs and baked, served with lightly dressed mesclun.
In 1996 Alice established the Chez Panisse Foundation, a non-profit organisation that funds the Edible Schoolyard Programme at the Martin Luther King Middle School as part of Alice’s ‘edible education’ ideology where students participate in planting, harvesting and preparing fresh food as part of their school day. She is a national public policy advocate for school lunch reform and access to healthy organic foods.
After watching Rick’s programme I drew this quick portrait sketch of Alice and sent it to her for signing. Due to the pandemic, post is a little erratic to say the least, so I wasn’t expecting a quick response, if any. But to my delight it came back this week.
Considered one of the all time greats of snooker, some say the greatest, Scotsman Stephen Hendry announced last year that he is returning to the sport after retiring in 2012, accepting a two-year invitational card to play in the main World Snooker Tour, after an impressive semi-final run at the World Senior Championships in August.
In terms of world titles in the modern era, Stephen leads with seven, winning his first in 1990 at the age of 21, the youngest to achieve the feat and a record he still holds. He is followed by Ray Reardon, Steve Davis and Ronnie O’Sullivan on six each.
His dominance during the 1990’s was the reason why he was nicknamed the ‘King of the Crucible’, the iconic Sheffield venue that has hosted the World Championships since 1977. Winning the tournament again, successively from 1992-1996 and again in 1999, along with six Masters (five successively) and five UK Championships have cemented his place at the very top of the sport. He is only one of three players to have won all three Triple Crown events- the World, Masters and UK titles, in a single season and the only one to have completed it twice (1989/90 and 1995/96). His 18 Triple Crown tournament victories is only surpassed by the current World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan.
In recent years Stephen has been a regular member of the snooker commentary team’s TV coverage of the major events, including the UK Championship late last year, behind closed doors at the Covid-secure Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes, where I sent him this quick sketch and was very happy it eventually came back signed and dedicated. Snooker fans are looking forward to watching him back at the baize this year, ‘probably’ starting with the Welsh Open next month.
Described by the Guardian as ‘a stand up gem’, Portsmouth-born comedian Suzi Ruffell is regarded as one of the finest acts on the comedy circuit, winning the Chortle Award for Best Club Comic last year. After starting her career at the end of 2008, Suzi went full time in 2012. She has had three sell-out runs at the Edinburgh Festival with the BBC recording and screening her show KEEPING IT CLASSY, a clip from which attracted over 16 million views on Facebook.
A regular on the BBC, Suzi has also appeared on TV shows such as LIVE AT THE APOLLO, MOCK THE WEEK, ROAST BATTLE, STAND UP CENTRAL and COMEDY CENTRAL AT THE COMEDY STORE. Since 2015 she has co-hosted the podcast LIKE MINDED FRIENDS with fellow comic Tom Allen and this year started OUT WITH SUZI RUFFELL.
I met Suzi at the BBC studios after she appeared on Radio 4’s LOOSE ENDS on 7 March this year where she signed my portrait sketch.
It’s been a breathtaking year for the young Russian tennis ace and former World Junior Champion Andrey Rublev, admist the mayhem caused by the global pandemic. In a disjointed season that was partially suspended with a hiatus covering several months, the 23 year-old headed the ATP Tour with a remarkable five titles, ahead of world number 1 Novak Djokovic (4).
He broke into the top 10 for the first time, where he is currently ranked at 8, reached the quarterfinals at both the French and US Grand Slams and as a result make his debut at the season-ending, spectator-less ATP World Tour Finals, which featured the world’s top eight players, at London’s O2 arena. The year started brilliantly for the ‘ hyper-aggressive baseliner’ with a big forehand and dangerous serve, winning back-to-back titles at his first two tournaments – the Qatar Open and the maiden Adelaide International. After the season resumed he won the Hamburg European Open in September followed by victories at St Petersburg and finally the Vienna Open, which included a win over local hero Dominic Thiem and qualified him for the elite London event. Andrey’s seven career titles also includes the Croatia Open (2017) and the Kremlin Cup (2019). He was a member of the Russian team that reached the Davis Cup semis in Spain last year, in which he was undefeated.
The ATP Tour Finals have been staged at the 02 on the Greenwich Peninsula in London for the past twelve years. I have been there for all of them, except, for ‘obvirus’ reasons this year, which is the final time at before moving to Turin for the next five years. The players were all confined to their ‘bubbles’, accommodated at the InterContinental Hotel next door and playing in the vast arena, that usually holds 17,000 spectators, but sadly empty this year. So the usual opportunities to get graphs in person was non-existisant, but I posted my sketch to Andrey at the hotel, and was very pleased to receive it back, signed and dedicated.
Korean-American golf star Danielle Kang reached the World number 2 ranking earlier this year winning back to back titles at the LPGA Drive In Championship and the Marathon LPGA Classic. Since turning professional in 2011, the 28 year-old Las Vegas resident has won five titles, including her maiden major, the KPMG PGA Championship, beating Canadian Brooke Henderson by a single stroke at the Olympia Fields Country Club in Chicago, Illinois. The following year she finished 4th at the US Open.
Currently ranked number four in the world, Danielle visited the UK this year to play in both the Scottish and British Opens. I posted this sketch to her at the former, played at the Renaissance Club in North Berwick in August, which she kindly signed and returned.