Raymond Briggs: who was The Snowman author and what other books did he write - including When the Wind Blows
While the illustrator and writer was best known for The Snowman, he also produced a number of other classics, including When the Wind Blows, Father Christmas, Ethel and Ernest and Fungus the Bogeman
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Beloved author and illustrator Raymond Briggs, best known for the children’s classic The Snowman, has passed away aged 88.
In a statement from his family, they said: “We know that Raymond’s books were loved by and touched millions of people around the world, who will be sad to hear this news.
“Drawings from fans – especially children’s drawings – inspired by his books were treasured by Raymond and pinned up on the wall of his studio.”
Who was Raymond Briggs?
Briggs was a famous British illustrator and author, achieving critical acclaim for his work over the course of his career.
He was born on 18 January 1934 in Wimbledon, London, to parents Ernest Redvers Briggs and Ethel Bowyer.
Briggs attended Rutlish School which, at the time, was a grammar school situated on Rutlish Road, Merton Park.
He developed an interest in cartooning at an early age, and eventually Briggs studied at the Wimbledon School of Art from 1949 to 1953 to study painting, and the Central School of Art to study typography.
Briggs spent 1953 to 1955 in the National Service in Catterick with the Royal Signals Corps. Upon his discharge, he returned to his studies, pursuing painting at Slade School of Fine Art at University College, London, and eventually graduating in 1957.
He then became a professional illustrator and author, working on children’s books. He also taught illustration part-time at Brighton School of Art from 1961 to 1986.
Briggs married Jean Clark, a painter, in 1963. She suffered from schizophrenia throughout their 10 years of marriage, and passed away in 1973 from leukaemia.
After her death, Briggs later “met Liz in our local pub and we started a long friendship that lasted for the following 40 years”, he wrote in a piece for the Guardian.
Liz, a retired teacher, passed away in October 2015 after developing dementia as a result of Parkinson’s disease.
What books did he write?
While Briggs may be best known for his story The Snowman, he produced a number of beloved and iconic pieces of work over the course of his career.
Some of his other pieces of work include:
- Ring-a-ring o’ Roses (1962), a collection of nursery rhymes and his first book to be published in America
- The Mother Goose Treasury (1966) and Father Christmas (1973), both of which were winners of the Kate Greenaway medal, a literary award that recognises “distinguished illustration in a book for children”
- Jim and the Beanstalk (1971)
- Fungus the Bogeyman (1977)
- Gentleman Jim (1980)
- When the Wind Blows (1982)
- The Tin-Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman (1984)
- The Man (1992), which won the Kurt Maschler Award which recognises “work of imagination for children, in which text and illustration are integrated so that each enhances and balances the other”
- The Bear (1994), for which Briggs received the Phoenix Picture Book Award from the Children’s Literature Association
- Ethel & Ernest: A True Story (1998), which tells the story of Briggs’ parents, from their first meeting in 1928 to their deaths in 1971
- Ug: Boy Genius of the Stone Age (2001), which won the Nestle Children’s Book Prize Silver Award the year it was published
A variety of Briggs’ works were adapted for the stage and screen as well, including, of course, The Snowman. An animated version of the story was made for Channel 4 in 1982 and has been aired every Christmas since, cementing itself as a festive staple.
When asked by Channel 4 in a 2012 interview why he thinks the story of The Snowman captured the public’s imagination, Briggs said: “I’ve not the faintest idea really. You’d have to ask them, I don’t know.
“You just do it and follow the common sense logic; this Snowman melts, everything comes to an end. It’s all very depressing of course, as such is life. No I don’t know, I just follow it realistically, that’s all.
“I don’t know why people like it so much.”
The Snowman film adaptation was even nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.
When the Wind Blows, which tells the story of a nuclear attack on the UK by the Soviet Union from the perspective of retired couple Jim and Hilda Boggs, was adapted into a BBC Radio 4 play in 1983, a film by director Jimmy Murakami in 1986 and for the stage on numerous occasions.
Briggs wrote Ivor the Invisible, released in 2001, for Channel 4 and, unlike his other films, was not adapted from one of his books. Instead, Ivor the Invisible marked Briggs’ first project designed specifically for the screen.
When did he die?
Briggs’ family confirmed in a statement through his publisher Penguin Random House that the author and illustrator passed away on Tuesday (9 August) morning.
His family said: “We know that Raymond’s books were loved by and touched millions of people around the world, who will be sad to hear this news.
“Drawings from fans – especially children’s drawings – inspired by his books were treasured by Raymond and pinned up on the wall of his studio.
“He lived a rich and full life, and said he felt lucky to have had both his wife Jean, and his partner of over 40 years Liz in his life.
“He shared his love of nature with Liz on South Downs walks and on family holidays to Scotland and Wales. He also shared his sense of fun and craziness with his family, and with his family of artist friends – at get-togethers, fancy dress parties and summer picnics in the garden.
“He played practical jokes and enjoyed them being played on him. All of us close to him knew his irreverent humour – this could be biting in his work when it came to those in power.
“He liked the Guardian editorial describing himself as an ‘iconoclastic national treasure’.”
Briggs is survived by his step-daughter Clare and her husband Fynn; his step-son Tom and his wife Sarah, and his three step-grandchildren.
Tributes for Raymond Briggs
Francesca Dow, managing director of Penguin Random House Children’s, said: “Raymond’s books are picture masterpieces that address some of the fundamental questions of what it is to be human, speaking to both adults and children with a remarkable economy of words and illustrations.
“Raymond is probably best known for The Snowman. He needed greater freedom perhaps than the standard 32-page picture book format allowed and created a radical and beautiful innovation: a wordless picture book for children, a storyboard of stills that became an instant classic in its own right, as well as the much-loved animation.”
Dow said Briggs had been “unique” and had “inspired generations of creators of picture books, graphic novels, and animations”.
She added: “He leaves an extraordinary legacy, and a big hole.”
Briggs’ literary agent, Hilary Delamere, added: “Raymond liked to act the professional curmudgeon, but we will remember him for his stories of love and of loss.
“I know from the many letters he received how his books and animations touched people’s hearts.”