Ditchling honours the memory of Raymond Briggs

Raymond Briggs - Credit David SandisonRaymond Briggs - Credit David Sandison
Raymond Briggs - Credit David Sandison
The work and legacy of author and illustrator Raymond Briggs, who died in 2022, has been celebrated at an event held in Ditchling Village Hall, near to where he made his home. The event was attended by family, friends and industry peers from the worlds of the arts, publishing and film.

Raymond is best known for his pioneering illustrated children’s books, Father Christmas (1973); Fungus the Bogeyman (1977) and The Snowman (1978) which are all published by Puffin. Other highly acclaimed works for adults include the ground-breaking graphic novels, When the Wind Blows (1982); The Tin Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman (1984) and Ethel & Ernest (1998). Raymond’s books have become children’s and family classics and have sold more than 8.5 million copies worldwide in 24 languages. Many of his books have been adapted into films, plays and television animations.

The celebratory event included speeches by artist friends of Raymond’s and by leading representatives of the three national charities benefiting from Raymond’s legacy: Parkinson’s UK; Blood Cancer UK and Rethink Mental Illness. The event was chaired by John Vernon Lord, illustrator, old friend and former colleague of Raymond’s.

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Francesca Dow, managing director of Penguin Random House Children’s, paid tribute to the author: "Raymond was a brilliant, observant, funny storyteller, honest about how life is, rather than how adults might wish to tell it to children. His books are illustrated story masterpieces that address some of the fundamental questions about what it is to be human.

"He was a magical storyteller and there's a Raymond kindness and generosity of spirit that run through his books. It is no wonder that these have become classics, loved across generations. We are immensely proud that Puffin is the home of Raymond's children's books.”

Raymond’s friend and fellow artist, Alan Baker, also paid tribute saying: “An artist can decide exactly what they want you to see. Whereas words can only really suggest. As a reader you have to interpret those words and your interpretation partly depends upon your experience of life, the communication is far less precise. The Snowman is an example of the power of illustration. It’s a silent book, silent like the snow. The medium was carefully chosen the illustrations were carefully drawn in soft pencil to help conjure the gentle scenes. Raymond would often be careful to have his figures facing away from the viewer during his most emotional and poignant moments because it would be impossible to do justice to the moment. See the final page in The Snowman… It is these careful and considered scenes that make his work so enduringly powerful.”

Raymond’s step children Clare and Tom were also in attendance, together with family.

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Following the celebration of Raymond’s work, guests made their way to nearby Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft for a private viewing of a retrospective exhibition of Raymond’s work, Bloomin’ Brilliant: The Life and Work of Raymond Briggs, which includes 30 pieces from the late author’s estate with over 100 original artworks and many never seen before items. The exhibition is open until October 27.

The Ditchling Museum, where the exhibition is being held, used to be the village school. Raymond’s partner Liz Benjamin was a teacher at the school and her two children also went to school there. Raymond would give talks to the children including at the school’s new site in Lewes Road. It was therefore decided to involve the school, St Margaret’s, in the celebration. The year 4 pupils produced work looking at Raymond’s life and some recreating stories of his Bogeyman character. The work was displayed in the village hall for the guests to enjoy. The children’s work is now on display at the Green Welly café in the centre of Ditchling.