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Raymond Briggs, author of beloved Christmas tale The Snowman, dies aged 88

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The Snowman

The Snowman

Raymond Briggs

Raymond Briggs

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The Snowman

Raymond Briggs, illustrator of the classic children's Christmas book The Snowman, has died aged 88.

Born in London in 1934, Briggs studied art before going on to publish a range of children's books, but he is best known for The Snowman, a crayon-illustrated wordless picture book.

First published in 1978, it tells the story of a boy whose snowman comes to life to play during the night and then takes him on a flight through snowy British landscapes.

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Raymond Briggs

Raymond Briggs

Raymond Briggs

An animated television adaption first aired on St Stephen’s Day 1982 and has since become a staple of British broadcasters' Christmas scheduling, bringing the story to new generations of children. It was nominated for an Oscar in 1983 and won a British academy television award in the same year.

Singer Aled Jones has said he owes Briggs a "debt of gratitude".

Welsh singer Jones rose to fame as a teenager after he covered Walking In The Air, the song written by Howard Blake for the 1982 animated version.

Speaking on his Classic FM radio show on Wednesday, Jones paid tribute to Briggs, saying: "What a legacy he leaves behind.

"His books have touched millions of people all around the world, and what a debt of gratitude I owe to his greatest creation of all. Thank you, Raymond."

He then played the classic song in memory of the late author.

Channel 4's chief executive Alex Mahon said The Snowman creator will "always have a special place" in the channel's history.

She said: "We are immensely sad to hear about the death of Raymond Briggs in a year that marks four decades since Channel 4 first broadcast the enduring 1982 classic film, The Snowman.

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"Briggs was a storyteller uniquely able to combine wonder and sadness, innocence and wisdom, something that made his voice uniquely British."

Mahon added that the broadcaster will celebrate Briggs' work later this year.

In a statement, Briggs' 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'."

Born in Wimbledon, south-west London, in 1934, Briggs studied at Wimbledon School of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art before briefly pursuing painting.

After becoming a professional illustrator, he worked and taught illustration at Brighton College of Art.

In 1966 he won the Kate Greenaway medal for his illustration work on a book of nursery rhymes, The Mother Goose Treasury.

His best-known works were published between 1973 and 1984 and also included Father Christmas Goes On Holiday and The Tin-Pot Foreign General And The Old Iron Woman.

He won numerous prizes during his career, including the Kurt Maschler Award, the Children's Book of the Year and the Dutch Silver Pen Award.

In February 2017, Briggs was honoured with the BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award and the trust responded to news of his death by tweeting: "He will live on in his stunning, iconic books."

He was made a CBE for services to literature the same year.

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."

Ms Dow said Briggs was "unique" and "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, said: "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."

Prominent children's authors, including former Children's Laureates Michael Rosen and Cressida Cowell, have paid tribute to Briggs and his literary legacy.

Briggs’s wife, Jean, died in 1973 and his partner, Liz, died in 2015. He is survived by stepdaughter Clare and her husband Fynn, stepson Tom and his wife Sarah, and three step-grandchildren.

Born in London in 1934, Briggs studied art and briefly worked in advertising before starting a decades-long career as a children’s illustrator. He won a Kate Greenaway Medal — considered the Oscars of children’s publishing — in 1966 for illustrating a book of nursery rhymes, “The Mother Goose Treasury.”

He tweaked a fairy-tale story with “Jim and the Beanstalk,” published in 1970, and won a second Greenaway award for “Father Christmas.” Published in 1973, it featured a grumpy but genial Santa Claus and — like many of Briggs' books — was adapted for television.

“Fungus the Bogeyman,” which charted a day in the life of a scary subterranean monster, disgusted and delighted children in equal measure after its publication in 1977.

The next year came “The Snowman,” a bittersweet story in which a boy’s wintry creation magically comes to life. The wordless book has sold more than 5.5 million copies around the world, and a 1982 animated adaptation has been shown on British TV every Christmas since.

Far more sombre was 1982's “When the Wind Blows,” a story about the aftermath of a nuclear attack on Britain imbued with melancholy and anger. It was adapted as an animated film in 1986, with music by David Bowie and others.

Briggs’ anti-nuclear stance made him unpopular with members of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government. So did “The Tin-Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman,” a picture-book satire on the Falklands War.

Later works include “Ethel & Ernest,” a poignant graphic novel based on the lives of Briggs’ parents, published in 1998.


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