Snowman creator Raymond Briggs brought kindness and generosity to his work

·5-min read
Raymond Briggs was behind classics including The Snowman (Anthony Devlin/PA) (PA Wire)
Raymond Briggs was behind classics including The Snowman (Anthony Devlin/PA) (PA Wire)

Author and illustrator Raymond Briggs has been credited as having been honest with his young readers about how life really is, through his picture books, graphic novels and animations.

The 88-year-old had a kindness, integrity and generosity running through his works, his publisher Penguin Random House said as it announced his death.

The Snowman, undoubtedly his best-known work, revives magical Christmas memories for adults who grew up with the classic picture book, first published in the UK in 1978.

Briggs recalled his inspiration for the tale about a snowman who comes to life, saying he put it together during a winter which “brought the heaviest snow I had ever seen”.

The Snowman is a Christmas classic (Snowman Enterprises/PA) (PA Media)
The Snowman is a Christmas classic (Snowman Enterprises/PA) (PA Media)

“Snow had fallen steadily all night long and in the morning I woke in a room filled with light and silence, the whole world seemed to be held in a dream-like stillness,” he said.

“It was a magical day… and it was on that day I made The Snowman.”

The wordless picture book has gone on to sell more than 5.5 million copies in various formats around the world.

Four years later, on Boxing Day 1982, a 26-minute animated version of the book was screened on television, with an orchestral soundtrack featuring the haunting melody Walking In The Air.

The film is a staple of the festive television schedule, having been shown every Christmas since it first aired.

While most people associate the main song with Welsh singer Aled Jones, it was originally sung by 13-year-old choirboy Peter Auty.

His name was omitted from the closing credits to the film, and it was not until two decades later that the treble singer at St Paul’s Cathedral Choir School was officially recognised.

Briggs, who was born in Wimbledon, south-west London, in 1934, was said to have had an interest in drawing cartoons from an early age. He later studied at Wimbledon School of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art.

Following a brief stint painting, he became a professional illustrator, and also taught at Brighton College of Art.

His works included a book of nursery rhymes, The Mother Goose Treasury, other festive-themed tales such as Father Christmas and Father Christmas Goes On Holiday, Fungus The Bogeyman, When The Wind Blows, The Tin-Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman.

Many have been translated into multiple languages and adapted into films, plays and animations for television.

Father Christmas and When The Wind Blows were inspired by Briggs’ parents Ethel and Ernest.

A 1998 graphic novel named after them told the story of his milkman father and his mother, a lady’s maid, and spawned a 2016 animated feature film.

Raymond was a brilliantly observant, funny storyteller, honest about how life is rather than how adults might wish to tell it to children

Francesca Dow, Penguin Random House

Among his awards throughout the years was the BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017, celebrating his outstanding contribution to children’s literature.

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

His final book, Time For Lights Out, was published in 2019, and was summed up by his agent as “a cornucopia of thoughts, poems, sketches and observations; described as ‘grimly amusing but never dispiriting’” – something she said had captured his essence.

His family told how he had fan drawings, inspired by his works, pinned on the walls of his studio, and was someone who “lived a rich and full life”.

He was described by his loved ones as a practical joker, with an irreverent sense of humour and someone who enjoyed get-togethers with his family and “his family of artist friends”.

His literary agent Hilary Delamere said while he “liked to act the professional curmudgeon”, he will be remembered for “stories of love and of loss” and as someone whose books and animations “touched people’s hearts”.

She said he had retained his “curiosity and sense of wonder right up to the last”.

Penguin Random House Children’s managing director Francesca Dow said Briggs’ books touched on “life’s big subjects – the loneliness and loss of The Snowman; the fallout of nuclear war in Where The Wind Blows; the celebration of drudge and slime of Fungus The Bogeyman; and the magical mundanity of Father Christmas, for whom ‘another blooming Christmas’ with its narrow ‘blooming chimneys’ is a hazard for a wide girth”.

She paid tribute to him as a “brilliantly observant, funny storyteller, honest about how life is rather than how adults might wish to tell it to children”.

She added: “A kindness, integrity and generosity run through all his books. And so in life, Raymond was a generous, unjealous spirit who was a pleasure to work with, as well as to visit in his Sussex cottage and experience his teasing genius in its home. He was funny! He made us laugh a lot.”

Briggs, who died on Tuesday morning, is survived by stepdaughter Clare and her husband Fynn, stepson Tom and his wife Sarah, and stepgrandchildren Connie, Tilly and Miles.

“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,” his family said.