The man whose work defined Christmas for millions (but famously hated it): Extraordinary career of The Snowman creator Raymond Briggs who moaned he was ‘fed up’ with success of film based on his book that became staple of the festive season
- Best-selling author and illustrator Raymond Briggs has died at age 88
- He was best known for the 1978 children’s classic The Snowman
- Briggs’ family paid powerful tribute to the beloved novelist and illustrator today
As the world mourns The Snowman creator Raymond Briggs, who has died at age 88, past interviews reveal his antipathy to the legendary snowy figure he was identified with for so long.
Briggs enjoyed a long and successful career and is best known as the ‘grumpy’ genius behind the hit 1978 picture book, which remains a staple of the festive season to this day.
The wordless picture book has sold more than 5.5million copies around the world since its release and is reproduced as a televised production every Christmas.
In an interview with The Guardian in 2019, he marvelled: ‘It’s a worldwide industry. China, Japan – a world of Snowmen.
He went on: ‘The whole blessed world… I was fed up with it years ago. I’m even more fed up with it now it’s been going on for nearly 40 bloody years.’
Author and illustrator Raymond Briggs has died aged 88, his publisher Penguin Random House said
Relatives confirmed he spent his final weeks at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, as they praised the ‘kind and thoughtful care’ of the staff there.
Over the past fifty years, the best-selling author shifted millions of copies of his famous works including When The Wind Blows, Fungus The Bogeyman, Father Christmas and Ethel & Ernest.
His decorated career also saw him collect numerous awards, including two gongs from the British Book Awards, the Kurt Maschler Award and a two-time recipient of the Kate Greenaway Medal.
In a statement released by his family today, they paid tribute to the beloved novelist whose books were ‘loved by and touched millions of people around the world’.
The statement read: ‘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.’
His first wife passed away in 1973, while his long-term partner died of dementia in 2015. He has surviving relatives but leaves behind no children of his own.
Briggs, who was born in Wimbledon in 1934, enjoyed a long and successful career and is best known as the creator of his 1978 hit The Snowman which has sold millions of copies worldwide
The wordless picture book has since sold more than 5.5million copies around the world and is reproduced as a televised production every Christmas
Over the past fifty years, the best-selling author shifted millions of copies of his famous works including When The Wind Blows, Fungus The Bogeyman, Father Christmas and Ethel & Ernest
Relatives confirmed Briggs (pictured above) spent his finals weeks at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, as they praised the ‘kind and thoughtful care’ of the staff there
Briggs was raised among humble beginnings after he was born to his milkman father Ernest and former lady’s maid-turned-housewife Ethel in Wimbledon in 1934.
During the Second World War he was evacuated to the Dorset countryside aged 5 where his parents regularly visited him, before returning to south west London and attending Rutlish School, where he pursued cartooning despite his father’s protests.
Briggs explained his decision to pursue a career in the arts to the Guardian in 2019: ‘I became interested in drawing as well. All the things I wanted to do even at that early age were to do with print – printed writing, printed drawing, the press.
‘I wasn’t interested in daubing oil paint. No good with the damn stuff, sticky and awkward.’
Ignoring Ernest’s advice that it would be an unprofitable pursuit, Briggs studied painting at the Wimbledon School of Art from 1949 to 1953 and typography at Central School of Art.
He clashed with his peers at Wimbledon, begrudging their obsession with the Italian Renaissance where he preferred the ‘ordinariness’ of Rembrandt and Bruegel.
Briggs later served as a National Service conscript in the Royals Corps of Signals at Catterick between 1953 and 1955, where he was made a draughtsman. He returned to further study at Slade School of Fine Art at UCL, graduating in 1957.
Welsh singer and radio host, Aled Jones 51, praised the legacy left behind by the beloved cartoonist whose works were warmly embraced by families across the globe
Briggs briefly pursued a painting career before settling down as a professional illustrator and worked and taught at the Brighton College of Art.
He illustrated his first collection of nursery rhymes, The Mother Goose Trilogy in 1966 which earned him more widespread acclaim and the Kate Greenaway medal.
Briggs cemented his place as one of the nation’s most creative minds with classics including: Father Christmas (1973), Fungus the Bogeyman (1977) and The Snowman (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’.
‘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.’
In February 2017, he was honoured with the BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award. He was awarded a CBE for services to literature in the same year.
In 2019 at age 85 he published his last work, Time for Lights Out, where the veteran writer leaves behind a mesmerising jumble of jokes, drawings and elderly gripes as he grapples with old age and death.
Briggs was born into humble beginnings to his milkman father Ernest and housewife Ethel in Wimbledon in 1934
Relatives confirmed he spent his finals weeks at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, as they praised the ‘kind and thoughtful care’ of the staff there
Raymond Briggs is pictured outside Downing Street (second from left) in 1985 as a group of authors and publishers including Caroline Blackwood urged action from then-PM Margaret Thatcher on Nuclear Disarmament
He illustrated his first collection of nursery rhymes, The Mother Goose Trilogy in 1996 which earned him the Kate Greenaway medal. Later classics include Father Christmas (1973), Fungus the Bogeyman (1977) and The Snowman (1978).
Despite his best-selling success featuring Christmas characters that became synonymous with the festive celebrations for millions of families, Briggs himself was never a fan of glad tidings nor snow.
He claimed he would actively avoid shops that played Walking in the Air, the theme song to the popular film adaptation of his 1978 classic The Snowman.
And adopting a Scrooge-esque tone, Briggs once famously said: ‘I don’t like the season at all and I make a point of grumping about it’.
He was also a practical joker with a knack for self-depreciating humour, and is said to have had the definition of a creative sociopath pinned to his wall.
He said at the time: ‘Artistic people can appear self-absorbed, impulsive, impatient and intolerant… Brilliant. That’s me to a tee’.
Briggs also erected a fake English Heritage blue plaque outside his Sussex home which read: ‘Raymond Briggs. Draw-er, colouring-in artist, wordsmith, speech bubble-ist, practical joker par excellence. Hangs out here.’
Despite his penchant for writing and illustrating classic children’s novels, the author overcame multiple tragedies throughout his life.
Mr Briggs’s mother died of leukaemia in 1971 and, nine months later, his father, a milkman, died of stomach cancer.
Then on Christmas Eve 1972, his beloved wife, Jean Taprell Clark, a painter who suffered from schizophrenia, was diagnosed with leukaemia. She died months later.
Despite falling for one another after meeting at art school, Jean and Raymond jointly decided not to have children due to her mental health struggles, meaning the author was left completely alone following her death in 1973.
And no amount of fame and fortune made up for the loss of his soulmate of 42 years, Liz, who died after a battle with Parkinson’s in 2015. Briggs himself admitted he was living with ‘a touch of Parkinsonism’ in a 2019 interview.
Tributes poured in for the beloved children’s author after news of his passing broke.
British author Lara Maiklem, who worked with Briggs, described the author and illustrator as ‘grumpy and difficult, but he was nonetheless a genius’.
TV gardener Monty Don thanked Mr Briggs for enriching ‘so many of our lives’ following the author and illustrator’s death at the age of 88.
He tweeted: ‘Thank you Raymond Briggs for a life’s work magnificently celebrating the rich seam of very English pessimism. You enriched so many of our lives.’
Presenter Alex Phillips said: ‘A little bit of magic has left the earth. Thank you for some of the most wonderful stories Raymond Briggs.’
Like the barren wintry landscapes that pepper his hit book The Snowman, Briggs had always adopted a cool tone when it came to Christmas.
In fact, Briggs, whose heartwarming tale is part of the festive season every year for countless families, confessed he did not like the celebrations at all.
‘I’m not a fan of Christmas, although I support the principle of a day of feasting and presents,’ he once said.
‘But the anxiety starts in October: how many are coming? Are they bringing grandchildren? How long will they stay?’ he told the Daily Mail in 2012.
In a statement released by his family today, they paid tribute to the beloved novelist whose books were ‘loved by and touched millions of people around the world’
Despite his penchant for writing and illustrating classic children’s novels, the author overcame multiple tragedies throughout his life with both his first wife and mother dying after being diagnosed with leukemia in the 1970s
Ignoring his father Ernest’s advice that it would be an unprofitable pursuit, Briggs showed a flair for painting at the Wimbledon School of Art from 1949 to 1953 and later studied typography at Central School of Art
Briggs briefly pursued a painting career before settling down as a professional illustrator and taking up a job in the advertising trade in the 60s. He illustrated his first collection of nursery rhymes, The Mother Goose Trilogy in 1996 which earned him the Kate Greenaway medal
Francesca Dow, managing director of children’s at Penguin Random House, which served as Raymond Briggs’ publisher, said: ‘I am very proud that Puffin has been the home of Raymond’s children’s books for so many years.
‘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.’
She added: ‘Raymond was a brilliantly observant, funny storyteller, honest about how life is rather than how adults might wish to tell it to children. 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. I will miss him. All of us who had the privilege of working with him will miss him.’
Ms 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.’
Diana Gerald, Chief Executive at BookTrust said: ‘Everyone at BookTrust is devasted to hear the news about Raymond Briggs.
‘The author and illustrator of The Snowman, Fungus the Bogeyman and so many other wonderful books have shaped the childhoods of generations of children and inspired so many families to find the joy of sharing stories together.
‘Raymond had an illustrious career and won The BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.
‘He was unashamed to tackle life’s tough challenges through his books in a natural and engaging way, enabling children to feel less alone.
‘He will live on in his iconic books, which have brought so much joy to so many, and we are so grateful that he chose to share his incredible gifts with us.