Richard Williams

williams again and rupert

Richard Williams rightly deserves all the adulation he gets from animators. Sadly, the general public is less aware of his significance, though most have seen and admired his work in “Roger Rabbit” and all of us have seen the effect he had on the industry. Anyway, I am always amazed by Williams’ generosity. It was clear when he was presenting his cut of “the Thief” a few months’ back.


When I was a schoolboy, and later when I was at university, he gave up his time, had me visit the studio and talked for hours to me about the process of animation. On that second visit, he took me to a restaurant where I remember eating a plate of smoked salmon and otherwise hanging on his every word, none of which I have forgotten. “I think in colour” was the most amazing statement. I envy that. I think in lines, not colour at all, and I think I struggle with colour. I wrote an article based on what he said which was printed in an oxford magazine.

wilson article 1 wilson article 2

Afterwards, I had time to kill before getting a bus back to Oxford and I went to see a show called “Another Country”. Within a year, I was doing front covers for Amber Lane Press which printed the text of the play. (Here are some of them together with the programmes for Another Country)

kiss of the spider woman jj farr when she danced

colin firth 2 Daniel_Day_Lewis 2 rupert 2

I vividly remember Rupert Everett and Kenneth Branagh, and later went back to see their understudies, Daniel Day Lewis and Colin Firth. Day Lewis was the godson of a lady who lived in my house and sat in my room with the poodle chatting about the past. I lived in a converted conservatory: there was a swimming pool at the bottom of the garden.

It had only been a year or so since Mrs Thatcher had announced the identity of Anthony Blunt in the Commons as one of the Cambridge Spy ring. What had not been emphasised I suppose was the fact that most of the spys were gay and had been to the better Public schools. “Another Country” picked up these themes, of treason, homosexuality and espionage in the mid 1930s. The play began in Greenwich and transferred after stunning reviews there to a 19-month run at the Queens in the West End, almost unheard of for a straight play both then and now. Years later, I directed my own production of “Another Country”!

All the screams on the page above are copies of Richard Williams’ sensational “Christmas Carol” which I was watching while I was without a computer for the last few days: I have to draw a screaming face. As ever, Williams has already done it, and done it better than I could ever imagine doing. I have been sent lots of Roger Bacon paintings as reference.

Ah, here is a link to a youtube upload of Errol le Cain’s film “the sailor and the devil” Simply tremendous to see it after all these years. I was amazed to find Errol le Cain was working for Williams: two of my heroes in the same place. More on Errol le Cain later I think….



Escaping the Holocaust in Albania

albanian jews 1112

Francis I

Today Pope Francis is visiting Albania and the news footage shows him saying Mass just down the road from Enver Hoxha’s tomb. Hoxha outlawed religion but this was just one small negative in an otherwise profoundly tolerant society. This is what the Pope has to say about religion in Shqiperia,

“There is a rather beautiful characteristic of Albania, one which is given great care and attention, and which gives me great joy: I am referring to the peaceful coexistence and collaboration that exists among followers of different religions…The climate of respect and mutual trust between Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims is a precious gift to the country.Nobody should use God as a ‘shield’ with which to justify ‘acts of violence and oppression’.”



A few days ago, my Macintosh died and was sent to be repaired. During that time, I was given a story about the survival of a wonderful little book, barely measuring 6 inches square, in Sarajevo. This is the Sarajevo Hagaddah which was written and illustrated in the 14th Century. The Haggaddah is a story book deriving its name from the Hebrew word “to tell”. Because of images of a Rose and a wing, it is presumed that the Hagaddah (a prayerbook containing stories, songs and prayers for the Jewish festival of the Passover) was a wedding gift for Shoshan and Elazar. It was subsequently saved from the Spanish Inquisition and made its way to the “European Jerusalem” that is or was Sarajevo, what Rebecca West described as a city cradled by the mountains “like an opening flower”. At the end of the 19th Century, it came up for sale to a Jewish cultural centre, “La Benevolencia” and was eventually bought by the National Museum, Zemaljski muzej, for about $10,000. And here is the interesting little story that caught my eye…

The Germans invaded Sarajevo, annexing it to the puppet state of Croatia and demanded the book as part of their “Indiana Jones” project to collect and exploit the religious power of assorted talismans. Hitler also planned a “Museum of an Extinct Race” organised by Alfred Rosenberg and this would have been a prized exhibit. Jozo Petrović, the director of the Museum and Derviš Korkut, a dapper curator with a waxed moustache and fez had hatched a plot to protect the book from the Gestapo as well as the Croatia secret police, the Ustashe and the Handjar, the Muslim division of the SS. They believed that as “kustos”, they had responsibility for the book’s survival. The head of the Ustashe was an aggressive Anti-semite who goes down in history saying “Not a stone upon a stone will remain of what once belonged to “the Jews. The city’s eight synagogues were destroyed. When the Obersturmbannfuehrer Johann Fortner requested the book, they said “Oh that’s very odd. Another German officer has just taken it away.” The German asked, “What was his name?” and here was the brilliant reply, “I did not think it my place to ask such a question.” The curator then scrambled out of a window and down a drainpipe, taking the book back home to his wife who was interviewed late in her life about the story.

“I knew he had a book from the library, and that it was very important,” she said. “He said, ‘Take care, don’t tell. No one must know or they’ll kill us and destroy the book.’ ”

The book was promptly hidden under the floorboards of a Mosque in Zenica and was put on public view with liberation in 1945. After the Bosnian war when it was again in danger of destruction, it was restored and has been back on public display since 2002.

Derviš and Servet Korkut not only arranged the hiding of the Haggadah, but also hid a Jewish Ladino-speaking girl who could no longer be sure of her safety with the Yugoslav partisans.  This couple was Albanian and the Albanian Muslims have a code of honour called Besa which obliges them to hospitality and the protection of their guests. Mira Papo was kept as a member of the family, right under the noses of the German soldiers in Sarajevo. Later, I understand that the same Mira Papo, now an old lady in Israel, arranged the safety of Korkut’s daughter during the Bosnian war in 92-95.

Derviš died in 1969 after serving 8 years in solitary confinement for falling foul of General Tito. Servet died last year aged 88.

Defiance in Albania

The principle of Besa is seen in Albania itself. Besa is what motivated Derviš and Servet Korkut. In 1934, the American Ambassador to Albania, Herman Bernstein said, “There is no trace of any discrimination against Jews in Albania, because Albania happens to be one of the rare lands in Europe today where religious prejudice and hate do not exist, even though Albanians are divided into three faiths.” Maybe, BECAUSE they are divided into three faiths!

Albania has a long history of tolerance which was briefly compromised during the Enver Hoxha period after the war, but now appears to be as solid as ever, with an Orthodox cathedral rubbing up against the old Mosque in the central square of Tirana. Jews first came to Albania in 70 AD after the fall of Jerusalem, mostly washed up on the shore as escaped captives from the Romans. They build the first synagogue near the Greek city of Βουθρωτόν in Sarande, in Greek Άγιοι Σαράντα, the capital of the Albanian Riviera, pretty well directly opposite the northern villages of Corfu, Nissaki up to Kassiopi, where the English have created Kensington on sea. The Jewish community remained secure but small until the Spanish Inquisition when, like Kosovo, Albania began to welcome fleeing Sepphadis. The false messiah and Kabbalist, Shebbetai Zevi,  (שַׁבְּתַאי צְבִי), took refuge in Albania – of course, by that time he had been forced to convert to Islam (one of the “Dönmeh”) when he was brought before the Sultan Mehmed IV on 15th September 1666. There remain groups of Dönmeh incidentally in Turkey who combine practices and beliefs from Islam and Judaism and were very active as “Young Turks” in bringing about the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Attaturk.

Other Jewish communities developed in Berat and Koritsa. The security offered by Albania led a British scholar Leo Elton, to suggest that Albania might be a better refuge than Israel and a national home free from persecution. As the second world war broke out, and Albania fell under Mussolini, the Italians set up a camp for Jews in Kavaje and a number were sent on to Italy and the gas chambers, but most Jews in Albania survived the holocaust because of the principle of Besa. There are numerous stories of personal sacrifice  because of Besa, and many families competed with one another to outdo the demands of hospitality. A good example is Nuro Hoxha. His son records, “My father sheltered four Jewish families. They all were his friends. I remember my father’s words to those he took in, ‘Now we are one family. You won’t suffer any evil. My sons and I will defend you against peril at the cost of our lives.'” The Kadiu family records, “My father said that the Germans would have to kill his family before he would let them kill our Jewish guests.” Impressive stuff.

“Albania was one of the only European countries that had more Jews at the end of the war than at the beginning of the war,” said Michael Berenbaum, former project director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

There is a good summary here:


To return to the words of Pope Francis,

“What the experience in Albania shows is that a peaceful and fruitful coexistence between persons and communities of believers of different religions is not only desirable, but possible and realistic.”

Here is a video of Francis arriving in Tirana. Given the fact that there is a serious death threat from ISIL, this is one brave independently minded man – arriving in an open jeep waving to a pretty impressive crowd. This is not something that would have been done by his two predecessors who are drawn here:

pope background



mother T, John 23rd and Lubavitcher rebbe


One of the most instantly recognisable figures from Albania’s recent Religious past is Mother Theresa. Here is a picture of her together with the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Pope John XXIII and for some unaccountable irony, Mr Murdoch and his cronies. It is a still from the film “How to be boss” which won an award for Best Animation in 2012!

A link to “How to be Boss” is here:




vodafone directors

Here is a link to our new video which is in part a real-time drawing of the above. This ia a picture of the current Vodafone Board of Directors and while I was posting my own story, I was also told about the ruthless activities of this company that have led directly to “Phones for you” going into administration. I know about the shabby way in which I was treated so my heart goes out to the 5500 employees of “Phones for you” whose jobs are now on the line.

If you can think back to the days when Ernie Wise made the first Vodafone call in the Early 90s, this was not what the company created.

'Morcambe and Wise.'


Here is the link to the youtube video:

Before “Harmony”

my name is zontul 2

This was the original pencil drawing (pegs at the top)

my name is zontul 1

This is the corresponding cell (pegs oddly at the bottom)

my name is zontul 3

this is from the final composite with the background and a foreground painting of a bowl of tulips

About two years ago, I was introduced to ToonBoom Animation and Storyboard and their integrated studio system called “Harmony” developed for films like “The Princess and the Frog”. It has taken a while to adjust and I am sorry not to be using the old-fashioned paint and trace, but Harmony has certainly speeded up our workflow!! Here are some older pictures though…..just for fun!

Nazi salute

Here are the headlines in one of the Greek newspapers today. A Greek police-chief has been caught in a photograph giving a Nazi salute-

Ναζιστής ο αστυνομικός διοικητής



The story, however, is not at all as simple as it first appears. The police chief (υπαστυνόμο) in question, Yiorgos Kagkalos,(Γ. Κάγκαλος) has been stationed for the last two years in a tourist hotspot, Hydra, and the photo was taken in 2011 in the Nuremburg transport museum. The Greek newspaper “Ethnos” added that the officer was wearing a black t-shirt with some sort of nazi-style insignia on it. I am not sure the photo is actually that clear but the newspaper writer is incensed and adds: “Shame on the police!”(ντροπή για το Σώμα της Αστυνομίας). According to “the Sunday Nation” («Εθνος της Κυριακής») Kagkalos is also a supporter of the defeated Military Junta that ruled Greece in the late 60s/early 70s and was involved in some sort of military salute to the dictator Papadopoulos when he was caught firing his pistol several times over the graveside in 1999. This led to a slap on the wrists by the police federation but no serious prosecution because of “a lack of evidence”. This man has form evidently and a position of authority. So much for the man. Had he been caught saluting by the electric train in Nuremburg, then he would have faced the more serious penalty of a prison sentence or a hefty fine because it remains a serious offence in Germany to give Nazi salutes. (There is a full summary in English here in Damian Mac Con Uladh’s excellent blog, A Gael in Greece:



International Arrests

In 2011, a Canadian tourist was arrested in Berlin for saluting outside the Reichstag. He was temporarily  imprisoned and his girlfriend had the memory card removed from her camera. While threatened with a 6 month period behind bars, he was cautioned, fined and warned not to do it again. At about the time Kagkalos was doing his salute in Nuremburg, a British tourist was being questioned by a testy car hire man and in response did a nazi salute which had him under arrest within 90 seconds. The police said very simply: “You can call him a bastard and give him the finger but you cannot do that.”

photo ethnos
photo ethnos

However, a recent case in Switzerland has questioned the automatic penalty for the Nazi salute- this is Switzerland, mind and not Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic where it remains an offence. After a demonstration this year on Ruetli Meadow that took place on the Swiss National Day, the Swiss Federal Tribunal ruled  that the salute is only a crime if it is part of a racist ideology and intended to influence a “third party”. It is not a crime if it expresses a person’s own conviction. This seems to me to be very difficult to determine. The law as it stands in Germany does not allow for irony, or any personal expression – if the arm is raised in a Nazi salute, it is an offence.

Film and Disney


The film industry has long had issues with the German/Austrian law. “The Sound of Music” had problems filming the Nazi troops in Saltzburg, and the musical itself was rarely seen until recently, yet no one could be in any doubt what message the film carries about Hitler and the flag with “the spider” on it. Things are changing and there was a production of “Cabaret” on in Berlin when I was there a few weeks ago. Disney produced a number of celebrated films during the war which made active use of irony. “Der Fuehrer’s face” (1943) involves a scene in which Donald Duck repeatedly salutes machinery and people, even the postbox. It is part of an insane dream that was the only Donald Duck film to receive an Oscar. We also used the salute twice in the revised “A Torture Cartoon”, once for the main character, the Turkey and once subliminally when the Archbishop was complaining “All Turks are Barbarians.”

christodoulos portrait3

Though he certainly said those words, I would not imagine he intended any salute and when I look at the footage this morning, it is not really very obvious. Under German law as it currently stands, however, it might still be an offence: it is the act itself that is offensive- not the intention.



As for Christodoulos himself, the man died in 2005 and was given an elaborate funeral in Athens. I began a film about some of the more absurd things he said, but in the end, left the film unfinished. Maybe somewhere in my head echoed the Greek equivalent of the Latin tag, “De mortuis nil nisi Bonum”. Who knows. Animation takes time and I ran out of time! Christodoulos rose to power because the Church was felt to be too distant from ordinary people but his meddling in politics once he was made Archbishop has led today to a triumphant reaction against the Church, particularly by the youth whom he claimed so enthusiastically to understand. So much so, it seems today that the only people who attend Church are members of Far Right activist groups. The picture of Orthodox clerics tinkering in politics and wearing expensive cufflinks can also be seen in modern Russia where the current Patriarch is building an elaborate Country pad for himself just outside the main city, in one of those enclosed bits, sealed with gun-touting sentries and high fences. It is a sorry statement about power. A few months ago, I watched his motorcade whizz past – a show of power or a display of brute force?




Football & Putin

Now, the reason for this post is the punishment of Girogos Katidis in Greece last year. I have absolutely no interest in football, though today I am supposed to watch a school match and in a few weeks’ time, I believe I am to be taken to my first stadium game. But I am deeply fascinated by crowd behaviour and by the whole idea of entertainment, whether in the theatre, on film or in Church. Gestures play as important part in that, as they do in politics. I have little doubt that the 20 year old footballer who played for AEK was “having fun”. I do not think he was intending a racist or fascist statement. He said at the time, “I am not a fascist and I would not have done it if I had known what it means.”  Here is a link to the actual moment…



His coach, Ewald Lienen, who was German, said that the boy had no political ideas and “I am 100% sure that Giorgos did not know what he did,” though the actual offence might lie in the plethora of tattoos. Despite that, Katidis received from the Greek football authorities a lifetime ban from the sport. It seemed draconian especially if the boy intended something ironic and while Newspapers say the salute lasted a long time, I see no evidence of that. This was a punishment that went far beyond the one year ban that had been imposed on Lazio striker Paolo Di Canio in 2005. And Di Canio readily admitted his Fascist link: 

“I made the Roman salute because it’s a salute from a comrade to his comrades and was meant for my people,” he said. Football has a long history of links with political slogans- most recently with the development of Путiн – хуйл (ukrainian) and Путин – хуйло (Russian), abbreviated or adapted as PTN, PNKH (Путин, пошел на хуй), something very rude about the current Russian President.

The threat of Golden Dawn (or as my friend has written earlier “Golden Yawn”)
Here is a picture showing the Church’s blessing of the leader of Golden Dawn
There is a Golden Dawn (Χρυσή Αυγή) flag I notice in this scene that we did of Athens. Of course the presence of the flag in the picture does not suggest I sympathise with the movement at all. Quite the contrary! The presence of the flag is entirely ironic- and that I suppose is part of the theme of this blog. When is an offensive symbol or a flag offensive and when is it humorous. You cannot stir up debate without reference to the issues.
syntagma picture
Greece faces a serious rise in right-wing political activism, mostly through the hideous “Golden Dawn” though there are other groups, some of which like “Laos” are allied to the Church, but the membership of these groups is pretty fluid and interchangeable. Golden Dawn claims it is simply espousing the principles of the pre-war leader Metaxas who thought that National unity could be best achieved by abolishing rival political parties. Well, there you are! It has many nasty elements to it and I can speak as one who was once targeted by their thugs. The leader of that party claimed that the salute he was giving is the “Roman Salute” and not the Nazi salute, though of course the German salute itself was borrowed from Mussolini and the “Fasces”, from which Fascism gets its name were carried in Ancient Rome before senior magistrates and political dignitaries.
Here is a link to a short film that sums up the Golden Dawn story fairly well.


Like many others, I wait to see what happens to the Police chief in Hydra. The photo does not seem, on the face of it, to be ironic, and nor were the shots over the grave of the Dictator. I do not think this man was being humorous and I do not think he is being misunderstood. It would surprise me, however, if he faced serious punishment for his actions. Let’s not draw too many generalisations here….There are policemen in Greece who act honourably. I know some and even taught some of them English (which was a thing laced with alot of humour and a very fond memory); I even knew the man who set up the system of Internal Affairs there, but the level of cronyism and corruption remains intense and I am afraid that, with the rise of the far Right and the strength it has gained in austerity, there will be a fairly vocal minority that will be saying, “Well, so what! What has he really done wrong?”

Sometimes, in pursuing silly ideas, people may forget their own past: I hope that, should he escape official censure, Kagkalos will now remember the starving families in Crete during the second world war and the holocaust victims of Thessaloniki and Corfu. These are not people who would have understood why a man tasked with the protection of his own people should stand beneath the Hoheitsadler and salute the man who had ordered their deaths.