A Dream Come True

Above: Set of Green’s wings from my collection of toy theatre ephemera

When I was a child, I was given a stack of yellowing toy theatre sheets by a friend of my parents, the actor and playwright Bill Meilen. They were mostly scenery, consisting of backdrops, wings and ground-rows. I had no toy theatre stage, and so I made one. (Probably out of a used cereal pack!) Bill encouraged me to cut the sheets, to colour them and use them, and to my everlasting regret as an adult, I did. I wish I wish I wish that I had not, and had stored them away somewhere safe. Instead, I cut and played with them, and there must have been some pretty potent magic in the fragile sheets, because here I am, over fifty years later, still in thrall to the wonders of the toy theatre.

Toy theatre in my studio, made from wooden building-blocks

The gift of Juvenile Drama scenery sheets from Bill, cut and pasted and gracing a toy stage of my own making, vanished, together with the other toys of my childhood, when my parents moved house. They left the rented Edwardian terraced property I’d grown up in, and moved to a small, modern flat. I was away at school in London at the time, and my bedroom in the old house, airy and packed with so many things I treasured, was ‘downsized’ to fit into the box-room that would thereafter be my bedroom in the family home. The theatre and its scenery vanished, alongside much else that I would have wished to keep. They were good parents in so many ways, but they weren’t sentimental about such things.

Yesterday, I made an agreement with Pollock’s Toy Theatre shop in London, to design the next title in their series of model theatres by contemporary artists. I’ll produce Hansel & Gretel to join the two ahead of me, The Snow Queen and the recent Beauty and the Beast. In 2016, not only will I be producing my first picture-book, thanks to Simon Lewin and his Random Spectacular imprint, but I’ll also be producing a model theatre for the shop bearing the name of the man who has been a beacon of creativity for me throughout my life, Benjamin Pollock. More here about this exiting project before too long.

43 thoughts on “A Dream Come True

  1. I did write a comment when you first posted this, but it disappeared into the ether, and now this is the previous post; anyway, just to say this is wonderful news, I am so happy for you, it’s as though the fairy godmother has finally granted your wish, fantastic! XxL

  2. Barely back from three weeks in South America and already so excited about this–perfect for you! Your tree of art is branching in all sorts of interesting, appropriate-to-you ways. And perhaps we all need to thank your childhood self for cutting and coloring and your parents for tossing… because if those losses (well, the theatre was gain for your child-self) had not planted irresistible longing in you, perhaps you would not have been so devoted to such projects, wonderful for us all.

    • I need news from you. We are both dancing so fast to our own tunes, that we lose track of what the other is doing. That said, I carry a fair-sized chunk of Marly wherever I go, and so you are never far from my thoughts.

      Yes, my parents probably served my art rather well with their tossings out! All these yearnings for what was lost, have proved fruitful.

      The Pollock’s model theatre is going to be quite small, and in kit form, and so it may be one that can sit happily on a little shelf in Cooperstown!

      MT has pounced on all the MoB drawings, and they are at the framers being readied for the MTG Christmas exhibition. Hey ho! I’m keeping the cover!!!!

      • Oh! So exciting. The Maze of Blood drawings will make a grand Martin Tinney wall for the Christmas show. And yes, keep that cover–it looks good where it is.

        I will definitely need to have a toy theatre kit. (Still want a big one, of course. Greed.)

        Loss in childhood is so important to us. Early wounds, deepening losses. It’s such a truth in the arts.

        Yes, I thought of you–how much you would have liked many of the things I saw in Peru and Chile, particularly. Some of them were very far from beautiful, but so much was meaningful, even when sad. Shall write a proper letter soon, once I catch up here.

  3. When I was 11 years old we moved house – from a lovely Victorian terrace onto a new bleak housing estate. I’m 53 years old and I still have dreams about my toys that were left behind.

  4. Dearest Chum, only just read your ‘latest’ and am sitting here with ‘happy tears’ in my eyes. I am SO happy for you and can’t wait to tell my lads about it.
    I had a ‘rush of memory’ of your Newport home, being welcomed there and so much else. Oh ‘bravo, bravo’ and rounds of applause.
    A totally ‘over whelmed’
    Bern xxx

  5. Heavens above, this is an exciting project! When I lived in London I was a regular visitor to Pollocks and would take any friends visiting me from elsewhere to see the delights. This whole thing of miniature/other worlds is so ‘feel good’ (and yet vaguely spooky too) isn’t it? And all the lovely bits of childhood can come back in a split second with these ephemera…..not a good word, perhaps, because they can be so much more. As always I’m loving looking at your work and ideas, dear Clive 🙂 xx

    • Thank you, Shellie. I can’t tell you how much the notion of this pleases me, and I smile at the thought of it. I used to haunt Pollock’s when I was at school in London. More museum than shop. it was in a wonderful old building, with rickety stairs and many nooks and crannies. Paradise for a boy with a love of toy theatre.

      • My father took me to see it first when I was about 6 years old….as soon as I was allowed to take the train/bus on my own (about 14) I used to sneak there on my own on Saturdays! There were little bits and bobs for sale that my pocket money could manage – little tin whistles and those bobbly wooden animals with elastic in the base. Wish I’d kept them! Thank you for a trip back in time 🙂

  6. Clive, I share your passion and fascination with toy theatres, and I am so happy to read your posts and see your works. I admire – envy – your drawing and painting style. Each time I see something new I am drawn inward to experience the delicate touch of hand and the inventiveness in design. I am a big fan of your work. Congratulations on your association with the Benj. Pollock projects. I look forward to the inevitable happy outcome. Best regards, Charles

    • That’s generous praise, Charles, and I thank you warmly for it. There is a sense in this commission of completing a circle begun long ago,. I hurtle back through the years and I am a boy again, and anything is possible!

  7. I understand your regret in coloring them in and being unable to preserve such delights . But your bonding with such playthings by adding color and sweetness clearly has inspired you to this day. They are in fact well preserved and you have shared the pleasure they have given you to us all. Brittle ephemera has nothing on you my friend .

    • I completely agree. It was a great thing that you coloured them in. Your little boy self needed to be nurtured to make the man you are today. I’m watching that kind of magic happen in my own home right now, as my two boys do things that will influence their creative lives into the future. Good luck with the exciting project!

  8. I’m joining Phil in an excited jig! Benjamin Pollock’s and Clive Hicks-Jenkins in the same sentence is music to my ears!!

    Like many other visitors to the Artlog, I have found your genuine passion for the art of the toy theatre deeply inspiring, so I am relishing the opportunity of watching this project unfold. I think Father Christmas must be listening to all of us boys and girls this year. (-:

  9. Wow, I only just discovered Pollocks a few weeks back and immediately had to buy some things! My studio now has a few of their theatres in, can’t wait for yours to arrive! Looking forward to seeing your progress.

  10. Loved this, Clive. I envy you, being able, at long last, to fulfill your childhood dreams.

    We lived half the year in my grandmother’s huge house at San Sebastián in the North of Spain, and the other half of the year in Madrid in my parent’s flat. (My sister and I did not go to school. We were home tutored and just had to pass our offical exams in the spring which made living like that possible.)

    Every year, when we arrived at my Granny’s, we went straight to our toy room. During the long winter my grandmother had mended and painted our old toys, and given them away to an orphanage. She used to look at our disappointed faces, and say “but they were old toys”, not understanding that their being old made them more lovable and missable. We cried and we cried, while she called us selfish. In the end she promised not to do it again, and to let us choose what to give away to the poor. (We always wanted to part with the new, not with the old toys!) But the following year she would do the same,
    until my father died and she had to take over, and come to Madrid with us. From then on she did not throw or make us give away anythig we were attached to any more.

    So, it was not a question of space, but of understanding. Adults often take children’s feelings and attachements in their stride, as if they did not matter.

  11. Congratulations!!!
    Now you’ve inspired me to take out the beautiful toy theater you gave to our family and prepare it for the Hansel and Gretel production!!
    I have even invented a lighting rig to fit with it. While I wait for H&G, perhaps I’ll work with “The Tinderbox” set I have.

  12. I vaguely recall leaving a comment last year asking if you had plans to produce a Hansel and Gretel toy theatre…so I’m very pleased that it is actually happening!

    I also wanted to let you know that production has started again on your zombie gingerbread men models.

    I was not entirely happy with the gingerbready texture I’d given them so put them to one side whilst I had a ponder but then got waylaid by other things, but think I’ve now solved the problem. I’m not sure whether I will have time to fully document the remainder of the work on them, but I will definitely take a few snaps as I go, enough for a short blog entry hopefully.

    • I’m so pleased to hear that you’ve decided to take the little fellows out again. I’m meeting Simon on Friday to hand over the dummy copy, at which time we’ll discuss the schedule for this project. It will be wonderful to have the zombie models to help promote the book. This is GREAT!

  13. Hurray, hurrah! Now you can excite, enthuse, and inspire further generations as well as having fun yourself. Not to mention giving us enjoyment along the way.

    • Clive, I just went to Pollack’s Toy Store website to check them out. This is weird….because I had a dream last week of being in a store with my son (who is now a man of 22!!!) as when he was a little boy, and we were playing with paper toys that folded and unfolded!
      We –he and I, were in that store.
      I’ve never been there…never been to London at all…..
      Seeing the website–I know a store like this would drive me mad. With insane pleasure –I LOVE paper things, toys like this! I have never seen such a store before–like Willy Wonka for a sugar-holick…

      I’m having a weird-out.

  14. What a wonderful project. Sharing more theatre magic amongst us and encouraging other budding young artists of the future … I’m really looking forward to watching your progress on this .

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