Bertt deBaldock launches Covid-era second volume of Good Rabbits Gone tributes in aid of St Leonard’s Hospice

The artist behind the mask: Terry Brett in his nom d’art guise as The Scribbler, memorial tribute cartoonist Bertt deBaldock

YORK cartoonist Bertt deBaldock’s new volume of rabbit valedictories to celebrities and remarkable individuals covers February 2020 to July 2021.

“That happens to be the period of the start and possible end of the pandemic,” says Terry Brett, the Pyramid Gallery owner and artist behind “The Scribbler” Bertt’s memorial works.

“Hence Good Rabbits Gone 2 has a subtitle, The Covid Years, and the book looks like a strange diary of the pandemic,” he reflects ahead of Saturday’s launch.

The 92 pages contain tributes to luminaries such as Terry Jones of Monty Python, rock’n’roll pioneer Little Richard, World Cup winners Nobby Stiles and Diego Maradona, television and radio personality Tim Brooke-Taylor, forces sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn and Bond Girls Honor Blackman and Dame Diana Rigg, alongside the most venerable Bond, Sir Sean Connery.

“But also there’s a visual list of several pandemic crises such as ‘lockdown’, ‘beer going down the drain’ and the ‘demise of the office’, all portrayed as rabbits,” says Terry.

Bertt deBaldock’s first Good Rabbits Gone tribute: David Bowie with his Aladdin Sane sash

First prompted by the exit stage left of David Bowie on January 10 2016 – the day the music died in a year when it died again and again and again [Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael on Christmas Day] – Terry set about drawing cartoons “in a rush” at the time of the “unique individual’s” passing and publishing them on Twitter and Facebook at #GoodRabbitsGone.

He then assembled 64 celebrities, accompanied by his own tributes or memories, in Good Rabbits Gone, Volume One In A Million, published in November 2020 in a Covid Lockdown project where he gave away 200 limited-edition copies and raised £1,700 for St Leonard’s Hospice from donations.

This Saturday, Good Rabbits Gone 2, Volume Two To Infinity will be launched at Pyramid Gallery, in Stonegate, between 11am and 3pm, when Bertt deBaldock will be on hand to sign copies.

Funded by the gallery, the new book again will be given away, and once more voluntary donations to the charity are invited. “From my experience with the first volume, people enjoy being given the book,” says Terry. “Most of those people have then offered a donation, at the gallery or via justgiving.com/fundraising/Terry-Brett6.”

Pyramid Gallery owner and curator Terry Brett with his second volume of Good Rabbit Gone valedictories

Here, Terry answers CharlesHutchPress’s questions on rabbits, death notices, the balance between imagery and wording, the impact of Covid on Good Rabbits Gone and the choice of charity for donations.

For those new to Good Rabbits, why did you choose rabbits as the motif for your valedictory tributes, Terry?

“When my daughters were ten and seven, they had a pet rabbit, which I looked after. We were making a family wall-hanging using stencils. This rabbit appeared as I was cutting a shape in card using scissors. I’ve now been drawing it on Christmas cards for 26 years.

“When David Bowie died, I felt a great sadness. It just seemed natural to me to draw a rabbit for him. Then, three weeks later Terry Wogan. Gradually I started to add facial features to the drawings. After four years, I had 64 drawings and the pandemic lockdown gave me some time to put them in a book.

“It might seem weird to be creating memorials to people by representing them as a rabbit, but I don’t see the need to question it too much. I find the act of drawing helps relieve the sense of loss and my own anxiety about mortality. The process of reading about the individual’s life and trying to capture a tiny segment of their character in a simple drawing is a little bit cathartic. 

“The rabbit body and ears create a limitation in the final drawing, preventing each portrait from being too complicated or serious. All the individuals become united by the addition of rabbit ears!”

Rock’n’roll over and out: Bertt deBaldock’s farewell to Little Richard

Or, in a nutshell…?

“There’s a long-held belief in the Bertt/Brett household that if you have lived a good life, well, let’s say a mostly good life, i.e. if you have been nice or have achieved something for the benefit of others, then when you die you will become a rabbit.”

How do the newly RIP VIPs quality for a Bertt deBaldock tribute? Has that changed at all for Volume Two?

“Well, most names who hit the headlines qualify on the basis that they have done something amazing in their life. I can’t really tell whether or not they have actually been a good human being, though with many people there’s so much written about them, that there’s no closet in which to hide the skeletons. 

“I was disappointed not to be able include Motown producer Phil Spector, ruled out on the basis that he was found guilty of second-degree murder. There are many others that I could have included, lots of actors and actresses, but I like to find some other attribute in their make-up that goes beyond acting.

Honor Blackman: Wartime despatch rider, judo black belt and Bond Girl

“Honor Blackman, for instance, was a Second World War despatch rider and a judo blackbelt before she became an actress. Reading about iconic individuals fascinates me.”

Do you consider the wording to be as important as the imagery, with much greater scope than on a gravestone?

“I want to make the page entertaining or give the impression that the individual was a person of substance. Some people’s faces, or eccentric dress, say most of what needs to be said, but the addition of a quotation can put across something of great importance to that individual.

“For Albert Roux, I merely added his quote ‘Don’t let love interfere with your appetite’, which says all you need to know about a man who holds food up above all other human needs.

“But I enjoyed adding a bit of humour to that with the dates of his birth and death: Hors D’oeuvres 8 Octobre 1935, Digestif 4 Janvier 2021. As well as being amusing, it tells the reader that he was both a chef and French. 

Bertt deBaldock’s food for thought on Albert Roux OBE

“Sometimes, I like to add an anecdote about myself or my family. Some people have said that these are their favourite pages! For the astronaut Michael Collins, I say only a little about him as Apollo Command Module pilot and the moonwalk by Neil Armstrong, but a lot about me delivering newspapers in the rain, while they were at the crux of their mission. It brings things down to earth a little.”

This set of tributes covers the Covid period: how much does that cast a shadow over the memorials,  even prompting the subtitle and your reflection that it “looks like a strange diary of the pandemic”?

“The whole world was in a state of panicked confusion. Some of these great people died of Covid.  I was really shocked that Tim Brooke-Taylor was an early victim. I felt that if he can’t be saved, then we are all very vulnerable.

“The book would have been incomplete without some acknowledgement of the pandemic, and I wanted to record some poignant moments, such as the Thursday night applause we gave to the NHS and essential workers.

“I drew the hands clapping in rainbow colours, with the hands gradually becoming rabbits. This is a subtle dig at the Government. If they think that saying thank-you to NHS is enough, then they don’t understand what the public is feeling about the years of under-funding the NHS.

“Sometimes, I like to add an anecdote about myself or my family. Some people have said that these are their favourite pages!” says Terry Brett, with reference to his Michael Collins memorial

“If all we can do is applaud the NHS for the sacrifices made, then the NHS itself will become a [Bertt] rabbit. Other European nations were better prepared for the crisis than the UK, more ventilators, more nurses and better provision of PPE. It was right to clap for the NHS but they need more funds and better planning. 

“I didn’t set out to make points about the politics, but it just couldn’t be ignored. There was also a lot of humour put out on social media about Covid. I think it helps us all get through.”

How have you responded to Covid in the broader subject matter for (with reference to ‘Lockdown’, ‘Beer Going Down The Drain’, ‘Freedom – Italy’ and ‘The Demise Of The Office’)?

“The Demise Of The Office was added in right at the end. It was difficult to find a tag that would be amusing. It’s just a boring subject that I needed to find some humour in.

“I was looking for something to say about the Minke whale that died after swimming up the Thames, which was too upsetting to turn into humour. Once I decided to put these two stories together, it became very poignant. The empty streets tempted the Minke Whale to move in! It’s one of my favourite pages.

Freedom – Italy, March 2020, by Bertt deBaldock

“To keep it light-hearted, I also gave an office block some rabbit ears, as if the building itself has died. The page about ‘Beer’ was fun, though the knowledge that 50 million pints went down the drains was a catastrophe that could have been avoided.”

Usually, your tributes raise a nostalgic smile, but do Covid-related tributes have to be more serious?

“There are only four people featured here that I know for sure died from Covid – Dr  Li Wenliang, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Alexander Thynn and Captain Tom Moore – but I suspect that many others have had Covid but it’s just not been mentioned to the press as a cause of death. 

“Four Covid cases out of a total 72 people is probably about a third of the proportion of Covid deaths to non-Covid deaths for the whole population, so we should have expected the number in this book to be about 12. 

“I had considered including the first nurse and the first bus driver etc who died, but I don’t feel it would be appropriate to make entertainment out of such tragedy. Which makes me question why it seems appropriate to pay tribute in a humorous manner to celebrities. I do wonder if it is appropriate and whether or not they would choose to be included or not, but I can only guess at what their response might be.

The fundraising Yorkshireman, Captain Sir Tom Moore, who walked and walked and walked towards his 100th birthday in aid of the NHS

“So, in answer to this question, I think the cause of death makes no difference as to the way I would represent the individual, except perhaps in the case of Dr Li Wenliang, whose demise was especially sad, unjust for political reasons, premature and included here to make a point about the gross ineptitude of the authorities and leaders in China, who could have mitigated the effects of the virus by making different decisions.

“In a broader sense, I hope that most of the individuals here, if they could make a comment, would like what I have done or at least find it mildly amusing, though some of the scribbled portraits might not really do the person justice!

“I would love to know what the Queen would think of my tribute to Prince Philip, but I’m not expecting a knighthood for it. We are very fortunate to live in a culture that allows freedom of expression without fear for our lives!”

Why will donations be going to St Leonard’s Hospice from the charity launch night?

“My father died of prostate cancer at the too early age of 76. Partly because he wasn’t diagnosed. I asked him if was angry about the disease and he told me to go and get a test. I felt sorry for him because he was in denial about his predicament.

Bertt deBaldock’s cartoon drawing to mark the passing of Prince Philip. “I would love to know what the Queen would think of my tribute, but I’m not expecting a knighthood for it,” says Bertt

“He simply carried on life as if there was nothing to concern himself about, but when the time came, he booked himself into a hospice and died the next day. I think the existence of the hospice allowed him to take control and make that decision. You cannot just book yourself into a hospital and who would want to?

“The hospice doctor simply chatted to him and asked him what he wanted, to which he answered, ‘ice cream’. He was dead two hours later. I’m proud of him for that. And I want to tell everyone that dying can be dignified and that the hospice movement do this very well.

“I have supported St Leonard’s Hospice ever since that day. The hospice is largely funded by donations from individuals, as well as government grants. I feel the hospice needs to have independence.”

Bertt deBaldock/Terry Brett launches Good Rabbits Gone 2 at Pyramid Gallery, Stonegate, York, on Saturday (16/10/2021) with a book-signing session and charity fundraiser for St Leonard’s Hospice from 11am to 3pm.

Vaccine Day, by Bertt deBaldock

Honor Blackman, Bond Girl, Avengers star… and York Theatre Royal repertory player

Honor Blackman as Amanda Wingfield with Helen Grace as disabled daughter Laura in The Glass Menagerie at York Theatre Royal in November 1999

HOW did Honor Blackman come to star in a repertory play at York Theatre Royal in 1999?

As news broke on Sunday of her peaceful passing at 94, thoughts turned back to when The Avengers’ Cathy Gale and Pussy Galore, the “Bond girl” – a term she never liked – played American southern belle Amanda Wingfield in Tennessee Williams’s Depression-era play The Glass Menagerie.

Seventy-four at the time, it was a role the London-born actress had long craved, as Damian Cruden, the artistic director in his second year of cutting a swathe through the Theatre Royal, discovered.

“It all came about because I knew Honor’s agent,” Damian recalled this week. “We had a conversation about the agent’s clients. Various names came up, one of them, Honor Blackman.

“I’d been thinking about doing The Glass Menagerie, and so I said, ‘What about Honor playing Amanda? Would she be interested?’.”

The answer was affirmative, whereupon arrangements were made for Damian to meet Miss Blackman at her London abode. “I can remember going to see Honor at some place in Mayfair, and her instructions were very particular.

“She said, ‘you’ll need to ring the bell, I’ll buzz you in. Then, when you get in the lift, you’ll arrive at what it says is the top floor. The doors will open…but don’t get out. They’ll close again and the lift will bring you up to my flat’.”

What happened? “Exactly that! When the doors opened, I found I was inside her flat! Getting there was just like something out of a Bond movie!” Damian said. “It was a beautiful apartment too.”

Before rehearsals started in the Theatre Royal’s old Walmgate rehearsal rooms – now home to Brew York ­– Damian had another memorable Honor experience. “I went to see her in her one-woman show, Dishonourable Ladies, in Wales on the Sunday night before we were due to begin, and the deal was I would drive her to York…as it turned out, in her sports car, me driving, while she enjoyed a bottle of champagne! Glorious!”

Damian has fond memories of Miss Blackman’s time in York in autumn 1999. “She was enormously gracious and generous. She had friends coming to her dressing room each night, and liked to have a bottle of champagne in the fridge, but that dressing room didn’t have a fridge until she bought one for it and then gifted it to the theatre. It’s still there in dressing room one, as far as I know!”

As was his custom in his 22 years as artistic director, Damian liked to host meals for his casts at his home. “I cooked a meal on a couple of evenings when The Glass Menagerie cast came round,” he said. “Honor was very straightforward. There were no airs and graces to her.

Damian Cruden: York Theatre Royal artistic director drove Honor Blackman to York in her sports car; Honor sipping champagne by his side

“I can recall her sitting by the window with my son Felix, who was only three at the time. “My neighbour was standing watching, and I remember him saying, ‘Was that Pussy Galore in your window?’. ‘Yes’, I said. ‘My god, a Bond girl next door,’ he said.”

Damian spoke highly of Miss Blackman’s working relationship with The Glass Menagerie company. “She was great fun and very supportive of young actors, and there were a lot of young cast members in that company,” he said.

“Her performance was great too. Very intelligent, sensitive, mature. There was none of that ‘being starry’ thing about her. She wasn’t aloof. Instead, she enjoyed being part of a group. That was important to her.”

Honor Blackman would return to the York stage in February 2005 in the surprise guest role in The Play What I Wrote, The Right Size comic duo Sean Foley and Hamish McColl’s celebration of Morecambe and Wise. The Press review recorded how Honor’s role was “to be subjected glamorously and good humouredly to humiliation and mockery” at the hands of both the script and comic interjections in the playful Morecambe tradition. She handled it all with elan, of course.

Miss Blackman will forever be remembered for Pussy Galore, from the 1964 James Bond film, Goldfinger. “It is extraordinary. The damned film goes on marching, it doesn’t go out of fashion,” she told the Northern Echo in June 2004, going on to distance her role from the Bond girl stereotype.

“I hate being a Bond girl, because Pussy Galore was a character you would like to play in anything. She was not one of those who fall on their backs straight-away.

“But it was just a part I played, and that is all it was, and it queers your pitch in lots of ways, because people think of you as some sort of femme fatale; they don’t see you as a Shakespearean actress.”

Before Pussy Galore, there was Cathy Gale in The Avengers, and there was more of her in Cathy than in many of her other roles, she suggested.

“When we started, I was the first woman who had ever dared to be equal to a man, intellectually and physically, and the guys who wrote the script were used to writing about women waiting by the kitchen sink or wicked women in black satin,” she said.

“I couldn’t help but be aware of the impact it was having from the fan mail, because women loved it – at last a woman was standing there doing it all herself ­– and men loved it from quite a different point of view.”

Raise a glass to those memories, whether of Cathy Gale, Pussy Galore or cut-glass Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie in York in 1999.

Copyright of The Press, York

WHAT DID THE PRESS, YORK REVIEW SAY OF HONOR BLACKMAN’S PERFORMANCE IN 1999?

The Glass Menagerie, York Theatre Royal, until December 4

IN the long, distinguished, purring career of Honor Blackman, Amanda Wingfield was a role she still craved. Likewise, Roger Roger star Helen Grace believed The Glass Menagerie to be the best Tennessee Williams play and she “just can’t tell you” how much she desired to be cast as Amanda’s disabled daughter, Laura.

The Glass Menagerie, a memory play as subtle as silk, absorbing as cotton wool, unexpected as a midnight phonecall, has a habit of hooking you like that, such is its sentimental enchantment: an enchantment that masks a sting as potent as a drowsy wasp in autumn. Williams called it truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.

The Glass Menagerie, inspired by Williams’ own circumstances, is set in the Depression era St Louis of the 1930s, where former southern belle Amanda is the domineering matriarch, smothering as much as mothering her son Tom (Keith Merrill) and Laura.

Deserted 15 years earlier by her telephone-salesman husband, she clamps her children in the past with her suffocating memories, her fantasies, her anachronistic belief in the tradition of the gentleman caller (Douglas Cockle) and her impossibly romantic hopes of perfect marriages.

Her husband had sought his escape, so too her children – they are in their 20s – but with very different routes in mind. Tom, the narrator and effectively the mouthpiece for Williams himself, is the dreamer, the poet who goes to the movies and drinks “for adventure” and plans a Merchant Marine passage out of working at the dead-end shoe warehouse. Shy Laura, more emotionally crippled than physically disabled (she has a limp), seeks an inward path to safe, fairytale isolation, locking herself away at home with her glass menagerie to avoid the judgement of others.

Theirs is a claustrophobic, unreal world out of step with the times, a contrast emphasised in the superb jagged score of cellist Christopher Madin who juxtaposes the neon brightness of the jazz age with the dimly-lit mournful cello he plays to the side of Liam Doona’s revolving, spinning stage.

Doona’s design adds to the all pervasive presence of Amanda Wingfield, with its see-through walls of muslin drapes allowing you to see into the next room, enhancing the sense of there being no escape from her stifling ways.

Where Sonia Fraser’s Cherry Orchard dragged last month, when there should have been the sense of the sands of time tumbling ever faster, Damian Cruden’s beautifully weighted production captures slow movement, emphasising each nuance of Williams’s subtly shifting writing. He is blessed too with superlative performances: Honor Blackman, a picture of grand illusion; Helen Grace, frail, pale and shyly expressive; Keith Merrill suitably poetic yet pent-up; Douglas Cockle, charming and too worldly for their world.

The finest cut glass indeed.

Charles Hutchinson, November 16 1999

Copyright of The Press, York