Raymond Briggs, who has died at the age of 88, gave children his 'Father Christmas' in 1973, which featured a solitary old curmudgeon toiling through bad weather on his sleigh in oilskins, complaining all the way. Raymond commented : “Bloody awful job. He’s going to be a bit grumpy".
Even Raymond's sweetest, most playful works are full of intimations of mortality : 'The Snowman' ends up as a pool of water with a scarf floating on top of it and now, over the 256 pages of his last book, he contemplated old age and death and didn't like them much.
His collection of short pieces, entitled 'Time for Lights Out', which he worked on for thirteen years, is illustrated with his pencil drawings and is a collection of short pieces, some funny, some melancholy, some remembering his wife who died young, others about the joy of grandchildren and of walking the dog.
Most of the collection centred on his home in Sussex which featured in his poem :
Looking round this house,
“There must have been
Snowman this and snowman that,
He also returned to his childhood during the Second World War; to his evacuation to the countryside, and to his parents, previously immortalised in the 1998 graphic memoir 'Ethel and Ernest'.
Fifteen years ago, when he was 73, he told 'The Telegraph' that 'Time for Lights Out' would “definitely be my last” book and was “bound to have a sad ending”. When he was 81 he showed 'The Independent' one entry from the book – a list of illustrators’ names, with the dates of their deaths beside them, and another list noting the health of living illustrators and said he : "Didn’t like being taken by surprise by people telling me one of them’s died.”
Dan Franklin, who acquired the book for Jonathan Cape, said that : “In some ways, all of Raymond’s books have been about death. Here he confronts it head-on in a book that is honest and truthful and very touching. 'Ethel & Ernest', about his parents, was the very first book on the Cape graphic novel list. It’s wonderful to be publishing him again”.