Authors dress up as their favourite characters

By Genevieve Hassan
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Image source, Cambridge Jones
Image caption,
Cambridge Jones dressed as fictional pilot and adventurer Biggles

Photographer Cambridge Jones has collaborated with The Story Museum for its latest exhibition which celebrates childhood story heroes and sees well-known authors dress up as their favourite literary characters.

When the The Story Museum approached Cambridge Jones to take pictures for its 26 Characters exhibition, the photographer wanted images that visitors would actually stop and look at.

"Just taking a bunch of authors isn't going to make people interested - and authors aren't necessarily outgoing people," he says. "So I thought what if we gave them permission to have fun by asking them who their favourite character from childhood was and let their imagination run free."

With the help of costumes from the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre, the resulting exhibit features 26 writers portraying a collection of rogues, rascals, witches and wild things.

Each one features in their own character-themed interactive space, accompanied with audio of the authors reading extracts from their books and interviewed about their chosen character.

Here is a selection of the photographs, together with Jones's own comments.

Philip Pullman as Long John Silver from Treasure Island

Image source, Cambridge Jones

One of the most exciting aspects of working on this project for The Story Museum has been the transformative nature of the process. Without fail, we take erudite and grown-up writers and turn them into young children again.

In Philip's case this was even more pronounced than normal. He had not been well and yet valiantly came to the shoot anyway. It was clearly an effort for him, even to get up the many flights of stairs. Yet after a little make-up and a costume, we had one of the most agile, loud and spirited Long John Silvers you are ever likely to meet.

Neil Gaiman as Badger from Wind in The Willows

Image source, Cambridge Jones

It never struck me as one of the best ideas - Neil Gaiman as Badger. A medieval swashbuckling hero maybe, or as a dark overlord from another time zone, perhaps. Or even the lead singer in a very cool band....but Badger from Wind In The Willows?!

And then an odd thing happened: he just started to become Badger - literally in front of my eyes. With wonderfully simple make-up and exquisite robes, he started to move like Badger, he started to smile like Badger, he even started to talk as I imagine Badger talks. When we finally went on set and gave him his chair and book, he just WAS Badger.

Francesca Simon and Stephen Butler as The Queen of Hearts and The Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland

Image source, Cambridge Jones

I drove Francesca and Stephen from London to Oxford for the shoot, which was a good thing because by the time we got there, there wasn't much we didn't know about each other and even less we were not prepared to do in front of each other - which, when you are planning to shoot The Queen of Hearts and The Mad Hatter, is incredibly helpful.

They were impeccable, inspired, fun, spontaneous and, well, just great. Stephen was just about to hand in his latest book to his publisher and had been on stage until late the night before, and Francesca - well, I was just so struck by her beauty when she lifted her hair and put on the robes... stunning.

Anthony Horowitz as Jekyll and Hyde

Image source, Cambridge Jones

There are people who instinctively value and appreciate photography and there are those that regard it as a necessary evil. I would hazard a guess that Anthony is in the latter camp. If this is true, then we compounded the ordeal by providing a costume that was the wrong size.

Somehow, with creative zeal and no small effort on Anthony's part, we managed, nevertheless, to produce one of my favourite shoots in the series. I drove Anthony to the station, and he seemed a touch bemused that someone could earn a living from photography, but all that melted into insignificance once we realised we were both learning Greek and had a profound love of all things Hellas!

Benjamin Zephaniah as Anansi the spider

Image source, Cambridge Jones

I have worked with Benjamin several times in my career. Once when I was a student and we wanted him on the cover of our student magazine Isis (he was very cool and living with his dub band in Handsworth) with all the requisite Rasta accoutrements. Then again in East London when he was suffering greatly from racist attacks and couldn't even reveal his address to anyone for fear of such an attack.

I arrived at the door of his university office and see Professor Benjamin Zephaniah written in smart letters on the door. "You've come up in the world" I said teasingly, but was greeted with a slightly worried: "Have I… I hope not". This is a man who was put amongst us to enlighten and help others - not to rise above them. My flattery was wasted if not confusing. And what a spider he makes!

Malorie Blackman as the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz

Image source, Cambridge Jones

One of the many fascinating components of this lovely job has been the response of my own children to the different authors I intermittently disappear off to create portraits with.

Sometimes they appear unmoved by some of the greatest names in modern literature. Sometimes they work out days later that it was the author of one of their favourite books ("Daddy you could have told me you were photographing them!"). And sometimes it's Malorie Blackman ("OH MY GOD - YOU ARE PHOTOGRAPHING MALORIE BLACKMAN - CAN I COME!"). They could not - which is a shame because we had such fun!

Michael Morpurgo as Magwitch from Great Expectations

Image source, Cambridge Jones

Like several of our (male) authors, Michael was not an avid reader when young. He was explaining to me he found books quite hard work to get through and they lacked the appeal of playing in the outdoors with other kids.

This seems interesting to me on two levels: firstly, it is of course no accident that The Story Museum has encased its mission in stories rather than books, taking the story out of the realm of "classroom" and "homework" and putting it firmly in the realm of imagination and fun.

Secondly that one of the most successful story tellers of our age is as empowered and fuelled by his imagination from childhood playing as he is from a scholastic digestion of letters and punctuation.

Terry Jones as Rupert the Bear

Image source, Cambridge Jones

Terry has a house near where I grew up in Wales, but he also lives in a secret location in London town which is both central and in the countryside simultaneously. I'd been there before but forgotten how perfect it would be for Rupert the Bear - a character Terry loves deeply and always has.

We started with a studio set-up and it quickly became clear that Terry had somehow imbibed the movement of Rupert the Bear perfectly. He could move and take up stances exactly as Rupert does in all those annuals of yesteryear. So we quickly abandoned the studio and went out into the London countryside to capture Rupert behind trees, bouncing through the grass and generally just Ruperting about.

Terry Pratchett as Just William

Image source, Cambridge Jones

Here's the thing: Terry is not a writer - he doesn't write anymore. His condition means he effectively speaks the word into text with [his assistant] Rob's help. In a funny way, I think that has freed his imagination even more and all around him are details and objects from other worlds - maps of unknown kingdoms or books that light up.

Terry was on great form that day and had vivid memories of childhood and the teacher who said he would never become anything….! We then all went to the local pub for a fine lunch and chat. Fond memories of fond memories.

Holly Smale as the White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia

Image source, Cambridge Jones

It was Holly's birthday when we met and she had very kindly agreed to do the shoot before going on to celebrate later in the day.

That is all I can tell you! She cast a spell on me from the moment that she put on her White Queen costume that left me powerless and speechless, such was her power and beauty. It's a miracle we got any photos out of the session at all. I was truly mesmerised.

26 Characters runs at The Story Museum in Oxford until 2 November. BBC Radio 4's Open Book visits the exhibition on Sunday 29 June at 16:00 BST.

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