Five things you may not know about Raymond Briggs

The Snowman author ‘tried to avoid children’ and described himself as a ‘creative sociopath’

Raymond Briggs in 2004
Raymond Briggs in 2004
(Image credit: Eamonn McCabe/Popperfoto via Getty Images)

The author-illustrator Raymond Briggs, best known for his 1978 work The Snowman, has died at the age of 88.

Confirming his death, his family said he “was much loved and will be deeply missed”. Hilary Delamere, his literary agent, said Briggs “liked to act the professional curmudgeon, but we will remember him for his stories of love and of loss”.

He created a “host of much-loved characters”, said The Guardian. The Snowman sold more than 5.5m copies around the world, and Briggs also created popular children’s books Father Christmas and Fungus The Bogeyman.

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Here are some lesser-known facts about the fondly remembered artist.

He served in the Royal Signals

Writing for The Times in 2004, Rod Liddle denounced Briggs’s nuclear war story When the Wind Blows as representing “the spirit and mental acuity of the pacifist” and Briggs was also denounced in the House of Lords as the dupe of a KGB-inspired plot.

However, he had served as a National Service conscript in the Royal Corps of Signals at Catterick between 1953 and 1955, where his artistic flair was put to work as a draughtsman, noted the Daily Mail. “Much to his disgust,” he was asked to draw electrical circuits, noted the BBC.

He wasn’t interested in children

Despite being famous for his books for children, Briggs said he was not a fan of kids. “I’ve never been particularly interested in children at all, as such,” he told The Guardian in 2016. He said he didn’t “particularly dislike them” but was not “a child lover”.

When he was considered for the role of children’s laureate he said he “wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole,” adding: “I don’t actually know anything much about children. I try to avoid them whenever possible.”

He was a ‘creative sociopath’

Briggs was often described as a “curmudgeon” but those closest to him have suggested this was partly an act. Briggs told The Guardian he preferred to regard himself as a “creative sociopath”. A definition of this, pinned up on his wall, stated that: “artistic people… can appear self-absorbed, impulsive, impatient and intolerant”. After reading the definition aloud to the interviewer, he added: “Brilliant. That’s me to a tee.”

His wife had schizophrenia

His wife, Jean Taprell Clark, had schizophrenia and although he was not the “marrying type” he said he decided to marry her “mainly because I thought it would help her mental state – give her a feeling of stability”. Briggs wrote that he found her schizophrenia “inspiring” because it meant “her feelings about nature and experiences of life were very intense”, noted The Times. She died in 1973, of “schizophrenia combined with leukaemia”, which he described as “a jolly one-man-band”. His second partner, Liz Benjamin, also died, in 2015.

Adult fans pretended to be children

Adult collectors wrote to him pretending to be children in the hope of getting their hands on memorabilia, Briggs told The Telegraph in 2004. However, he explained, he spotted the ruse a mile off. “They’re just middle-aged anoraks out for something to flog – ghastly, stupid individuals,” he said. “You know what a child would write, and how they’d write it. These ones… no, I won’t say what’s wrong with them because somebody might read this and adjust their forged letter appropriately.”

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Chas Newkey-Burden has been part of The Week Digital team for more than a decade and a journalist for 25 years, starting out on the irreverent football weekly 90 Minutes, before moving to lifestyle magazines Loaded and Attitude. He was a columnist for The Big Issue and landed a world exclusive with David Beckham that became the weekly magazine’s bestselling issue. He now writes regularly for The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, Metro, FourFourTwo and the i new site. He is also the author of a number of non-fiction books.