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From bus tours to bacteria – a brief cultural guide to Brian Blessed

9 February 2019

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories

The Museum of London is kicking off the year with a roar. Billed as ‘an immersive tour through London’s history, narrated by the animals who once lived here,’ the institution’s forthcoming ‘Beasts of London’ display will feature videos and interactive exhibits employing the voiceover skills of luminaries including Stephen Mangan, Joe Pasquale and Pam Ferris, respectively playing Henry VIII’s horse, a dormouse and a Roman-era eagle.

Perhaps the most attention grabbing – and certainly the loudest – guest star will be Brian Blessed, the booming scene-stealer of everything from Flash Gordon and Blackadder to, erm, Peppa Pig. In an inspired piece of casting, the man with the most thunderous voice in showbiz will play the part of the bacteria that spread the Black Death through the medieval city’s streets.

This isn’t the first time Blessed has lent his incomparable noise to the museum world. In 2013, he voiced a short animated film to tie in with ‘High Spirits’, an exhibition of the art of Thomas Rowlandson organised by the Royal Collection and first presented at the Queen’s Gallery, Edinburgh. The same year, he also performed the voiceover for an open-top bus tour of heritage sites in the Medway area, a commission that did not go down well with all involved. ‘No one’s going to come to Medway to hear Brian Blessed’s voice,’ complained one local Labour councillor.

Still, it could have been worse. In 2015, Blessed himself told the Telegraph that he had inadvertently thrown away a fortune. The actor claimed that in 1950, when he was 12, he had met Pablo Picasso at a World Peace Congress held near Sheffield. ‘I asked, “Are you Picasso?” and he replied, “Yes, I am.” I told him, “You sound more like Carmen Miranda, so if you’re really Picasso, draw me something.”’

The artist dutifully sketched the young Blessed a dove, prompting an incredulous response. ‘I said, “That shows you’re not Picasso, that’s not a dove!”. Picasso replied: “For the first time I have a critic, the child does not believe this is a dove.” I threw his drawing on the floor and in doing so, threw away about £50m. It was picked up, presented to the assembly as a symbol of the peace congress of 1948 and now hangs in Sheffield Gallery.’

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