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The Snowman is a wordless children's picture book by English author Raymond Briggs, first published in 1978 by Hamish Hamilton in the United Kingdom, and published by Random House in the United States in November of the same year. In the United Kingdom, it was the runner-up for the Kate Greenaway Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's best children's book illustration by a British writer.[1][a]

The Snowman
The Snowman poster.jpg
GenreChildren's Christmas film
Based onThe Snowman
by Raymond Briggs
Directed byDianne Jackson
Narrated byMatthew MacFadyen
Andrew Sachs (only on the audiobooks)
Music byHoward Blake
Original language(s)English
Producer(s)John Coates
Running time25 minutes
Production company(s)TVC London
Original networkChannel 4
Original release26 December 1982

In the United States, it was named to the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award list in 1979. The book was adapted into a half-hour animated television special in 1982, which debuted on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom on 26 December. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. The animated special has since become an annual festive event.

Animated television adaptationEdit

The Snowman was adapted as a half-hour animated television special, by Dianne Jackson for the fledgling British public service Channel 4. It was first shown on 26 December 1982, and was an immediate success. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film and won a BAFTA TV Award, out of two nominations.

The story is told through pictures, action and music, scored by Howard Blake. It is wordless, just like the book, except for the song "Walking in the Air" sung by Peter Auty. In addition to the orchestral score, performed in the film by the Sinfonia of London, Blake composed the music and lyrics of the song, performed by Peter Auty, a St Paul's Cathedral choirboy.

The special ranks #71 on the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes, a list drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, based on a vote by industry professionals. It was voted #4 in UKTV Gold's Greatest TV Christmas Moments. It came third in Channel 4's poll of 100 Greatest Christmas Moments in 2004.

Plot for the animated versionEdit

"I remember that winter because it had brought the heaviest snow I had ever seen. Snow had fallen steadily all night long and in the morning I woke in a room filled with light and silence, the whole world seemed to be held in a dream-like stillness. It was a magical day... and it was on that day I made The Snowman."

One snowy winter's day, a boy named James builds a snowman who comes to life at the stroke of midnight. He and James play with appliances, toys and other bric-a-brac in the house, all while keeping quiet enough not to wake James' parents.

The two find a sheeted-down motorcycle in the house's garden and go for a ride on it, disturbing an owl and several rabbits in the process. Its engine heat affects the insides of the Snowman's thighs, and he cools off in the freezer. Later on, they take flight over James's village, then the Royal Pavilion and Brighton Palace Pier, and then out over the ocean and north along the coast of Norway. You can also see Beachy Head in the background as they fly out to sea. They continue through an arctic landscape and into the aurora borealis. They land in a snow-covered forest where they join a party of snowmen. They eventually meet Father Christmas along with his reindeer; he gives him a scarf with a snowman pattern, and a letter or card addressed to "James, Brighton".

The following morning after the return journey, the sun has risen and James wakes up to find that the snowman has melted. In absence of his melted snowman, James reaches into his dressing-gown pocket and finds the exact same Snowman-decorated scarf given to him at the party by Father Christmas. As the end credits roll, James, with his snowman scarf from Father Christmas, kneels alone in silence, mourning the loss of his beloved friend.

Alternative beginningsEdit

After the initial showing on Channel 4, and in its initial showings on television in the United States, an alternative introduction was sometimes used. Instead of Raymond Briggs describing how much it had snowed the winter he made The Snowman, while walking through the field that morphed into the animation of the same landscape, David Bowie was shown reciting a different speech after walking into the attic of 'his' childhood home and discovering a scarf in a drawer and then telling the same story.

This scarf closely resembles the one given to the boy towards the end of the film. The Universal DVD The Snowman & Father Christmas (902 030 – 11), released in the United Kingdom in 2000, uses the Bowie opening. (Despite being featured on the packaging. Some of the United States DVDs from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment don't have the David Bowie opening)[2]

To celebrate the film's 20th anniversary, Channel 4 created an alternate opening directed by Roger Mainwood, with Raymond Briggs' interpretation of Father Christmas recounting how he met the boy as well as mentioning how the heavy snow from that winter had him grounded. Comedian Mel Smith reprises Father Christmas in this opening. This version is also cropped to 16:9 widescreen.

Channel 4 used this opening from 2002 until Mel Smith's death in 2013, when the Bowie introduction returned, returning the film to its original aspect ratio. The 30th anniversary Blu-ray does not use any of the openings but includes all three openings as a bonus feature.

Production notesEdit

The song "Walking in the Air" is sung in the film by chorister Peter Auty,[3] who was not credited in the original version. He was given a credit on the 20th anniversary version. The song was covered three years later by Welsh chorister Aled Jones in a single which reached #5 in the charts in the United Kingdom. Jones is sometimes incorrectly credited with having sung the song in the film.[4]

Though the boy in the book is unnamed, in the film he is named "James". This is clear on the tag for the present he receives from Father Christmas. The name was added by Joanna Harrison, one of the animators, as it was her boyfriend's (later her husband) name.[5] Additionally, Father Christmas mentions the boy's name in the 20th anniversary opening.

In the film, the boy's home seems to be in the South Downs of England, near to Brighton; he and Snowman fly over what appears to be Brighton; the Royal Pavilion and Palace Pier are clearly depicted. Later in the film, the tag on his present confirms this. Raymond Briggs has lived in Sussex since 1961.[6]

The film was produced using traditional animation techniques, consisting of pastels, crayons and other colouring tools drawn on pieces of celluloid, which were traced over hand drawn frames. For continuity purposes, the background artwork was painted using the same tools.

Home mediaEdit

The Snowman was originally released on VHS in 1982 by Universal Pictures as well as Palace Video. It has been re-released various times by Palace and later Polygram Video, after Palace suddenly went out of business.

The Snowman was re-released in 2008 as a DVD special edition and again as a DVD and Blu-ray 30th anniversary edition in the United Kingdom on 5 November 2012 by Universal Studios Home Entertainment UK. The 2008 special edition peaked at No.3 in the Video Charts.[7] The 2012 home release includes four extra features, a Snow Business documentary, The Story of The Snowman, storyboard and the introductions from Bowie and Briggs.[8] The film re-entered at No.14 on the UK Official children’s Video Chart on 11 November 2012, eventually peaking at No.5 on 16 December 2012 based on sales of DVDs and other physical formats.[9]

2012 sequel: The Snowman and the SnowdogEdit

A new 25-minute special titled The Snowman and the Snowdog aired on Channel 4 on Christmas Eve 2012 at 8pm GMT, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the original short and of Channel 4. Produced at the London-based animation company Lupus Films,[10] with many of the original team returning, the sequel was made in the same traditional techniques as the first film, and features the Snowman, a new young boy named Billy and a snow dog, flying over landmarks and going to another party.[11]

The idea of a sequel had been resisted by Raymond Briggs for several years, but he gave his permission for the film in 2012.[12]

The sequel was dedicated to the memory of producer John Coates,[13] who died in September 2012, during its production.[14]


The Snowman
First edition
AuthorRaymond Briggs
IllustratorRaymond Briggs
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenrePicture book
PublisherHamish Hamilton
Publication date
Media typePrint
Pages32 pp
LC ClassPZ7.B7646 Sn 1978[15]

The original book has a slightly different plot. While the first half of the story remains exactly the same, James and the snowman do not visit Father Christmas, like they do in the film. In fact, all of the Christmas elements of the film were not present in the story. Notably, the boy's family does not have a Christmas tree in the house. After the snowman comes to life, they proceed to explore the boy's house.

After they see the family car and play with the lights, James prepares a feast that the duo eat by candlelight. Here, the snowman takes James outside again, and they begin to fly. Once James and the snowman take flight, they only fly as far as the pier seen in the film. They stop there and wait for the sunrise.

They hurry back, as the sun is rising, and James hurries inside again, like in the film. The book's finale does not show James finding the scarf in his pocket, as they never made the trip to Father Christmas, but he finds the snowman melted in the same fashion. Random House published an edition for the United States.[15]

Stage versionEdit

The Snowman has also been made into a stage show. It was first produced by Contact Theatre, Manchester in 1986[16] and was adapted and produced by Anthony Clark. It had a full script and used Howard Blake's music and lyrics. In 1993, Birmingham Repertory Company produced a version, with music and lyrics by Howard Blake, scenario by Blake, with Bill Alexander and choreography by Robert North.

Since 1997, Sadler's Wells has presented it every year as the Christmas Show at the Peacock Theatre. As in the book and the film, there are no words, apart from the lyrics of the song "Walking in the Air". The story is told through images and movement.

Special effects include the Snowman and boy flying high over the stage (with assistance of wires and harnesses) and ‘snow’ falling in part of the auditorium. The production has had several revisions – the most extensive happening in 2000, when major changes were made to the second act, introducing new characters: The Ice Princess and Jack Frost.

Video gameEdit

Quicksilva published an official video game in 1984, for the ZX Spectrum,[17] Commodore 64, and MSX.

See alsoEdit

  • Granpa, Dianne Jackson's second animated film for Channel 4, with music by Howard Blake.
  • Father Christmas – Briggs' earlier two works Father Christmas and Father Christmas Goes on Holiday were combined into a film which was released in 1991. It features an altered version of the snowmen's party at the North Pole from this film. The young boy and the snowman from this film are seen in the background during this segment.
  • The Bear – another book by Raymond Briggs which was also adapted into a 26-minute animated version.


  1. ^ Today there are usually eight books on the Greenaway shortlist. According to CCSU, some runners up for the Greenaway Medal through 2002 were Commended (from 1959) or Highly Commended (from 1974). There were thirty one "Highly Commended" runners up in twenty nine years from 1974 to 2002, including Briggs alone in 1978.


  1. ^ "Kate Greenaway Medal". 2007(?). Curriculum Lab. Elihu Burritt Library. Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). Retrieved 2012-07-18.
  2. ^ "Customer Discussions: Review Comment Thread". November 2006. Retrieved 24 May 2008.
  3. ^ Interviews with Peter Auty, Aled Jones, Raymond Briggs and John Coates on the making of documentary titled "Snow Business" included on the 2004 20th Anniversary DVD
  4. ^ For example: Barclay, Ali (4 December 2000). "The Snowman (1982)". BBC – Films. BBC. Retrieved 24 May 2008.
  5. ^ Interview with Hilary Andus and Joanna Harrison on the making of documentary titled "Snow Business" included on the 2004 20th Anniversary DVD
  6. ^ John Walsh (21 December 2012). "Raymond Briggs: Seasonal torment for The Snowman creator". The Independent. Retrieved 23 December 2012.
  7. ^ Official Children's Video Chart Top 50 – 21 December 2008 – 27 December 2008
  8. ^ The Snowman | Blu-ray | United Kingdom | 30th Anniversary Edition | Universal Studios | 1982 | 27 min | Rated BBFC: PG | Nov 05, 2012
  9. ^ Official Children’s Video Chart Top 50 – 16 December 2012 – 22 December 2012
  10. ^ Lupus Films
  11. ^ Singh, Anita. "The Snowman and the Snowdog: a first look". Telegraph Media Group Limited 2012. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
  12. ^ "The Snowman and The Snowdog animator revisits classic". BBC News. 24 December 2012. Retrieved 25 December 2012.
  13. ^ Barber, Martin (24 December 2012). "The Snowman and The Snowdog animator revisits classic". BBC News Online. Retrieved 25 December 2012.
  14. ^ "Snowman producer John Coates dies". BBC News Online. 18 September 2012. Retrieved 25 December 2012.
  15. ^ a b "The snowman" (first U.S. edition). Library of Congress Catalog. Retrieved 2012-09-01.
  16. ^ "The Snowman @ The Lowry" (no date). News and Reviews. City Life.
  17. ^ "Snowman, The – World of Spectrum".

External linksEdit