'The Snowman': 11 things you might not know about the Raymond Briggs classic

·7-min read
Raymond Briggs was the author of the perennial festive favourite The Snowman. (Getty/TVC)
Raymond Briggs was the author of the perennial festive favourite The Snowman. (Getty/TVC)

It’s been synonymous with Christmas for years, but how much do you really know about Raymond Briggs’ timeless animation, The Snowman?

The Snowman wasn’t even originally about Christmas

The animation classic is based on the book by Raymond Briggs (who sadly died in August, 2022), released in 1978, but there are some wholesale differences between page and screen.

Read more: Raymond Briggs dies aged 88

For starters, the book has no mention of Christmas whatsoever, it’s just a simple winter’s tale.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04:  Annotated pages from 'The Snowman' by Raymond Briggs is displayed at Sotheby's auction House on December 4, 2014 in London, England. A selection of annotated first edition books from the Worlds greatest living illustrators and authors including contributions from Michael Bond, Raymond Briggs, Quentin Blake, Lauren Child, Terry Gilliam, Judith Kerr, Paula Rego & Gerald Scarfe are to be auctioned to Raise Money for 'House of Illustration' on December 8, 2014.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Annotated pages from The Snowman by Raymond Briggs on display at Sotheby's, 2014. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

There’s no Christmas tree in the boy’s house and the Snowman doesn’t take him to visit Father Christmas, instead preferring to watch the sunset with him.

The festive elements were added for the Channel 4 TV adaptation in 1982.

Walking In The Air is not sung by who you thought it was

Aled Jones, 14 year old boy who sang The Snowman,
Aled Jones, 14 year old boy who sang The Snowman, Walking in the Air. (Chris Patterson/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

By far the most iconic element of The Snowman is the hauntingly beautiful song 'Walking In The Air’, written by Howard Blake. It’s a popular misconception, but the angelic little choirboy voice singing the song is not Aled Jones (pictured) – it was youngster Peter Auty, who was paid £300 but never credited due to a last minute rush to release the film.

Read more: Aled Jones looks back at Walking In The Air

Jones didn’t first sing those immortal four words until three years later, when the song was re-released thanks to a Snowman-themed ad campaign by Toys 'R’ Us (Auty’s voice had broken).

It was nominated for an Oscar

A snowman hands an ice cream to Raymond Briggs in a deckchair designed by the author in Hyde Park, London.   (Photo by Anthony Devlin - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
A snowman hands an ice cream to Raymond Briggs in a deckchair designed by the author in Hyde Park, London. (PA Images via Getty Images)

We all know The Snowman is a beloved family favourite, but did you know it was also an awards darling too? The Snowman was nominated for Best Animated Short Film at the 1983 Academy Awards, although it eventually lost out to a Polish short film called Tango, created by director Zbigniew Rybczynski, who went on to direct music videos for The Pet Shop Boys and Mick Jagger.

The Snowman, however, did go on to win Best Children’s Programme at the 1983 Baftas. In your face, Danger Mouse!

It has an alternate intro featuring David Bowie, which Briggs didn't like

The original movie had a charming introduction by Raymond Briggs, describing how his hometown was once swamped with snow like the town in the story. However, once released in America, Briggs wasn’t deemed starry enough, so a famous face was roped in to present an alternate opening: none other than David Bowie.

The pop legend faces the camera and tells a story about a scarf similar to the one bequeathed by Father Christmas in the film. Presumably Iggy Pop was busy.

Read more: What happened to David Bowie's Snowman scarf

In 2017, Briggs revealed his displeasure with Bowie's intro saying: “He got it all wrong, terribly. Hopeless. It didn’t matter, they did it about six times. But it was fun meeting him, wearing his wonderful, glittering pink shoes. I’d never seen pink shoes before on a man.

“And he said, “I greatly admire your work.” And I said, ‘God, I wish I could say the same’… Well, I muttered it.”

There is an even rarer alternate intro

For the 20th anniversary broadcast in 2002, Channel 4 commissioned a brand new introduction: an animated intro featuring Raymond Briggs’ own Father Christmas. The jolly red fat man recounts the tale you’re about to watch from his own point of view, and was voiced by comedian Mel Smith.

After Smith’s death from a heart attack in 2013, Channel 4 reverted back to the original Raymond Briggs opening introduction.

The boy with no name

The Snowman (TVC London Productions)
The Snowman (TVC London Productions)

In Briggs’ original book, the young boy in the story isn’t given a name – the tale is entirely wordless after all. In the Channel 4 adaptation, however, the boy was given a name, simply because one had to appear on the gift tag of his present from Father Christmas.

It was decided that his name would be 'James’ after the boyfriend, now husband, of Joanna Harrison, one of the animators. Harrison went on to write the 2012 follow-up, The Snowman and the Snowdog.

The boy appears to be from Brighton

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04:  An annotated page from 'The Snowman' by Raymond Briggs is displayed at Sotheby's auction House on December 4, 2014 in London, England. A selection of annotated first edition books from the Worlds greatest living illustrators and authors including contributions from Michael Bond, Raymond Briggs, Quentin Blake, Lauren Child, Terry Gilliam, Judith Kerr, Paula Rego & Gerald Scarfe are to be auctioned to Raise Money for 'House of Illustration' on December 8, 2014.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
An annotated page from 'The Snowman' by Raymond Briggs on display at Sotheby's, 2014. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

It has been noted — and later confirmed by lifelong Sussex dweller Raymond Briggs — that the boy in 'The Snowman’ appeared to leave in South Downs, near Brighton. You can tell because when he and the Snowman eventually take flight, they appear to fly directly over the Royal Pavillion and can see the Palace Pier, which should be instantly familiar to anyone from that region. ‘Brighton’ is also pictured on his present.

Snowman’s shared universe

Thought Marvel invented the concept of different movie characters inhabiting the same space in different films? Think again: the Raymond Briggsverse pulled this trick 30 years ago. Another Raymond Briggs TV adaptation was made in 1991, combining his two Father Christmas books, Father Christmas and Father Christmas Goes On Holiday.

In it, Father Christmas attends a snowman party like the one seen in The Snowman – and yes, he even meets the boy and his Snowman. Father Christmas suggests the party is an annual event, as he comments “Glad you could make it again; the party I mean, not your snowman!” meaning James must have returned with the Snowman a year later.

There’s a Snowman video game

The Snowman video game. (Quicksilva)
The Snowman video game. (Quicksilva)

Someone somewhere thought a near-wordless adaptation of a picture book would be a great candidate for a videogame, and so The Snowman was released on the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 in 1984.

Released by publishers Quicksilva, it was a platform game à la Donkey Kong in which you had to guide the boy around a series of ladders, avoiding flames and sleep monsters and collecting snow with which to build a snowman. It was not very good.

There’s also a Snowman stage show

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08:  Performers on stage during a performance of 'The Snowman' at The Peacock Theatre on December 8, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. The Birmingham Repertory Theatre's dance version of Raymond Briggs's The Snowman is in its 19th Year at The Peacock Theatre.  (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)
Performers on stage during a performance of 'The Snowman' at The Peacock Theatre, 2016. (Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)

The Snowman lends itself more to the medium of theatre than it does the videogame, so the fact there’s a Snowman stage show, that has played at London's Peacock Theatre every year since 1997, is no surprise.

What is surprising is the liberties it takes with Briggs’ story. The first half is largely the same, with the Snowman coming to life and taking the boy on a magical adventure. The second half, however, introduces brand new characters into the mix, including The Ice Princess and Jack Frost.

It’s all about death

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08:  A performer on stage during a performance of 'The Snowman' at The Peacock Theatre on December 8, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. The Birmingham Repertory Theatre's dance version of Raymond Briggs's The Snowman is in its 19th Year at The Peacock Theatre.  (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)
A performer on stage during a performance of The Snowman, 2016. (Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)

Author Raymond Briggs told The Independent that one of the reasons he wrote the story was to introduce children to the concept of mortality. “I create what seems natural and inevitable,” he said.

“The snowman melts, my parents died, animals die, flowers die. Everything does. There’s nothing particularly gloomy about it. It’s a fact of life. I don’t have happy endings.”

You can say that again…

Watch: Aled Jones on his rise to fame