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ONCE upon a time, and a good time it was too, there was a bloke from Brum who loved to tell stories.

Now these weren't just any old yarns, mind you.

They were some of the finest - and the most ancient - folk tales in the world.

That's right, oh, best beloved!

They dated back to a time before J.R.R. Tolkien.

A time before William Shakespeare...

And, crazy as it may seem, a time before J.K. Rowling.

Thousands of years before Harry Potter arrived at Hogwarts, there was a mischievous spider god who went by the name of Anansi.

That very same web-weaving wonder is being brought back to life by Clive Dennis Cole, a local storyteller based in Handsworth.

Clive will be performing his Anansi tales to groups of enthusiastic children, aged between three and five, as part of Black History Month.

He will be at Northfield Library on various occasions, including this coming Saturday at 11am.

"The stories I tell go back a long way," says Clive. "The Anansi stories are a bit like Aesop's Fables, because they were first told before the time of Christ.

"They originated in Africa, but the slave trade brought them to the West Indies and America, where where they were adapted and changed."

Once in America, Anansi was turned into Brer Rabbit. The character also became a major influence on the Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoons.

"The original stories are still very fresh," says Clive. "They also have strong moral messages.

"Anansi is a trickster god, and he usually comes unstuck at the end of the tale.

"Although the stories originated in Africa, kids from any background can enjoy them because they are universal."

Of course, telling stories to small children can be a tough discipline.

Little minds are liable to wander, while little feet and hands are likely to start kicking and pulling.

However, Clive's storytelling is a real showcase of a show.

He dresses in traditional African garb, and packs his performance with music and chanting.

At every opportunity the children are encouraged to join in.

"I tell stories for up to one and a half hours," he says.

"Some people might be frightened by that length of time. But I try to keep everything visual and fun packed.

"When these stories were originally told, it was at night. If someone was not entertaining the audience, they would be booed off.

"At least that has never happened to me. If the kids' behaviour becomes challenging, then I just push the storytelling up a gear."

Clive, 44, originally became interested in spinning yarns when he began trying to entertain his own children - he has three boys, who are now aged between nine and 17.

Now he is interested in pushing his storytelling abilities to the max.

Currently working with The Royal Shakespeare Company on the re-telling of the Bard's tales, he also wants to introduce some new stories of his own, based on traditional folk adventures.

"It would be great if I could produce CDs of my work, which kids could then take home from school," says Clive.

"It would also be fantastic if I could get involved in cartoon making. After all, Anansi ended up making his way into animation. Maybe I could do likewise!"

Black History Month runs until the end of October. Visit for more details on the events in Birmingham and the West Midlands.


TELL TALE: Clive Dennis Cole performs Anasi stories for children DW211006BLACK-1
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Oct 22, 2006
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