FRIENDS of Bill Brown have a frightening tendency to be turned into stone.

A carver and letter cutter since he was just 15 years old, Mr Brown, of Oxford Road, Kidlington, is responsible for decorating some of Oxford's best-known rooftops with gargoyles - sometimes based on people he knows.

Not a great compliment when they are usually growling and very ugly (the gargoyles that is!).

But Mr Brown's talents don't just lie in scary faces.

Sir Winston Churchill, the Queen Mother and even James Bond creator Ian Fleming have all inspired his mallet and chisel.

And he is still shaping Oxford's imposing skyline at the age of 73.

Speaking at his home, which is filled with his carvings, Mr Brown said: "I can't explain it, but carving was always just there in me, waiting to be discovered. And I realised that at a pretty young age."

Mr Brown is originally from London, but when he was four years old, the outbreak of war meant he and his four siblings were evacuated to Eynsham.

After the war, his parents also left their home - which was bombed three times - and moved to join their children in Eynsham.

Mr Brown said: "I was always chipping away at bits of stone as a boy. Then one day, Ted Sharp, the headmaster of Bartholomew School, gave me a lump of stone he turned up while working in his garden.

"I took it home, set to work with an old wood carving chisel and, to Mr Sharp's surprise, carved a head with it. Since then, I have never looked back."

Young Bill became an apprentice stonemason at 15, with Axtell, Perry and Symm, the Oxford stonemasons.

And 58 years later, he is still hard at work.

He said: "I suppose I must have renewed at least 40 gargoyles in Turl Street alone in the last three years.

"I still get asked to do so much work, but I am starting to scale back a bit. I belong to two sculpture groups and I also paint watercolours so it's difficult fitting it all in."

In case you didn't know, gargoyles are usually accompanied by their 'cousins' corbels and grotesques.

A true gargoyle contains a spout to direct water away from a building; a corbel has no spout - but it plays a supporting role to some other part of architecture. And a grotesque? It is just there for the fun of it.

Oxford academics often 'model' for city gargoyles nowadays. Others are mythical, but all are designed to frighten away evil spirits from the building and its occupants.

Mr Brown said: "When I go to a building to restore or replace a gargoyle, it's usually all worn away. So it's a case of looking at the others on the building, memorising their characteristics, and then going away to make another."

Asked to reveal which friends and family have inspired gargoyles, such as the ones on Lincoln College, Mr Brown remains coy.

"I can't say which, but some have turned out a lot like relatives," he said.

"It's surprising, but although gargoyles are ugly, a lot of people are thrilled to be carved in stone, sticking their fingers up their noses.

"Except my mate John Boy that is. He's a lorry driver, he has long hair and a big beard and he would make a lovely gargoyle, but he won't let me photograph him.

"I could do him from memory though - I expect he'll end up on an Oxford building one of these days."

Mr Brown's creations don't just enhance the Oxford skyline.

Over the years his wife Rita, 70, has taken delivery of coffee tables, ornaments, and wooden light fittings, to name but a few.

She even received her own gargoyle for her 60th birthday.

And his two daughters, Sarah and Susie, were the envy of their childhood friends thanks to their father's intricately-carved, wooden toys.

Mr Brown's diverse body of work ranges from a tall, winged griffin at Keble College, to a towering statue of a stone trophy on the roof of Blenheim Palace. He has also designed gargoyles for Windsor Castle and Chichester Cathedral.

Asked for the highlights of his career so far, he ponders.

"I was asked to carve the lettering for the Queen Mother's memorial at Windsor Castle when she died.

"I was off on a rugby tour that weekend to Italy, but when the call came about the Queen Mother, of course I cancelled. That was quite an honour," he said.

He also carved the lettering on Sir Windsor Churchill's memorial at Bladon, and he's still making foundation stones for living royals too.

He said: "I do like to see my work and while most people look straight ahead when they walk, I always look up - it's amazing what you see."

Mr Brown's work can also been seen in Eynsham, where he was asked in 1990 to restore the 12ft high village cross which dated back to 1350.

But the monument was too damaged, so he spent 10 months carving a new one, using drawings of the original.

In an interview in 1966, Mr Brown said his work around Oxford was usually just something he showed his mates in passing.

He said: "You don't feel anything. But it might be different when you're 85 and you look up and say: 'I did that 60 years ago.' He may still be a few years off 80, but I asked if he was growing more fond of his creations over time.

He said: "It's not about what I carve, it's the carving itself I enjoy.

"I expect I'll be buried holding a mallet and chisel when I die.

"My wife has suggested I carve the lettering on my own headstone. But I don't know about that.

"Maybe I'll just carve a big angel that looks like me."