Bernard Herbert Robinson (B.H. Robinson 1930-2004)
Illustrator of Ladybird books 1965-1980
Bernard Herbert Robinson was born on 28th April 1930 in Broad Green, West Croydon, the only surviving child of Herbert and Lillian Robinson. In 1942 he attended John Ruskin Grammar School where he developed a keen interest in art and photography and printed photographs in a darkroom at home. During the Second World War he stayed for periods away from the bombing of Croydon with his grandparents in Ovingdean, Sussex where he developed a passion for the natural world. Throughout his life Bernard had a prolific number of interests and hobbies. As a child he wrote and illustrated a book on microscopy and wrote articles in John Ruskin school magazine (May 1944). He went to Croydon Art School where he developed his interest in figurative art and jazz music. In his teens he painted in oils and also taught himself to play jazz piano and became expert in “barrel house boogie woogie”. Bernard did National Service based at RAF Cardington from 1948-1950 where he became friends with musicians including Pat Halcox (later with Chris Barber Band) who shared his passion for the revival of New Orleans traditional jazz. He formed his own Jazz band where he played piano in the clubs and pubs around Croydon and at dances at the Royal Academy of Art. He met his wife Margaret while they took the train to work from Waddon station and they married in 1956 at Morden Register Office.
He initially worked for Chamberlain Studios on Ludgate Hill near St Paul’s where his job involved technical drawings for the Navy and some advertising work. He told stories of great pranks he got up to in the studio but he hated commuting and much preferred working from home with Radio Four as his companion. Thus he set up as a limited company in 1961 and worked on various projects as Illustrator often with Tudor Art Agency. Working at home he was regular contact by phone with Tony, Angela Sheehan and Derek Stowe at Tudor. Derek often designed pages which Bernard developed into illustrations. Bernard worked using pencil and then watercolours painted onto artboard. He often worked from photos Margaret and his four children Helen, Stephen, Jane and Matthew often acted as life or photographic models for the book illustrations.
Bernard’s Ladybird work (1965-1980) included books in Achievements 601 (Time, Calendars and Clocks) How it Works 654 (Farm machinery, Television, Camera, Computer, Locomotive, Hovercraft, Rocket, Ocean Liner, Telescope and microscope, Printing process, Telephone) series, Science one and two, Learn About series 634 (Coarse fishing, Making a transistor radio, Heraldry)Story of plastics, 682 (About horses, About dogs, )706 (Brownie Guides) 737 (Dinosaurs, Sounds, Chocolate and Cocoa, Homes) Road sense (1977).Girl Guides (1980) .He also worked for Cherrytree Books and specialised in Illustrations of nature, dinosaurs and children’s Science books.
Bernard had an individual style which included a beard and long hair in the 60s and 70s and he dressed very casually. He loved nature and kept cats, donkeys and latterly Shetland ponies and a large Fishpond stocked with large carp at his farm near Uckfield, East Sussex. He always got fully engrossed in the book he was illustrating and thoroughly researched his illustrations. For example was working on a book on Indoor Gardening he grew all the plants and drew them from life. For a fungi and toadstools book he collected specimens and drew from life where possible. Also he made all the radios in the how to make a transistor radio and proposed amendments to the text where it was difficult to follow. Hobbies included geology palaeontology and collected fossils. When he got fan mail he would always write back and send them an illustration.
Bernard kept in touch with the friends he made at school throughout his life. He enjoyed his own company and very rarely made the trip to London to visit work colleagues. On a weekly basis he drove to Horley Station to send illustrations via Parcel Express to Victoria and the London Office. On the few occasions he visited the London studio for a Christmas party he returned very happy as he was treated like a long lost friend.
He was largely self taught in many things and was meticulous about all he put his hands to. This included furniture making and restoration of an old Church organ. He constructed a gramophone and reel to reel tape recorders about which he was very proud, and often claimed he had one of the first tape recorders in the UK . Bernard loved music especially jazz and blues but also some folk music and Opera. He played with a traditional jazz band around Crawley area in the 1980s. He was a socialist and once the labour candidate in local election. Bernard enjoyed camping holidays with his family in the VW campervan and later he enjoyed holidays with Margaret in France and Italy.
Bernard continued to work as an illustrator until around 2000. At this time he returned to oil painting and finished paintings he had started at Art School such as some of his garden in Croydon. He spent a long time archiving (photographed) all his paintings and music recordings. Initially onto his Revox A77 reel to reel tape recorder , then DAT, and then to mp3 on CDs. He kept all his paintings including some drafts.
These paintings have been divided between his 4 children and some may now be available for purchase.
Sadly he developed symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease in his last 2 years and a relapse of bowel cancer from which he died at home on 15 September 2004.