Something I find fascinating is when photographs come to light that were used by Ladybird artists as studies for their artwork.

Here’s one that appeared on Twitter (via @russellsdesk) a couple of months ago – along with the image from the John Berry-illustrated Peter and Jane book that it appeared in:

What’s the fascination?  Well I suppose it’s a combination of things.  On the one hand it’s the juxtaposition of fact and fiction and on the other it lays bare the great skill of the artists so that you can appreciate the choices made: what was retained, what was left out and what was adapted.  Of course, it also helps you ‘go back stage’ – to imagine the situation when the photograph was taken.  Who are the children in the picture? How did they feel? Was the boy fed up to be immortalised petting what appears to be a toy rabbit?  Did they realise at the time how iconic some of these images would turn out to be for so many of us?  Actually I can answer that last question: certainly not.

I know a bit about this because over the years quite of few of these early picture ‘models’ have contacted me.  Also, as the good folk at Penguin always say, if they ever organise some sort of Ladybird event they are sure to find that there are, apparently, half a dozen ‘Peters’ or ‘Janes’ in the room.

Why are there so many people around who believe that they are “the original Peter” or “the original Jane”?

Christophe Edward modelled for the book ‘Helping at Home’

Well first of all, those two names are so synonymous with Ladybird that, although they only appear in  the 36 books of the Key Word Reading Scheme, the names tend to get bandied around to describe any pre-pubescent child in any Ladybird Book.


Artist Robert Ayton’s nephew poses for the tin can telephone

Secondly about 5 different artists were involved in the illustration of just the reading scheme alone and their production covered roughly a 15 year period so many different children were asked to pose for preparatory sketches or photos as a part of this process.

Adrian Heath – one of the 1970s ‘Peters

But in these surviving preparatory photos we have the flash-bulb moment – the moment when normal children, whoever they are and how many of them there are, become Ladybird characters.