Martin Aitchison was born in Staffordshire in 1919. He was educated at Ellesmere College, Shropshire where his profound deafness hindered his academic education. However,his precocious artistic talent took him first to Birmingham School of Art and then to the Slade School of Art, which, in the early years of World War II, had been evacuated to Oxford. There he met and married Dorothy Self, herself a Slade student, later a teacher at Kingson School of Art.

Dorothy Aitchison, immortalised as the teacher in book 6a.

Martin’s deafness prevented him from active service during the War and instead he worked for Vickers Litd, initially illustrating operating manuals for aircraft such as the Wellington bomber and later working as an illustrator for Barnes Wallis, supporting new developments such as the ‘Bouncing Bomb’ for the Dam Busters raid.

Artwork from ‘Gulliver’s Travels’

After the war, Martin became a commercial artist, working for various advertising agencies, national newspapers and publications such as Picture Post and Punch. In 1953 he began a 10-year stint working on the ‘Eagle’ and ‘Swift’ magazines, the brain-children of the late Reverend Marcus Morris. In particular, Martin illustrated the Eagle’s ‘Luck of the Legion’ serialised strip cartoon and, with Frank Hampson and Frank Bellamy, formed the nucleus of the artistic talent of those highly-regarded publications.

Aitchison’s Peter and Jane, from the original 1960s version.

After the Eagle’s demise in 1963, Martin worked for Ladybird Books for over 20 years, illustrating nearly 100 titles. Together with Harry Wingfield, he illustrated the majority of the Ladybird Key Word Reading Scheme books. These books formed the staple reading material for a generation of children, selling over 80 million copies workldwide. He also illustrated many other Ladybird books, including a wide range of educational subjects and numberous adaptations of fairytales, a number of which had been written by his wife Dorothy.

Aitchison’s Peter and Jane in the 1970s

Martin retired from full-time illustrating in 1985. Now 85, he lives in Oxford, where he paints portraits (for pleasure) and still undertakes illustration commissions from time to time.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, from series 606d