Last month I had a truly Ladybird-Geeky treat. I met up with Ladybird artist John Kenney’s closest surviving relative and, over a very pleasant lunch, enjoyed the pleasure of talking with someone who shares my passion for these pictures and in addition learnt a lot more about the man himself.
John Kenney was one of the best loved of Ladybird artists,. He illustrated almost all the earlier History books, from the first in the series, ‘Alfred the Great’ in 1956 up to The Pilgrim Fathers, 1972. He created the artwork for the early Robin Hood books, The Silver Arrow and The Ambush. And of course, he created many people’s childhood favourite: Tootles the Taxi.
I was also shown this piece of original artwork:
An early version of the artwork, now framed behind glass (hence the reflection); different from the final version, but clearly recognisable as the much-loved character.
The finished artwork, used to produce the book, is almost certainly now in what’s called the ‘Ladybird Archive’ in the Univeristy of Reading (of which more anon).
At this stage, Kenney’s ideas for the image are still evolving: Tootles’ expression is different; instead of the two children and dog in the foreground, we see a woman and daughter and the background scene is different. This, of course, only adds to its appeal to the John Kenney fan. What a wonderful and unique piece of Ladybird history to have hanging on your wall!