The original Kenney versions and a 1978 version

When I met John Kenney’s relative (see last post) she asked me whether Ladybird had ever published a book in the Robin Hood series called ‘The Spy’.

The reason for this question, it transpired, was because she had found a set of preliminary sketches, outlining a projected Ladybird Book by that title.    Now Kenney had illustrated the first two Robin Hood books: series 549 in 1954: The Ambush and The Silver Arrow.   But as far as I knew, there were no other Robin Hood titles added to this series until the late 1970s, when they were reissued in a completely different version and with a different illustrator, as part of series 740:

  • Robin Hood Outlawed
  • Robin Hood and the King’s Ransom
  • Robin Hood to the Rescue
  • Robin Hood and the Silver Arrow

The drawings that she had found in Kenney’s studio consisted of the full set of preliminary pencil sketches for a complete book, presumably intended to be the third in the original Robin Hood series. This being the case, they would have been produced in the mid-50s.  Here’s a picture of some of them:

Scenes from ‘The Spy’

Since this book was never published, we then wondered if the actual artwork was ever produced, or if the project got no further than this.  Now most, but by no means all, Ladybird artwork is today housed as one of Reading University Library’s ‘Special Collections’:

I contacted them and asked about Kenney’s illustrations.  Yes, apparently they have a large amount of Kenney artwork but no, there seems to be no artwork relating to a book ‘The Spy’.  So it looks likely that this book never got beyond the planning stage. 

However, at the same time Kenney’s relative had discovered a receipt for payment of more artwork for a book that was never issued.  ‘Through the Ages: Food’ was published in 1968 and was illustrated by Frank Hampson.  But it was for completion of the artwork of this book that Kenney had been paid.

So Ladybird had invested money, and Kenney no small amount of labour, in the production of a book that was never published – or rather, that was then completely re-illustrated for no obvious reason by another artist.

The Hampson-illustrated final book

Who knows why this decision was taken.  Who knows whatever happened to the finished, unused Kenney artwork (yes I checked and established that it isn’t hiding in the Reading archive).  And who knows how common a situation this was – how many other books were illustrated but never saw the light of day.