Whenever anyone writes the story of the Peter and Jane Key Word Reader books, they, not unnaturally, tell a similar story: that the first Peter and Jane book was published in 1964, written by William Murray and illustrated by Harry Wingfield. You then learn that the first models for these children were Jill Ashurst and her friend Christopher Edwards.However, Christopher Edwards himself knows this not to be true!
It appears that he was asked to model for two books (and only two books) from the ‘Learning to Read’ Series 563: Helping at Home and ‘Telling The Time’ – two Ladybird classics.
These were published some years before ‘Peter’ (of the Key Word Reader Peter and Jane books) ever saw the light of day and so, although we know that Wingfield used and merged old sketches and used a lot of creativiy, it seems fair to say that Christopher Edwards is not ‘Peter’. Christopher says:
The article in the business section of the Independent on Sunday about the collectability of Ladybird books caught my eye. The use of the cover of Helping at Home as one of the illustrations reminded me that I was the “model” for the little boy in that book. My fee or, more accurately, my gift, as no payment was negotiated in advance, was a crisp 10/- note (50p today) and a copy of the first edition of Helping at Home (which I still have, including dust jacket, in excellent condition).I am an only child and, in 1960, my family lived at 9 The Grove, Little Aston, Sutton Coldfield. The Willcoxes (Mr and Mrs, daughters Jane and her younger sister (whose name escapes me) lived next door at number 10. It was they who knew the illustrator, Mr Wingfield. As they were not the ideal family – mum, dad, son, daughter – for the purposes of Ladybird’s learning to read books, I was drafted in as the son.
Mr Wingfield did his illustrations from photographs which he took. He came round to number 10 one Saturday morning to photograph us miming the actions described in the book. Some imagination was required – for example, I don’t recall the Willcoxes having any pets at all, let alone the menagerie that we were pictured helping to feed in the book!
The photo session would have been in autumn 1960, when I was five. The endpiece illustration (dad and Jill/Jane raking leaves in the back garden; me pushing wheelbarrow) is a fair likeness of the rear of the house and its garden as I remember it – number 9 is just visible behind the fence on the right.
We lived at The Grove until 1969 when my father was transferred to London with his job. We did not keep in touch with the Willcoxes; I think they moved away from The Grove before we did.
After graduation I started work as a trainee solicitor in 1977. Reaction against gender stereotyping had not yet made Helping at Home unacceptable, and I used to amuse my colleagues by taking them into the nearest branch of WH Smith and showing them the book which represents my fifteen minutes of media fame. I guess that Helping at Home went out of print in about 1982, when boys started to take an interest in picking flowers and girls in mending fences.
Today I am a 49 year old solicitor, married with two children (daughter 16, son 13 – a very Ladybird-regular family!).
And I wonder if his children rush to greet him this way when he comes home from the office …
And here’s the proof. A photo of Christopher then and Wingfield’s faithful portrait in ‘Helping at Home’.