Some of us grew up with the characters Peter and Jane, from the key word reader series. But who were the real children who inspired the illustrations? This is the story of ‘Peter’, (aka Adrian Heath) who can claim to be the real Peter:
Adrian, aged about 10
Adrian, a school friend as Jane and Adrian’s real Mum – from the revised version of 8a, Sunny Days.
“Martin Aitchison lived over the road from us in Totteridge, suburban North london. I am not 100% sure of when the work was done, but I was still at primary school and would say in all probability it was in 1970 when I was 10 years old. It all started when Martin approached my mum, told her that he was the artist for the Ladybird books and asked if he could take photos of me. Even though, it was ostensibly a more innocent time, my mother was a little unsure about the request.
Mum chatted to Martin’s wife (nearly thirty five years has erased her name from my memory) and satisfied that all of this was above board asked me if I wanted to do it. I was quite a garrulous kid and thought nothing of it really. Every now and then I would go over the road and Martin would take photos of me in his back garden. We worked from the earlier books and I just posed as he wanted me to. He took the photos of myself and Jane (a girl who lived towards the other end of the road) separately, so we never got to bounce off one another.
Despite being in the same class at school, Jane and I never talked about this at all, though for some reason I have a vague recollection of a rumour of Heather (another contemporary) being jealous of us. Pretty soon after this, we left St. Andrews and went to secondary school. My mum still lives in the same house, but I know Martin moved years ago.
I find the current interest in the books interesting, but for me it is almost like a memory of a previous existence. I went for years without really thinking about it, but it really hit home in Singapore, of all places. I spent the first four months of 1995 on a teaching secondment in there. One lunchtime I was browsing through a local stationary store (exciting) with colleagues, when I came across one of my books (as it were). I was quite taken aback that they should be half way round the planet. I showed them to the people I was working with and of course they thought I was mad. It was only when I convinced them, that the real evidence of madness would be the ability to claim or wish to claim anything so bizarre.
I am not really sure which of the books I am genuinely in (ie the one’s I posed for) and which are composites that bear a distinct resemblance to me. From what I can gather, the earlier books from the fifties were not posed, so maybe I am the only genuine Peter. I heard a rumour that Radiohead approached Ladybird to use an image of Peter on the cover of ‘Kid A’. Ladybird apparently turned them down. If I had any say in it, I would have let it go ahead.
But, as I said earlier, it was more innocent times. Martin gave my mum a small amount of money at the time, [2 bob a session, apparently!]. There was no discussion of image rights and and all the stuff that goes on now. Martin took the photos, did the paintings and the books were published. I doubt that anyone at Ladybird knew my name. I must stress there is no bitterness involved in any of this, just the observation of time”.
Adrian and THAT anorak.
If you have ever wondered what ‘Peter’ would look like today, see below:
Read next: The Little Boy who isn’t Peter