C. Walter Hodges

Author-illustrator and Shakespeare scholar

One of the outstanding author-illustrators of his time, C. Walter Hodges was also a leading scholar of the Shakespearean theatre. Hard-working to the point of perfectionism, he had a gentle demeanour and unfailingly sweet temper that brought him universal popularity in addition to well-earned professional respect.

Cyril Walter Hodges, writer, illustrator and Shakespeare scholar: born Beckenham, Kent 18 March 1909; married 1936 Greta Becker (died 1999; two sons); died Moretonhampstead, Devon 26 November 2004.

One of the outstanding author-illustrators of his time, C. Walter Hodges was also a leading scholar of the Shakespearean theatre. Hard-working to the point of perfectionism, he had a gentle demeanour and unfailingly sweet temper that brought him universal popularity in addition to well-earned professional respect.

Illustrating over a hundred books while also writing a number of them himself, he played an important part in the general renaissance of children's literature since 1945.

The son of an advertising manager, Hodges was born in 1909 and educated at Dulwich College. He later described this time as a wretched imprisonment, breeding in him an enduring fear and distrust of his teachers. At the age of 10, he spent all his week's pocket money on an exercise book composed of cream-laid paper on which he then wrote the first of his many books. Called "Walks in Our Museums", this unpublished work describes the young Hodges going to sleep in various favourite museums and then finding himself transported to the past. This early love of history that was to stay with him for the rest of his life.

Going on to Goldsmiths' College of Art in 1925, Hodges was taught by E.J. Sullivan, a well-known illustrator whose fluent line and dramatic use of shading was to make a lasting impression upon his own artwork. Equally fascinated by the stage, he took his first job in 1928 at the Everyman Theatre in Hampstead, where he was responsible for both costumes and scenery. Unable, however, to live on a salary of 30 shillings a week, he eventually joined an advertising agency, which he found dull but more lucrative. Still looking for freelance work, he made his artistic breakthrough in 1931 when he received a commission from the Radio Times, an invaluable patron for many young artists. He went on to provide it with over 600 illustrations during the next 40 years.

In 1936 Hodges married Greta Becker, a brilliant and sometimes fiery figure with ambitions to become a ballet dancer and with whom he had fallen in love at first sight. For the next 63 maritally contented years she provided complete domestic support while Hodges was left free to get on with his work. In search of a more regular income, the couple sailed to New York, and for a time thought of settling there. During this time Hodges wrote and illustrated his first book, Columbus Sails (1939).

This ambitious work was illustrated with four magnificent double-spreads plus seven pages of black-and-white illustrations. It describes the great voyage of 1492 from three different perspectives: a map-making monk, who foresaw the dangers, a sailor on the boat itself and an Indian in Spain who tells how the whole adventure ended. But there were to be no more books for the next six years, as Hodges returned to Britain to serve as a captain in the Army, lending his artistic expertise to the problems of camouflage and taking part in the Normandy landings.

After the Second World War Hodges continued with his dual love of illustrating and the stage. In 1951 he was appointed designer to the Mermaid Theatre when it opened in St John's Wood, with this position renewed when it re-emerged at London's Puddle Dock eight years later.

In 1964 he won the Kate Greenaway Medal for his Shakespeare's Theatre (1964), a sumptuous book building on what had already become a consuming interest, first evident in his groundbreaking work of speculative scholarship The Globe Restored (1953). For some time closely involved with Sam Wanamaker's doomed attempt to build a replica of the Globe theatre, Hodges became a valued scholar on the practical problems of trying to understand what exactly Shakespeare's theatre would have looked like and how this would have affected his plays.

His last book, where he sums up a lifetime's wrestling with this topic, was Enter the Whole Army: a pictorial study of Shakespearean staging (1999). Written when he was nearly 90, it is a superb achievement. Still to come were his illustrations for the New Cambridge Shakespeare, once again with their emphasis on how the plays themselves were most probably staged.

All this time Hodges was also busy illustrating - his work for other writers including Elizabeth Goodge's The Little White Horse (1946), William Mayne's A Swarm in May (1955), Ian Serraillier's The Silver Sword (1956) and novels of Rosemary Sutcliff from The Shield Ring (1956) to The Eagle of the Ninth (1970) - and sometimes writing as well. The Namesake (1964) was the first of two novels looking at Britain under King Alfred, portrayed by Hodges as a sensitive, caring man with strong pacifist leanings - for his many friends, something of a picture of the author himself. Nineteen seventy saw his most successful novel, The Overland Launch, a spirited account of the launching of the Lynmouth lifeboat in January 1899 following an epic cross-country journey thought by everyone at the time to have been impossible.

Meanwhile at home there were two sons to bring up and in the course of time four much-loved grandchildren as well. In Lewes, where he now lived after moving from Seaford, there was prison visiting to do as well as attendance at the Friends Centre; Hodges was a practising Quaker.

Despite his becoming a lecturer at Brighton Polytechnic School of Art and Design in 1959, money was still sometimes tight. Ever the purist, Hodges would hurl perfectly good drafts for his latest commission into the bin, starting all over again even after midnight in order to get everything just right. Working mostly with pen and ink plus occasional watercolours, he aimed at an apparent spontaneity belying the many hours he had put into his art.

Sadly missing Greta, who died in 1999, Hodges remained courteous, quizzical, amused and amusing to the end. Spending his last few years in care, he leaves a legacy of artistic achievement and personal charm it would be hard to beat.

Nicholas Tucker

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - SQL Server, T-SQL

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Data Analyst (SQL Server, T-SQL, data)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst...

Day In a Page

Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions
Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

In the driving seat: Peter Kay

Car Share is the comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade. The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road