illustrator of `The Snowman', which
celebrates its 20th anniversary with new
editions of the hardback and video and, next
month, the stage show at the Peacock
Theatre in London, `Father Christmas' is 25.
Other illustrated books include `Fungus the
Bogeyman', `When the Wind Blows', `The
Bear' (out now in video) and his latest book,
`Ethel and Ernest' is out now
Not walking on air: Wimbledon Park Elementary school had the largest playground in London and part of it was fenced off during the War for allotments for the older boys. The only time I got caned was for jumping over the fence to get my ball back. It was one single whack from the Headmaster, and afterwards I was in such a nervous state that I had the curious feeling of my feet not touching the ground. It was if I was walking, not on air, which suggests elation, but on mud. I looked in the mirror; I saw this red stripe on my bottom and hoped my mother wouldn't notice.
Textbook murder: In 1944 I passed "The Scholarship" to Rutlish Grammar School in Merton Park. John Major went there later, but we were really thrilled that the sadistic murderer, George Neville Heath, was an ex-Rutlishian. He was in his early twenties, so hadn't left that long before, and a bloke at school had one of his old textbooks, a collector's item which was auctioned.
But is it art school? A lot of the teachers had come out of the war in a pretty rough state. I had about eight Latin teachers in one year and never got to grips with it. I loathed Maths, but miraculously I passed it at School Cert [O-level]. I wanted to go to art school at 15: I've got what happened next in my book, Ethel and Ernest, where I have my mother, a former lady's maid, saying: "There's no money in it. He might have gone to Oxford and Cambridge and got a nice job in an office."
Little lamb, who drew thee? For Wimbledon School of Art, you had an interview with the frightening principal with a beard. He was committed to High Art, the Italian Renaissance in particular. I said I wanted to be a cartoonist and he went absolutely ape. He let me in; I think in fact he let in anyone who wanted to come. Several people in my intake should never have been allowed into an art school. One girl used to draw baa-lambs all the time. It was a terrific grounding in old-fashioned, academic painting. At19, I had finished four years there and could put "NDD" (National Diploma of Design) after my name.
Lavatorial art? I did my National Service. I used to catch the bus from Catterick to life classes at Darlington Tech. I always drew this tired old lady; there was only one model in Darlington. I used a disused lavatory at Catterick as a studio, where you got urinals flushing all the time.
Wimbledon? Common! The Slade came after that. Getting in there counted as a county major scholarship: you got a grant from Surrey. I didn't like the Slade, where I was beginning to realise that I was a fish out of water. In the first week, I was showing some of my pictures to some new-found friends. A chap passing by looked at the paintings, then looked at me and said: "Wimbledon?" I was completely shattered. We thought we'd all rebelled successfully against the Wimbledon style.Reuse content