|Interview with Harry
Harry Wingfield: Where shall I start?
Jo Digger: Ok, well what I suggest
you do is start at the beginning of your life; where
you were born, your family and then I think you should
elaborate on anything else which is important to you.
HW: I’m word perfect on that
JD: Start from the beginning then.
HW: Well I was born in Denbigh, that’s
near to Derby, it’s a village near to Derby. In
1910, my father worked as a glass furnace man in the
local glass furnace, which is more or less obsolete
by then, it was a remnant of the industrial revolution.
And err my mother, she’d been working in the neighbourhood
err as a nineteen year old, helping in a hotel actually
and my father met her. They married in err 1911 arr
and I was born the end of 1910. And straight away we
moved to err Manchester.
I was born in what was an old stone pub next to a small
farm err and there was nine children left in my fathers
family. His father was the foreman at the glass furnace
and err the usual jobs in the, in the area were coal
and iron down the pits and the grandfather had a small
holding sort of, hens and pigs. And my aunt lived next
door and they had some, they rendered some, some lambs
and kept a cow and all that.
On we went to Manchester and we took a small corner
shop and off licence….and I was there for…twelve
years, eleven or twelve years, then a few (inaudible)
I used to have my holidays way back in Denbigh..again,
and my school holidays, I had a lovely time there.
Well, we’d had enough of Manchester by 19….22
about, although I had had the promise, the likelihood
of a placement at the Manchester art school by then,
because I’d found I could draw, but I’d
got this stammer, but I could draw. Err, so I missed
that and we went back to Derby. And our large family,
as my mother’s family had been a large family
as well. Her father was an engine driver- my grandfather.
(Footplate?) it was,…that’s what made him
deaf I should think, looking under (footplates?) all
the time. And we took this small shop in Derby and I
went to school there ……….err and I
took my (education of some sort-inaudible), got to be
sixteen or seventeen, no got to be sixteen when I got
my (?) err and then I went to find a job, even the head
master took me round. I wanted a job in a draftsman’s
office. Because there was Rolls Royce and the railway
works that was a head quarter of the Midlands railways
that the recessive had put me out of this first, no,
no, ok, but I couldn’t get one, recession was
So, I ended up in a grotty little advertising agency
in middle of Derby. Really to learn the commercial art
of business, but there wasn’t anybody there to
teach to me, commercial art and so I taught myself,
from trade magazines and that kind of thing. And go
round all the news bits in the local papers, as sort
of a gofer, bit of this and that.
Then the recession came along in 1930 and our little
agency just failed out right. I had to look round to
find a new job, nobody disappointed like because lousy
as it was. And I saw this add in a Birmingham post in
the central library and wrote after it. Got an appointment
straight away, practically and it was at Crabtrees in
Walsall. And so I went along there and err….before
the interviews got the train, came up the old Station
Yard in Walsall and I thought what a nice place, it’s
quite nice really. Never been there before and Derby
being a county town and on the edge of the country side
all round it, err and err (Harry mumble's)
JD: You had the interview?
HW: I went to this interview and the
chap who interviewed me, me, was the advertising….they
did in-house advertising and it was an electrical manufacturers
and electrical small electric’s, small electric
stuff; circuit brakes and that kind of thing and domestic
switches, all the small switches, did a big range of
switches. The chap who interviewed me was Crabtree himself;
the founder of it. He was the only firm doing work in
Walsall then practically. Because the leather industry
was fading out, although it was still a fair amount
done, but it wasn’t like the old harness and saddlery
industry, which had faded. Nobody wanted it by then,
they’d lasted too long in Walsall, saddles and
harness, but Crabtree was doing very well. And he was
expanding and got a works, had got a nice big office,
nice big work area, out in the (arboreen?), Lincoln
HW: He called his works ‘Lincoln
works’, after Abraham Lincoln. So the road it
was in, was Lincoln road then and he was a nice chap,
a little quiet chap, but he knew what he was wanting
in the way of an advertising assistant. And I took my
specimens along and we talked about them and he made
one suggestion, in one of them, that I’d been,
that I’d made it a bit too complicated, but err,
he was very nice to me and he went down. As he wandered
out he gave a chap a nod, who was, who came with them.
A chap named Cox, and there I was, I got the job without
HW: And it was a living wage for a
single man of twenty years, I was nearly twenty……..I
was very pleased.
JD: What sort of things were you doing
for them Harry?
HW: Oh, I was, there were three of
us who handled the advertising. There was a copywriter
and the manager, who’d had a lot of experience,
in London, in the mail order business. He knew his way
around, in the way of catalogues. It was a very complicated
affair, the Crabtree catalogue, with their old and various
switches and cooking units, but (awkward?) and that
kind of thing. I was the artist and designer and the
layout man, so, and there was a lad who did the filing
early in the business; a sixteen year old kid, and I
found the freedom and the opportunity absolutely fantastic.
I went out with their really good photographers. I
err, I learned a lot about the advertising trade and
I was really keen on being on the printed (selled?),
particularly the picture selling, you know, and I did
very well and I got on all right and I was there for
nearly four years. The money was, was enough to keep
a lad going, you know, I was very pleased. I used to
go home weekends for quite a while.
JD: Go back to the training you had;
the art training you had, Harry.
HW: Oh the art training, well, yes…when
I was in Derby and I was going after the job. I got
the job. That meant I could only do my art training
in the evenings. But that was watercolour, which came
easy because I had been doing it and I’d been
doing a bit of painting as well, with oil and life drawing.
And I had quite a far training there, I mixed with the
day students and got on all right, I enjoyed it there
and had a social life as well, with one of the girls.
Nearly all girls in art school’s, put them there
out of the way I think. Oh, pardon me.
HW: Err, then when I came to Walsall,
I turned up at the Walsall art school and I did-
HW: I, went there a couple, three
times, doing portraits, and the local master there,
a young chap, he wanted me to stay there because, well,
I mean, I could do it really. My eyes were good and
I could hit it straight away, the portraits, I did well.
There’s one upstairs of my father, it’s
faded a bit now, but.
JD: Where was the art school then?
HW: Erm, well, it was in town, I don’t
know where, I don’t know where the technical collage
(Harry mumbles) oh yes, just in (Walsall?). Well then
I thought, well, want Birmingham really because it had
a reputation, the art school, in Margaret Street. And
I said goodbye to the chap in Walsall to (inaudible)
and I started at Margaret Street.
JD: Was this while you were at Crabtree’s?
HW: Yes, yes, yes, I was still at Crabtree’s
then err, though the chap named Stabigdon, had a little
red beard and used to ride a (bigarium square four?)
motorbike. He was the chief licence man there and they
were doing all the modern ideas of err, of, of, cylindrical
things and all that kind of thing and building up like
that. In the……………and it………
………I used to use ……he
used to bring these people off the streets for quick
life drawing…and I got good at all these quick
sketches err and err, I was in the life class all about,
oh, I don’t know how long before I left Crabtree’s
and…….it was a few years there, yes, that’s
where I met Ethel, my wife. She was opposite me on one
of these donkeys and I got a mule. (Her or my) mother
was there, she caught me giving her the eye, the look,
(laugh) giving the eye, and that was it, we got aquatinted
then and that was it………….I met
her just before the war of course, well not just before
the war, I was……..oh, I got Crabtree’s
for about four years and I thought well, I’ve
been here long enough and Mr. Crabtree, I’d met
a lot of nice men and got on well, but thought got to
get a bit further because I got fleet street in my eye…….work
in fleet street and I wasn’t good enough then.
I didn’t know enough commercial, although I was
a good visualiser and I got this job at (Londin?) who
was the best agency in the Midlands and err as a visualiser
job, nice motorbikes, cars, lorries, domestic gas stuff.
HW: And I was there until quite err,
a couple of, the year before the war started and I wanted
to make up because I wasn’t, well I wanted to
make up, wanted to move up money and wanted the experience.
And I got a job in a smaller agency in Birmingham, well
that folded up because I was in competition with the
two very good studio’s, one in particular for
some…….so I went freelancing. Then the war
started almost straight away because (?….) twenty
nine then and I kept on the twelve months until I was
called up. And we were living in Streetly then in Glory
Road got the rented house, a nice house, a new one,
but we had to leave that, got car and went, so the car
left the house and went to her mothers home in Bearwood
and I went to Blackpool and Ethel was drafting really
into a err day nursery for the lady war workers children
in the middle of Birmingham.
JD: Did she have any experience with
children before that?
HW: She’d got Roland then-
JD: As a mother, that was her experience,
she didn’t have any training?
HW: From sixteen onwards, she was
at a small private school in Hall Green, err, and she
did very well and they put right in and she enjoyed
the work and really she got on so well with small children.
JD: She was teaching very little ones
HW: Yes, up to five, six, you know.
And err, it didn’t pay a lot, but she used to
stand in at the cinemas in Bearwood in the middle lane.
It used to have a small orchestra; three or four and
when they wanted an hour off, she’d stand in on
the piano for them- the silent days then of course,
playing or anything. She was very good musician state,
spent hours at that piano, waste of time really, but
she was a real musician. She knew the classics, knew
all the musician, she knew all about orchestra’s,
she knew music. And she went to art school and tried
to get a job as artist in a printers and didn’t
manage it, but anyway, she went to Margaret Street and
I copped her in Margaret Street. And err, she worked
in this day nursery for quite a while.
I left her to go to the radio school, it was a good
job I did leave the radio school because I was stammering
at the time and err, I was unfit for client. My eyes
weren’t too good then, so I went down on the south
coast then and (grandery?) and after a couple of years,
no, I had about eighteen months on the south coast that
was after, not after D-Day, after Dunkirk, that was.
guns and motor machine guns err, that was it. (mumble)….town
near Little Hampton. It’s an open prison now,
it was then err, we moved to another one down in Kent.
Then they formed us into the last regiment and I was
shoved in last regiment then, which I was in for the
rest of the war. But I did a lot of useful stuff; I
went to the (?) err support for the/a coastal squadron,
what’s the (………….?) the
JD: You didn’t use your artistic
talents in the RAF?
HW: Oh yes
JD: What did you do?
HW: They put me in the (motorpool?)
the motorpool, by then we’d got two hundred in
that pool and I was the only sign-writer in that whole
lot because I was good at lettering and err, organising
charts and that kind of thing because I’d done
a lot of that. And so I found a nice spot there eventually…………and
that kind of thing.
JD: What happened at the end of the
HW: Well I was in Germany, when I
was demobbed at the end of the war. That place on the
boat that Lubec and I was demobbed then. Ethel was still
up in Derbyshire then and I came home just after she’d
had Jane, no she’d had Jane for two years then,
Jane was two. But err, bit of bad judgement and she’d
got some twins on the way. I went home anyway, we left
this place in, up in (whatstanel?) up in (Mattle?) and
err, went to Edgbaston and she had the second set of
twins there. One of those died as well, so that left
us with just one out of the four; (Robert, Henry?) Bob
only went into Edgbaston. We left Edgbaston and came
here, Bob went to school at the (………?)
in Sutton. (Robert…..?) but Roger went to collage
in Durham err, on this town planning, four year course.
He’s got his arts degree with honours, I think
it was second class with honours and his charter; town
planning. Bob didn’t want to..Oh, Jane of course
went up to Bishop, the priory school in Lichfield and
she got a second class with honours in English err,
sociology law in government and she went in for teaching.
She got her degree in Exeter in that. I’m getting
a bit complicated aren’t I?
JD: How did you first make contact
HW: I was working full time for Ladybird
from round about 1952 or something like that.
HW: Well, they, Doug
Keen. I’d known him before the war as I told
you. Oh it didn’t go down of course. A little
circle of advertising people in the middle of Birmingham,
junior lads, youngsters in the business, youngsters
in their early twenties, who used to get together. And
after the war and I went into freelancing again and
after (Londin?) because coming back from the RAF I hadn’t
been employed at (Langleys?) because I’d left
(Langleys?) so I couldn’t ask for my old job back
then so I was freelancing. Well, Keen came up with his
Editorial Director the Ladybird man, Wilson Hepworth
and he wanted a title done-Red Riding hood, and the
three bears. He’d gone to a few dealers, the first
one he’d gone to turned him down because of the
price ladybird wanted to pay and directed it my way
because he was a friendly sort of chap. And so I got
that job, we exchanged reminiscences and so on and we
picked up again.
JD: How did you feel about that job,
the work you did for that illustration? How did you
feel about the Little Red Riding hood and the three
HW: Oh, I thought I’d have a
go by jove, it was watercolours and I could do watercolour
and it was a challenge really. Story books were a challenge,
it was a new thing, I was determined I’d give
it all I’d got of making it interesting. The animals
interesting, the utters of humour into the pictures
if I could introduce it and it wouldn’t be in
the way. Loved the picture quality and I pulled out
all the stops on that and well, I was pleased with myself,
it was a new thing really. I wish I’d got a copy.
It (mumble) fairy stories and what you call it, that
kind of thing. And I got another title straight away.
And there was Mrs. Gang when started on this under five
reading, she’d got a proffessor who worked off
tapes, who started one word off a page and a picture,
you see. And the named chief Wilson Hepworth one word
a page, what a waste of a page, but he was talked into
accepting the principle of one word, then two words
and building it up all the time, you see. Well I did
two titles doing that and also another one was ‘shopping
with mother’ and ‘helping in the home’
and that was that really, good number that was-‘helping
in the home’. And err, then this, this reading
allured into the picture, then pulled out all stops
out to get that going and I don’t know if you
remember the magazine called the Eagle.
JD: Yeh, I used to read it
HW: Oh did you?
JD: my brother got it.
HW: Well err, a team of artists working
on that for one particular art agent. There were Dan
Dare men, and ………..way out west, and
the Frank Humphrey’s and another chap I remember,
I forgot his name. Well the eagle collapsed and this
team was out of work then, these strip artists and it
just came in handy for Doug Keen because he had to get
half a dozen key words out in no time at all and I couldn’t
handle them, I could only handle one at a time and a
fine twenty four strips and in full colourlery illustration
doing it right my own way, so we started off with this
team of about four of us, I think we all ended up.
JD: Did you do the first illustrations
for the key reading scheme?
HW: Oh yes, we got the scheme on the
move, some of them, the other artists dropped out because
I set a really hot pace. John Berry was one.
JD: Did you think you were the leader
of the group or….?
HW: I set the style and I’d had the in-house
experience with Ladybird and Keen and I understood each
other. And so I was, really, I was, I was the leader.
JD: So did you-
HW: You don’t have to say so,
so much, but I set the style.
JD: Did you all meet together and
talk about the sort of thing you were going to do?
HW: No, only the first time, but now
and again I’d meet John Berry and I went to meet
Aitchison once in his flat and err, oh, I met them,
but not very often, there was not a lot of co-operation,
not really, not personal contact. It ended up with mainly
myself and Aitchison and Berry got to working on other
parts of the ladybird, not the reading scheme. He’d
soon had enough of that, well, I put it that way, but-
JD: Do you think there was some pressure
on all the artists, to keep your styles similar throughout
the reading scheme?
HW: Yes, really. I got the inside
rail there, but they did, but err, but Aitchison, he
did his more or less line of washes stuff up because
that’s all he knew. Berry, he used commission
photograph, presume a posed picture and then copy that
absolutely down to the last thing, where I didn’t
do that. I took a few, a lot of photographs, I picked
my own models, I adapted into the text and err, made
a different type of thing because I could alter things
all the time, you see, take the model pictures saimly
a lot there pose for domestic articles. I used to use
the mail order catalogues and work off thoses. I adapted
all kinds of ways, use my loaf on adaptions, invented
myself a projection, a projector, save myself about
hundred and fifty quid on the normal thing going at
the time in the agencies.
JD: What was that for?
HW: Well, it’s a trade secret,
but . . .
JD: Oh, go on, tell us.
HW: I used to be able to get the picture,
mean a cutting or anything- I’ve still got the
stuff upstairs, but it’s not working- put it on
a screen with curtains, behind curtains and I’d
got a biscuit tin with a lens I’d bought, bought
for six quid off a lens works in Birmingham. It only
cost me six quid, which projects it onto a glass screen
in a frame with tracing paper on it and it projects
this thing onto the tracing paper and so if you want
to (?……) anything you put it up there on
the back screen, it goes through the lens onto the tracing
paper and you can. Why am I telling you this-
JD: Harry this is fascinating.
HW: I’ve got a heap of photographs
upstairs as well, that I’m going to burn them
at the first-
JD: No, don’t you do that! I
think it’s very important we show these processes.
HW: No. you don’t give trade
secrets away, not-
JD: Well does it matter now, because
it’s part of the history of how things developed
and part of the history of how it all happened?
HW: Well I, all the big people did
it, the Canaleto’s did it and-
JD: Absolutely, Leonardo did it, you
HW: Yeh I know but they didn’t
say so at the time.
JD: Ohhh, I don’t know, I don’t
think it matters.
HW: Canaleto didn’t say to it
at the time and his camera obscuro.
JD: I tell you what the problem is
Harry, people think tracing is cheating, do you know
what I mean? And it’s not its part of the process,
its part of using it.
HW: Yeah I know, but I don’t
want to start a-
JD: Some people would say copying
from photographs is cheating, you know, its not its
different ways of creating it.
HW: Oh, copying from photographs is
translating, just as much as translating a model free
JD: But your taking in tracing, your
taking a line drawing and making it into a painting,
so it’s got the process of transformation. It’s
a different process.
HW: You’ve got to go round telling
everybody else that, not me.
JD: I just think the whole process
of creation, your telling me you use many different
HW: No, but a lot of people think
tracing is a dirty word.
JD: Some people do, but then that’s
if you don’t know the process of…I mean,
what you’ve told me is that sometimes you sit
there and draw from life, sometimes you take photographs
and integrate those and sometimes you trace bits.
HW: It’s just as easy, but not
quite as quick as tracing.
JD: From trade magazines and things,
is that what you mean by articles?
HW: see, I had a spell of painting
potatoes, watercolour and err-
JD: Oh from the actual articles, from
the actual thing, yeah, yeah.
HW: and onions and flowers, I used
to put them up around my drawing table cool it off so
it didn’t expand in the heat and keep it cool
and paint from that (?….) string onions. I used
to have strings of onions because I used to grow lots
of onions and I used to paint from the real thing and
it was just as easy. People don’t realise that
tracings a dirty word-
JD: A lot of people think it’s
a dirty word, but it at least part of the process.
HW: yes I do, so watch it.
JD: So your not going to let me put
your machine in your exhibition as a part of your process
then? I’d be fascinated to do that actually, I
really would love to see it
HW: I’ll bring it down.
JD: We’ll have a look at it
later. But tell me about your models then, who you used
as models for Peter and Jane and the dog and everything
HW: I know it’s interesting,
but it’s been a painful subject for me.
JD: I know
HW: and err,
JD: That’s why I think it’s
good to put the record straight on tape, so you can
say what you want to say about it Harry.
HW: Yeah. Now, erm. You’ve got
to have a pair of models that you can refer to for continuity,
see I mean, you can’t have different people all
the time. For the title it’s got to be the same
model in each picture, doing something else because
there’s the same ones in the next age group titles
see, before 4a – 5a, 4b or 4c and err, so you’ve
got to have models. And the first ones there used to
be a grocers shop at the corner here instead of this
(?……) place and this little girl there was
about six or seven, really nice kid about seven or eight,
used her and her kid from the little aston school. Is
all this going onto tape?
JD: Yeah, are you happy about that?
HW: You rotten thing, aren’t
JD: That’s why it’s important
to set the record straight Harry, straight from the
horses mouth as it were, rather than filtered through
reporters and things. I’ll switch it off if you
want me to, but I just think that you tell people so
that it’s there, but it’s up to you, I can
switch it off if you want me to.
HW: Well I don’t want to tell
people how I do my work. I mean if I’ve got a
reputation for being an artist, I don’t want to
be called a copy, a tracer or that kind of thing because
that's’the business. I’m thinking of the
public attitude as it is, not how it ought to be.
JD: I don’t think they would.
I think your talent is incredible and I don’t
think anyone could deny your talent, you know. Nobody
could ever call you a tracer Harry, they just couldn’t-no
way. But what I’m thinking about putting the matter
straight is about who you used for your models because
I know there was that woman, was claiming-
HW: I’m getting round to that.
Well, I would take, I would err, the situation err,
the picture. I won’t tell you the situation about
what to ,what the text said. I’d build up a layout
up on that, not build it up but think up a layout, work
out a layout that explained the situation, make a rough
sketch……and then when I’d found the
character I wanted, the model, I’d take relevant
pictures of her or him err, in similar actions. It wouldn’t
be the same thing they were doing but err, instruct
them into how to stand and what to do. I’ll show
you the kind of thing, wait a minute.
(HW Showing JD)
JD: What have you got there Harry?
Oh all the books, great. Go on then show me what you
HW: (parts are inaudible)……….take
a quick snap and you use it………..your
determined aren’t you…………take
a picture of each one, you may only have one of the
girls or one of the boys there at a time, so you’d
take relevant pictures and you adapt it into a group,
you build your group.
JD: And then you put your background
and scenery, so you’re building it up from lots
of different components-yeah I understand that. That’s
why they can’t accuse you of tracing- they just
HW: You see, getting dog pictures
isn’t easy, you have to not only change it, you
have to adapt it, you have to make your own addition
JD: Ahh, that’s the early junior
science book. I haven’t seen that one. I borrowed
HW: It’s not an early one, it’s
just that I’ve lost the jacket to it. You see,
this kind of thing, it’s another thing all together,
you have to err. The manufacture situation because there’s
nothing in here worth illustrating.
JD: So, you told me with the junior
science that you actually created and did all the experiments?
HW: Oh yes, I knew they worked.
JD: So did you photograph them while
you were doing them or?
HW: no,no,no, you test it and then
follow the instructions in the text, just like the reader
JD: So what did you do, make all the
bit and the components for it and then paint them from
what you’d made?
HW: Oh yes, or use your imagination.
I mean you know what you want to put down, you don’t
have to make it if it’s in your minds eye all
the time, you see, you don’t make those, you imagine
how you would make them.
JD: Yeah, so quite a lot of the things
in the junior science books are real life and some of
them are imagined, your own memory. I know the kind
of thing. So your doing quite a bit of memory drawing
here aren’t you?
HW: Oh yes, yes
JD: So the whole thing is a lot, a
different combination of a lot of processes?
HW: Oh yes, yes
JD: Really coming together.
HW: You don’t do all that, you
use your ability as a bloomin artist, as you might see.
JD: When you did evening classes at
Margaret Street, was it all life drawing you did and
HW: Yes, that’s all I did there.
JD: Do you think that helped you with
all these illustrations that you did for the Ladybird?
HW: Well it’s bound to have
this long term…….It’s the same as
drawing from photographs, you translate photographs
into drawing and err, you get so used to doing it all
the time that you develop into a capable painter, you
do the right thing because you’ve been doing it
for so long.
JD: Require more and more skills in
HW: It’s like a horse, you watch a horse a lot,
it’s easier than translating a photograph into
just an effect of a picture, you, if your eyes are good
you can turn (?……..) particularly if it’s
at a stable, into what amounts to a photograph really,
through your eyes, through what you accumulated in your
mind through experience, day after day after day. Then
you get fluent, you know how it ought to go and you
do it, though hard to explain, but you translate a photograph,
you don’t copy it, but you see, you didn’t
have, make, didn’t put a girl doing that…..you
just did it………although I was pretty
certain these things worked.
JD: What about the relationship to
the text Harry. How important is that when you are painting?
HW: Well the text is the important
thing, your given a text and you don’t argue.
If you can’t understand it, (inaudible)……………if
it’s a capable text, if it’s for children,
it’s got to be clear and easily understandable
or it’s not a suitable text. If the text is suitable
then you, your there to clarify it by illustrating what
he’s trying to say, see that for instance (Showing
JD) it’s using up air in the glass you see, using
up the oxygen.
JD: So what about in the reading scheme
ones, do you think your illustrations will have helped
children learn to read?
HW: yes. This was number 1, 1a, the
first, no it wasn’t, the second edition- that’s
a different set of models from the first set but you
adapt them………..that’s the neighbour
JD: That’s Peter?
HW: mmmmm, Johnny Glover,…..that
there was the girl from next door, next door but one,…..(mumble)….and
well that could be any girl on the swing. Wouldn’t
be anywhere as clear as that bit, you’ve got to
adapt it, you’ve got to be an artist. Same as
that, you’ve got to think of that, you can’t
make yourself a head-dress everytime……..(mumble)
………that one as well.
JD: On the beach?
HW: You’ve got to look out for
a friendly dog owner for the dog you want. Well the
dog was called Pat, could be a Yorkshire Terrier, a,
it’s the picturesque one and it’s a nice
doggy and there you are. You’ve got to be intelligent.
JD: A lot of the illustrations are
happy idealic childhood images.
HW: Yes, of course that what there
talking about, the criticism of them-
HW: middle-class, well no kids want
to be dustbin kids, you can’t illustrate the dustbin
kids all the time. Well that’s what they were
advocating for donkeys years when these were coming
out, the middle-class err, so what’s the other
HW: Sexist, middle-classist, racist,
that’s the one. No black kids. Well there weren’t
a lot of black kids when I was young anyway.
JD: So do you think you were illustrating
your sort of own kids life and things when you were
HW: I was illustrating what the average
council family would like to be regarded as they were,
but of course you can’t illustrate disadvantaged
kids all the time, it’s not what your business
is doing. I trained myself as a commercial artist, as
selling medium commercial, art is designed to sell….goods…well
that’s the kind of self-training I’d had
for thirty years…..and……for a start
you’ve got to sell to the parent, you’re
not selling to the five year old or the three year old,
you’re selling to the parent or the grandparent,
who’s trying to please these children or teach
them and that’s the recognised way of doing things.
But you’ve got to make them nice to look at, you’ve
got to make things…….oh dear…..
JD: Did it bother you about the accusations
that were placed? Did it bother you when people said
they were sexist and things like that?
JD: no, good, good for you.
HW: You see, these kids are buying
toys, the text says they are buying toys, so you put
them buying toys -nice toys, they needn’t be very
expensive. Sexist (laughing) I couldn’t imagine
that kid kicking a football up in the air like that,
not the girl- they didn’t do it, but the kids
did. And the girls are more in charge of animals than
the boys ever was, the ponies, but the girls couldn’t
climb quite as good as boys. I don’t know if you
ever did, some girls did?
JD: I could, I was a tom boy.
HW: There you are, tom boy, you were
a tom boy.
JD: That’s what girls who climbed
trees were called in those days. They’re not now
of course, a lot of things have changed, a lot.
HW: No, but you’ve got to sell
to the market, you’ve got to advertise to the
market. Kids can mind dogs and ponies.
JD: By the eighties things had changed
HW: Yes, things have changed….now
the babies book you see-
JD: Yes, tell me how you and Ethel
collaborated on things. Ethel is important in a lot
of things isn’t she?
HW: Ethel had six births after all,
she bought up two. She’d bought up all these kids
up in care. She’d bought all these up in the daytime,
she was a nursery warden at (thurselly?) hall, which
was run by a combination of Walsall council and Staffordshire
council, for kids in care who lived in. They had ???
The nursery nurses who had a family. Well Ethel would
have these families in the daytime in her school and
they loved it. She was like that with the kids, she
did murals and had the toys mended, played the piano,
played all the children’s stuff.
JD: What was the first book she worked
with you on?
HW: We had a series, the ‘Learning
with mother’ series, all the practical ideas,
she put the rough together, she put the book together.
I think you’ve seen the roughs haven’t you?
JD: I have yes.
HW: So that was the first one which
JD: Did she do the sketches for the
roughs as well?
HW: No, but-
JD: You did them, but she put the
HW: Yeah I did and err, we just worked
it together and err, now and again she could provide
a model for me, you see, she did the day warden job
in the Lichfield home up in (wizzards?) She had her
own two rooms in the grounds where the kids used to
come in the day. They used to think it marvellous, the
pets corner, the lot.
JD: Is the ‘Learning with Mother’
series your own idea or did Ladybird ask you to do it?
Was it yours and Ethel’s idea or Ladybirds?
HW: Err, well we used to have conferences
with Keen and his wife Margaret and talk it over you
see, talk these over, talk the titles in as well, work
it all out, we were like that the creative side. We
used to go to Stratford, the four of us, we used to
work those things through, like a little committee of
four, working it through. I was the end people of it
and talked, as used more or less err, write or dictate
the text, roughly write it out, sometimes have to re-write
it, but it was nominally her text and everything in
it was hers, all the real meeting it was hers and all
the err, she used to invent things as well, materials
to use. One of her things is to let the kids play with
the empty packages that things came in, the little things
that, you know. Two year old, one year old, use those
things as toys, invent toys, make your own toys, one
to one thing. Or your husband, if he was a handyman,
so your own wood blocks and all that kind of thing,
so works so much. And they gave us a royalty on those
and also the playbooks, we called playbooks, she invented
all these little games that made your own materials
for them, I mean playbooks. You’d be surprised
what she did. Making snakes with ties, tied ties and
all that kind of thing. She’d got an endless program
of all that little inventions.
JD: You said she/you used to read
the times ed and the educational things.
HW: Ladybird wouldn’t help us,
they didn’t know the value of what would be handed
to them on a plate, they paid them an annual fee.
JD: Did she ever go to any of the
meetings that you had in Stratford?
HW: Stratford, oh yes, we used to
go up as a pair of friends, we used to go out as friends,
out for dinner, you know, go out for a meal.
JD: were they sort of creative meetings
that you had with people, passing ideas and that?
HW: Not as that, but it all used to
work out, wasn’t organised, but it would be talked
out and err, Margaret, Keens wife,was very inventive,
err in the initial things, they got the children’s
book trade absolutely at their finger ends because he’d
been selling it for so many years in competition with
McDonald and all the publishers and knocking them for
six as well and the keywords.……..you’ll
have to have a photograph of it.
JD: So you find it just as easy to
paint from real as from a photograph or do you find
it easier from real life than a photograph?
HW: Well the bother with real life
children, in real life is they won’t keep still
more than, I mean, they’re not stable enough,
children, you’ve got to get the impression that’s
the only way to do children, or take a snap. Now I used
to have these, a Polaroid camera, was a god send, but
they’re out of date because I couldn’t get
the film for them. You can take a quick snap of any
little incident and you, it’s only small and you
can translate it, what gives conviction, that you couldn’t
always get out of your head. Because when you’re
doing things out of your head you’re doing it
from the same model in your head all the time, you,
its you that’s coming out, but it’s the
same thing all the time. Well you don’t always
want that. What you want is what the text tells you
what to put, you know.
JD: Did you do a lot of quick sketches
of children as well…..?
HW: not of children, no
JD: They move too fast?
HW: At Margaret Street, we used to
do that every week, quick sketches. Mind you they’d
keep still for five minutes. Be quick at doing that
and I used to do some good stuff (mans name) used to
come round and he used to just look at me and then walk
on, I’d got to sort somebody out.
JD: Did you draw and paint a lot as
a child Harry? In Derby?
JD: What sort of things did you do?
HW: No, in Manchester, well the first
thing a kid does if he’s going to do something
is copy something else. You copy it and you get dexterose
with doing it and the idea, I mean, if you fancy seeing
a cutting……..(inaudible/ look at again)
your six or seven or eight and you think smashing, she
might be thirty or something, but you don’t know,
you copy it.
JD: What sort of things were you copying
as a child?
HW: Well I did one, I remember particularly
that they stuck up on the wall err, a (pagal my heart?)
the title on the bottom was. She’s nice and I
put (pego my heart?) on the bottom and I used to do
horses heads, but not copy them because I used to look
at horses, the milkman’s horse outside in the
street. He used to come and sell milk outside with a
big white (…..?) and a cow on it and he used to
come, the milkman with his milkfloat and his….scanning
this all the time, you know. It’s a lifetime of
building up, you either, if you can draw you want to
JD: Do you think you were really good
as a child in drawing compared to other children?
HW: In (….?) four the church
school, the teaching used to make all the kids bring
a drawing of an animal, oh, for quite a while, every
week. I was in my element then because I could draw
horses then and everything. I’d got it. The only
time she criticised me and she more or less excused
herself because she, by saying that the horses tail
isn’t joined on at the top, I said ‘oh no
I forgot’ (laughing)
JD: You forgot to join it up. That
must have given you a lot, made you feel really good
as a child because-
HW: Not only that……I shouldn’t
say this, I was always top of the form. I’m ashamed
to say these things. One time in form, after the eleven
plus, our English teacher, he gave two prizes; one for
the most popular boy and one for top of the form and
I got both (laughing)
HW: So he wouldn’t give me my
most popular, no, he wouldn’t give me top of the
form, he gave that to number two and I got, and it was
only because I could draw from my horses on the blackboard
in the rainshower. Used to be a racehorse, used to do
it in the express. (Tishi?) it was, used to have a reputation
before because it used to cross it’s legs, so
I was always doing this and doing that.
JD: And the other kids enjoyed it.
So it was the other kids that voted you the most popular?
HW: Yes, it was a vote thing and I
was amazed because I wasn’t even in the football
team, mind you I could swim a bit like, but I wasn’t
even in the football team. I was amazed and when I got
top of the form prize too. You don’t know who
you’re talking to!
JD: (laughing) Top of the form.
HW: That was Margaret’s idea
to do a montage.
JD: That was Margaret’s idea
HW: Yes, but you can’t make
it a montage if you’ve got a darker background,
that’s all the stuffing out of your shadow.
JD: And yet it still works as a montage.
HW: Yes, but I used to draw them with
a white background and then you could put the leafing-
JD: Pealing off from the background,
HW: The (?…….) in-house
people at (Elupra?) used to fill it in with a solid
colour at the back of it, used to take all it’s
impact. The idea was that what a child could do, if
it was a very, very clever child.
JD: With a collage.
HW: But these you don’t have
photographs for these if you can help it.
JD: No, I understand what you’re
saying about constructing a picture and designing it
and get the balance and composition and everything right.
HW: Doing all this is child’s
play, doing it.
JD: Just get the objects in front
of you and draw it.
HW: Either that or go look at a catalogue and see if
there’s one in the catalogue. I used to like that
kind of thing.
JD: Yes, the cartoons, we chose one
of those for the exhibition.
HW: I’d have fun with those.
JD: How did you do that?
HW: Well, you’ve got an idea
in your mind and you see that year before or it’s
an obviously child joke and you don’t have to
copy anything, it just comes out of your head.
JD: Do you know if there are any other
artists that influenced you in your style? Any other
artists you saw?
HW: What particular style?
JD: I don’t know, just in any
Well, yes, particularly with animals, erm Alfred Munnings
I thought he was lovely, he walked on water for me.
Well all that school did err. It was a time when I was
in my late teens and that was the common style of open
air painting, you painted what was in front of you.
He used to have them horses led into his back garden,
yes, he had a studio at the back of the house. He used
to have his horses in and used to make a colour sketch
and they were often better than the finished paintings,
he used them more. Because when your painting for the
first time, if you’re competent, you get the freshness
and if you can handle paint, he used to handle paint
quickly and it looks fresher, it’s worth it. This
picture of my dad I did, it’s upstairs, but the
paint has faded, I tried to restore the paint with faint
spirit washes on it, but it spoiled it. But it has a
freshness and yet it had this accuracy that was altogether,
I wasn’t than, oh, hour to hour and a half doing
it. Looking at it again years after doing it, I thought
this wasn’t half bad, you know.
'In 1974 the six-book SUNSTART series was born and were the first Ladybird books to show black children as the central characters - these books were never sold in the UK and were printed under licence 'for sale only in Trinidad and Tobago'