Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The evolution of Tootles

Last month I had a truly Ladybird-Geeky treat.  I met up with Ladybird artist John Kenney's closest surviving relative and, over a very pleasant lunch, enjoyed the pleasure of talking with someone who shares my passion for these pictures and in addition learnt a lot more about the man himself.

John Kenney was one of the best loved of Ladybird artists,.  He illustrated almost all the earlier History books, from the first in the series,  'Alfred the Great' in 1956 up to The Pilgrim Fathers, 1972.  He created the artwork for the early Robin Hood books, The Silver Arrow and The Ambush.  And of course, he created many people's childhood favourite: Tootles the Taxi.

I was also shown this piece of original artwork:

An early version of the artwork, now framed behind glass (hence the reflection); different from the final version, but clearly recognisable as the much-loved character. 

The finished artwork, used to produce the book, is almost certainly now in what's called the 'Ladybird Archive' in the Univeristy of Reading (of which more anon).

At this stage, Kenney's ideas for the image are still evolving: Tootles' expression is different; instead of the two children and dog in the foreground, we see a woman and daughter and the background scene is different.  This, of course, only adds to its appeal to the John Kenney fan.  What a wonderful and unique piece of Ladybird history to have hanging on your wall!


Mike W said...

Extremely interesting. The later version appears to be a poor reflection of this classic. In fact it is difficult to think of a Ladybird Book that suffered so much in comparison with a later version. Of course, you may know differently as I have not seen every original & every modernisation.

Helen said...

I think you are referring to the much later, yellow cover version of Tootles that first appeared in the mid 80s, Mike. Updated versions of some books should just never be attempted, should they?

Mike W said...

Helen - I don't think you can ever reproduce genius. That is why I fear for the new Dads Army film!I've just been looking at the Tootles reviews on Amazon. There are 6 for the original version and 16 for the later 1984 one. Strangely the reviews for the later one appear to be extremely complimentary! I don't think they can have read the original one with (or even with the altered 'safety' conscious changes)the John Kenney illustrations otherwise they would have had to downgrade their star ratings or give the original book a 10* rating!

Nicole said...

The page about translations is not very good. I was hoping to get more information about books in foreign languages and saw that they just copied my website making 3 typing mistakes in the link and making 3 further mistakes when they copied the list of languages. For example they changed SiSwati into Swahili. Unfortunately they are 2 different languages.