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Moving into books

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Working for The Spectator
Quentin Blake Artist
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At the same time I was doing those… working for Punch, which I… it kind of faded out eventually. But… I also… although I didn't… I think know many people in a way at Cambridge, having done one or two things for Granta, I'd met Rory McKewen, who I think was Art Editor of Granta, or something like that. Who after he left Cambridge, came and… to London, and worked for The Spectator, and he used to do cover drawings for The Spectator, and he recruited two or three people… to… to draw for The Spectator. One was an Australian called Bruce Petty, who was quite an interesting man, and… and one or two others. And… and I started doing little drawings, for the cover, and then they decided though they would have a full illustration on the cover, and… and so I… I started doing those, and I did cover… coloured ones for Christmas. And… not every week, but I mean probably three quarters of them I did, which, again was a wonderful sort of experience, because it's like… I thought it was like an actor being in a repertory company, because you didn't know what part you were going to have next week. And I mean you might have been doing the sort of, you know… some view of London, or you might be doing a caricature of a politician, or you might be drawing Bertrand Russell, or you might be illustrating an article by Kingsley Amis or… a series by Evelyn Waugh, and… and of course it… it meant you had a different challenge each time and also you could find a different solution, as long as you were working in two colours. And I used to go into, where were they then? Doughty Street… to get a brief from the editor, or… or someone there. And it was a… when I first went it was a very… I mean it was a very active time. Brian Engliss was the editor, and there was Alan Brien, and Bernard Levin and Katherine Whitehorn and Cyril Ray, and a lot of interesting people were writing for it. And again, I never felt I really belonged in a way… I used to go in, rather like a sort of window cleaner or plumber, or something like that, you know, get… get into work, what… find out what I had to do. And… but you had to take it back, well, the next day, very often, or maybe the day after that, but you didn't often get more than a couple of days. Sometimes if it was a… a literary number, or a books number, you'd get a bit longer, and you could spend a bit more time on it, and then you’d… they'd fit the names in, or you’d have to write the names on it. But that was a… that was a very interesting time for me, and it was… it was like all those things, I probably went on… too long doing it, but I did it… it was in the 60s and there were… there were a lot of interesting things to do and ways in which you could draw it differently. And… last Christmas and the Christmas before, or the Christmas before last, or maybe three years ago… Boris Johnson said, would I do a Christmas cover for them? And I… at the time I… the first time I said no because I thought, you know, I've been… such a long time ago, and I'd been through all that experience and I didn't think I’d want to go back to it. But… Christmas before last I’d… I thought, I can think of something I can do for that. In fact, it might be quite nice to go back and do another one. So, the year before last I did the Christmas cover, and last year I did. I think the two years before that were done by Ronald Searle, which made me think it was… it was quite a good thing to do. So it was quite nice to… to revisit it.

Quentin Blake, well loved British writer and illustrator, is perhaps best known for bringing Roald Dahl's characters to life with his vibrant illustrations, and for becoming the first ever UK Children's Laureate. He has also written and illustrated his own books including Mr Magnolia which won the Kate Greenaway Medal.

Listeners: Ghislaine Kenyon

Ghislaine Kenyon is a freelance arts education consultant. She previously worked in gallery education including as Head of Learning at the Joint Education Department at Somerset House and Deputy Head of Education at the National Gallery’s Education Department. As well as directing the programme for schools there, she curated exhibitions such as the highly successful Tell Me a Picture with Quentin Blake, with whom she also co-curated an exhibition at the Petit Palais in Paris in 2005. At the National Gallery she was responsible for many initiatives such as Take Art, a programme working with 14 London hospitals, and the national Take One Picture scheme with primary schools. She has also put on several series of exhibition-related concerts. Ghislaine writes, broadcasts and lectures on the arts, arts education and the movement for arts in health. She is also a Board Member of the Museum of Illustration, the Handel House Museum and the Britten-Pears Foundation.

Tags: Punch, Cambridge, Cambridge University, Granta, London, The Spectator, Christmas, Doughty Street, 1960s, Bruce Petty, Bertrand Russell, Kingsley Amis, Evelyn Waugh, Katharine Whitehorn, Bernard Levin, Cyril Ray, Alan Brien, Boris Johnson, Ronald Searle

Duration: 3 minutes, 57 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008