(Originally posted 21 December 2007; updated because I recently stumbled across quite a bit of new information.)
Whilst there are many artists who worked for Look and Learn who receive plaudits for their work and talent, there were a number of other excellent toilers on the magazine whose names seem to escaped fans. So for every Ron Embleton or Don Lawrence that we know about, there's a Neville Dear or a Reginald Davis whose work is less known.
One artist who deserves another look is Ken Petts, who provided historical illustrations to the magazine during the 1970s, working in both colour and black & white. He was was a prolific artist who worked as an illustrator for Everyman Magazine, Boy's Own Paper and John Bull. He did a great deal of advertising work for Dunlop, Lifebuoy Soap, Rowntree's and others.
Kenneth John Petts was born in Southgate, London, on 17 September 1907. He attended Hornsey Art School at the age of 15. He was married to Elsie Walker in Edmonton in March 1931.
Petts was active as an illustrator in the 1930s, chiefly in advertising, during which decade he was listed at various addresses: 107 Fleet Street, London E.C.4 (1932), 3 Clements Inn, W.C.2 (1933/35) and Lloyds Bank Chambers, Henrietta Street, W.C.2 (1937/39). During the war he served in the Royal Air Force, rising to the rank of Corporal. While there, he drew portraits of commanding officers and American colonels. Post-war, he turned to magazine illustration although continued to work in advertising, albeit to a lesser extent.
In 1952, Petts moved to Bedford where his two children attended the Bedford Modern School. It is thought that his friendship with the caricaturist Sammy Volz, a fellow student at Hornsey Art School and later art master at Bedford Modern School, may have also contributed to his decision to live in Bedford. (He would subsequently be the regular designer of the school's annual Christmas card.)
Petts became very involved in school affairs and was a member of the Martlets, a cricket club composed of Bedford Modern School masters, parents and recent former pupils, who would tour Kent during the summer. He often used local people as models for his work, including three girls used for a cover of John Bull in 1952 and a policeman who became the star of 'The Policeman's Car' on the cover of John Bull in 1956. He contributed a frontispiece to Bedford 1166-1966, showing the presentation of the earliest extant charter by Henry II at Rouen. He also painted a group portrait of 95-year-old Richard Turner (a neighbour of Petts in Beverley Crescent, Bedford) being presented to the Queen by Sir John Howard on the occasion of the Queen's visit to Bedford Modern School in 1977.
Petts was a prolific contributor to John Bull, illustrating covers and various serials (including Winston Graham's 'Night Without Stars' (1949), Hammond Innes' 'Campbell's Kingdom' (1952), David Divine's 'The Golden Eye' (1954) and 'The Golden Fool' (1956)) and The Life of Jesus, published as a supplement to the magazine in 1954. He also produced illustrations for Woman, The Tatler and, in the 1970s, was a regular contributor to Look and Learn.
He also illustrated books including Adventure in Jersey (1970), The Hamlyn Bible for Children (1974; also published as The Illustrated Children's Bible, 1976, and The All-Colour Children's Bible, 1982), The Ancient World (1978), The Roman World (1978), The Dark Ages (1978) and The Middle Ages (1978). The illustrations he produced for The Hamlyn Bible for Children were exhibited at St. Paul's Church, Bedford, in 1991.
He died in Bedford on 20 February 1992, aged 84.
(* Illustrations © Look and Learn Magazine Ltd. You can find more illustrations by Ken Petts at the Look and Learn Picture Gallery)