I recently heard from someone looking for information on Frank Jennens and, as he was a comic strip artist as well as an illustrator, I thought it might make an interesting subject for a column. I was told he "was a children's books and annuals illustrator from about 1917 until the 1950s." He also wrote a couple of books, which he illustrated, which seem to be particularly scarce and sought after: Brown Mouse and its sequel Brown and White.
I have no knowledge of these titles, although I believe they were identified by someone on the Collecting Books and Magazines list some while ago where the first book was described thus: "It was a delightful story of a very plain little girl who had 2 beautiful sisters named Muriel and Marina. She was overlooked in her family but the story tells how with the help of friends she eventually wins her family over to love and accept her and ends with her saving her sister's life."
A dig around the web via Google turns up very little, although two lots of Jennens' original paintings have come up fairly recently. One lot was 3 watercolours of 'Young Girls', painted in the 1940s; another was 'Portrait of a young Man Reading', oil on canvas, signed and dated 1909.
Jennens was also a writer, contributing to Hulton's Girls' Annual 1927 with a story "The Scarlet Signal". Around that period, he was also contributing to the Bruin Boys Annual and to the Amalgamated Press's nursery comics, starting with "Little Snowdrop" in Tiny Tots (1927) and various contributions to Sunbeam ("Lily of the Valley", 1929; "Grandfather's Secret", 1930; and "The Miser's Secret", 1934). Unfortunately, I couldn't come up with any images, although Alan Clark believed him "an accomplished artist [who] produced excellent pen and ink drawings. His painting for book frontispieces and plates were always to a high standard."
Frank Douglas Beaufoy Jennens was born in 1893 at St. Pancras, London. The 1901 census locates him at 17 Camden Square, Camden Town, St. Pancras, living with his widowed mother and various siblings (I've added some further notes I jotted down as I dug around):
- Isabella (b. Birmingham, 3Q 1855)
- Isabel Ruth (b. Islington, 1Q 1879) m. in 1901
- Lilian May (b. St. Pancras, 3Q 1883) m. in 1905
- Maud Ethel (b. St. Pancras, 4Q 1884) m. in 1908
- Lily Gertrude (b. St. Pancras, 3Q 1886)
- Alfred Edward F. (b. St. Pancras, 1Q 1889)
- Frank Douglas B. (b. St. Pancras, 2Q 1893)
- Lawrence Ewart (b. St. Pancras, 3Q 1895)
The 1911 census shows Jennens living at Avoncourt, Loom Lane, Radlett, Hertfordshire, with his mother, Isabella, brothers Alfred and Lawrence and sister Gertrude. 17-year-old Frank's occupation is given as artist. If it is correct that he was painting portraits in oil in 1909, it would appear that Frank was quite a precocious talent as he would have been only 15 or 16 at the time.
As a comic strip artist he was active in the 1920s and 1930s, but this was not his only occupation. A clipping from volume 15 of Drama: The Quarterly Theatre Review (British Theatre Association, 1936) includes brief reports from local dramatic societies. One from the Baldock Dramatic Society reads:
Formed in April 1935 only, our infant Society already feels itself to be an integral part of the communal life of this small Hertfordshire town. Favoured indeed were we at the outset to make the chance discovery that a Mr. Frank Jennens, who had but recently relinquished his professional stage career as actor and producer, was actually living in our midst and—what is more—freely placed his expert services and the fine old Manor House at our disposal! Molly Booth, ER Bingham Harriss and he respectively produced "The Man Who Wouldn't Go To Heaven", "Security" and "Playgoers" (three one-act plays) to be followed last April by "Lucky Dip" under Frank Jennens' producership.This is the same Frank D. B. Jennens as he is listed in the phone book for 1935 at The Manor, Baldock. Indeed, he was listed at various addresses in Kent over the years: phone records show that he resided at Manor House, Baldock , 4 Royal York Mansions, Margate , Palmerston Lodge, Palmerston Avenue, Broadstairs [1938/39], 1 Royal York Mansions, Margate [1941/46], East Northdown House, Margate [1948/50], Elmwood, Broadstairs  and 5 Albion Road, Broadstairs [1954/57]. Frank Jennens' death was registered in Thanet in 3Q 1957, aged 64.
I recently heard from Julie Older and her sister Carol, who remember Frank Jennens from their childhood in Broadstairs. That's Carol and her older sister, Myrna, in the photograph above, reading one of Frank's comics.
Julie and her sisters were befriended by Jennens, whom they knew as Mr. Broadstairs, and Carol had her portrait painted by the artist. Frank lived for many years with his sister, Gertrude, and their ward, Eva Shackleton. The sisters were recently sent some of the annuals that Jennens contributed illustrations to, including the Rainbow Annual 1927 and Tiny Tots Annual 1931.
The above photo, featuring Carol, Arthur Shackleton (Eva's brother), Gertrude, Eva, Frank and Myrna, was taken at Frank's house during a Christmas get-together in 1947.
The following was taken from a book on Broadstairs, the photo originally published in the Broadstairs Guide for 1950. As can be seen from the caption, Jennens (using the stage name Frank Douglas) was still actively involved in repertory.
Novels (illustrated by the author)
Brown Mouse. London, P. R. Gawthorn, 1947.
Brown and White. London, P. R. Gawthorn, 1947.
The Bruin Boys' Annual 1927, illus. with others. London, Amalgamated Press, 1926.
The Bruin Boys' Annual 1929, illus. with others. London, Amalgamated Press, 1928.
Tiny Tots. A picture story book for little people, illus. with others. London, Amalgamated Press, c.1930.
What Katy Did and What Katy Did at School by Susan Coolidge. London, P. R. Gawthorn, 1947.
Anytime Tales by Herbert J. Brandon. Watford, Bruce Publishing Co., 1948.
Fun and Frolic Stories by Berta Lawrence. Watford, Bruce Publishing Co., 1948.
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. Watford, Bruce Publishing Co., n.d.
The Life and Strange Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. Watford, Bruce Publishing Co., n.d.
The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. Watford, Bruce Publishing Co., n.d.
Bevis by Richard Jefferies. London, P. R. Gawthorn, 1949.
The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann R. Wyss. London, P. R. Gawthorn, 1951.
Good Wives by Louisa M. Alcott. London, P. R. Gawthorn, n.d.
The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. London, P. R. Gawthorn, n.d.
Masterman Ready by Captain Marryat. London, P. R. Gawthorn, n.d.
Mr Midshipman Easy by Captain Marryat. London, P. R. Gawthorn, n.d.
Peter the Whaler by W. H. G. Kingston. London, P. R. Gawthorn, n.d.
Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes. London, P. R. Gawthorn, n.d.
Robin Hood and His Merry Men. London, Hampster Books (Early Reader Series 28), 1961?
The Twelve Dancing Princesses and other stories from Grimm's fairy tales. London, Hampster Books (Early Reader Series 31), 1961?
Note: Some of Jennens' illustrations appeared in a series of Early Reader books published around 1961/62, some years after his death. It should be noted that Hamster Books was an imprint of Spring Books who reprinted and recycled material endlessly, so it is possible that these were reprints from earlier titles.
(* My thanks firstly to Jamie Sturgeon who initially confirmed my identification of Frank D. B. Jennens as the artist and first spotted his connections to acting. A huge thanks to Julie and Carol for sending me the photos and clipping.)