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Saturday, January 17, 2015

John Berry (1920-2009)

As an artist, John Berry—Jack to his family—was best known as a regular illustrator for Ladybird Books, notably their "People at Work", "Public Services" and the "Hannibal the Hamster" books by Raymond Howe.

John Leslie Berry was born in Hammersmith, London, on 9 June 1920, the son of John James Berry and his wife Grace Katharine (nee Marke), who were married shortly before Christmas 1919. His father, a railway guard, abandoned his family, leaving Grace to raise her five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter, Win.

Berry was educated locally before being accepted into Hammersmith College of Art in 1934. He earned a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy five years later but was unable to take up his place due to the outbreak of the Second World War, a disappointment he carried with him for years.

He volunteered for the R.A.F. in 1940 and served in the Western Desert and the Middle East. Whilst waiting for action ahead of entering Tobruk, Berry produced a poster advertising a national day of prayer. When this came to the attention of Air Marshal Arthur Tedder, Berry was seconded to the 8th Army as a war artist—the only war artist to be drawn from the ranks. Cressida Connolly quotes Berry describing the poor conditions in the Middle East: "I used to have a drawing board and if I left anything on it, the cockroaches would have eaten it by morning." His paintings were exhibited at the National Gallery and four, bought for £35 each, are now in the permanent collection of the Imperial War Museum.

During his war service, Berry made the acquaintance of Major James Riddell, who wrote children's books and, once demobbed, began publishing them himself, with illustrations by Berry. The venture was short-lived but it was through Riddell that Berry began to earn commissions for portraits, his subjects including the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh and Lady Astor.

He also began freelancing in advertising, most famously working McCann Erickson in 1951 when Esso tried to persuade everyone to "put a tiger in your tank," a popular slogan that began as a comic retort by Berry to the idea of drawing a tiger for the campaign. Berry was paid £25 for the suggestion, but remained associated with Esso advertising for the next ten years.


Berry also had a sideline, run through Harrods, producing oil paintings based on customers' photographs.

He was married in 1951 to June Marjorie East, a librarian at Hammersmith Library, and the Berrys were soon raising a family of five—three sons and two daughters. By the late 1950s Berry needed to find work that could provide him with a bread and butter income. He found it with Ladybird Books, with whom he was to be associated for 18 years. Around the same time he was producing covers for paperbacks published by Corgi, Four Square, Panther Books and Penguin and illustrations for Reader's Digest.

His most notable achievement at Ladybird was probably his contribution to the "People at Work" series, which depicted smiling men and women in a wide variety of roles and occupations, from manufacturing cars to farming the land, from the policeman to the postman. Along with the Peter and Jane 'Keyword' books, they typified what readers remember most fondly about Ladybird books and provide a nostalgic warmth for the long-lost age of cheerful, bustling industry and prosperity they depict. Berry himself never thought of them as anything more than commercial art.

Berry continued to produce portraits and in 1986 a portrait of the Princess of Wales was auctioned to raise money for Help the Aged. He painted a second portrait of her for the HQ of the Royal Hussars at Tidworth, Hampshire. He also painted President George H. Bush (senior) and produced oil paintings of native Americans and civil war scenes for sale in the US.

In 2004, an exhibition of work by Berry and fellow Ladybird artist Martin Aitchison was held at the Simon Finch Gallery in London. There was another exhibition at the NEC, Birmingham, the following year.

He died on 10 December 2009, aged 89. Following his first wife's death in 1986, he married, in 1989, Jessie Showell, the widowed mother of a neighbour, who, along with his five children, survived him.

Illustrated Books
The Farce of Fashion, with James Riddell. London, Riddle Books, 1946.
Once Upon a Time. Two fables for children by James Riddell. London, Riddle Books, 1947.
"Tinker Tailor" by James. Riddell. London, Riddle Books, 1947.
The Ladybird Book of London by John Lewesdon. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1961.
The Fireman by Vera Southgate. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1962.
The Policeman by Vera Southgate. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1962.
The Farmer by Ina & John Havenhand. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1963.
The Fisherman by Ina & John Havenhand. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1963.
The Nurse by Vera Southgate. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1963.
Sunny Days by W. Murray. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1964.
The Builder by Ina & John Havenhand. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1965.
The Miner by Ina & John Havenhand. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1965.
The Postman and the Postal Service by Vera Southgate. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1965.
The Public Services: Electricity by Ina & John Havenhand. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1966.
The Soldier by Ina & John Havenhand. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1966.
The Airman in the Royal Air Force by Ina & John Havenhand. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1967.
The Public Services: Gas by Ina & John Havenhand. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1967.
The Road Makers by Ina & John Havenhand. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1967.
The Sailor by Ina & John Havenhand. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1967.
The Car Makers by Ina & John Havenhand. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1968.
Deep Into Africa by Dorothy Kushler. London, Aldus, 1968.
Come to France by Irene Dark. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1969.
The Pottery Makers by Ina & John Havenhand. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1969.
The Shipbuilders by Ina & John Havenhand. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1969.
The Public Services: Water Supply by Ina & John Havenhand. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1967.
Cub Scouts. Who they are and what they do by David Harwood. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1970.
Military Uniforms, 1686-1918 by Rene North. Feltham, Hamlyn, 1970; adapted as Fighting Men and Their Uniforms by Kenneth Allen, Feltham, Hamlyn, 1971.
Come to Denmark by Irene Dark. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1971.
Come to Holland by Betty Scott Daniell. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1971.
The Life-Boat Men by Ina & John Havenhand. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1971.
Scouts. Who they are and what they do by David Harwood. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1971.
The Customs Officer by Max Dunstone. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1972.
In a Hotel by Ina & John Havenhand. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1972.
On the Railways by John Forbes. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1972.
In a Big Store by Ina & John Havenhand. Loughborough, Wills & Hepworth, 1973.
Learning to Ride by Margaret Hickman. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1973.
The Musicians of Breman by the Brothers Grimm, retold by Vera Southgate, illus. with Robert Lumley. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1974.
Trains by David Carey, illus. with others. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1974.
Hannibal on Holiday by Raymond Howe. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1976.
Hannibal on the Farm by Raymond Howe. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1976.
Hannibal Runs Away by Raymond Howe. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1976.
See Inside an Airport by Jonathan Rutland, illus. with John Green, Michael Kelly. London, Hutchinson, 1977.
See Inside a Galleon by Jonathan Rutland, illus. with Michael Trim. London, Hutchinson, 1977; revised as A Galleon, London, Kingfisher, 1988.
See Inside a Television Studio by George Beal, illus. with John Marshall. London, Hutchinson, 1977.
Hannibal and the Pet Show by Raymond Howe, Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1978.
Hannibal Goes to School by Raymond Howe. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1978.
Hannibal on the Nature Trail by Raymond Howe. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1978.
Exploring Knights and Castles by Jonathan Rutland, illus. with others. London, Pan, 1978; revised as Knights and Castles, London, Kingfisher Books, 1986.
Exploring War and Weapons by Brian Williams, illus. with others. London, Pan, 1978; revised as War and Weapons, London, Kingfisher Books, 1987.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, adapted by Audrey Daly. Loughborough, Ladybird Books, 1979.
Ancient China by Michael Gibson. London, Granada, 1982.
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (abridged). London, Deans International, 1983.
Arabian Cuisine by Anne Marie Weiss-Armush. Beirut, Dar An-Nafaés, 1984.
World War II by Ken Hills. Bath, Cherrytree, 1988.
Beyond the Backyard. Photographs, resources and ideas for a wider understanding of economic realities at key stage 3 and 4, illus. with others. Birmingham, Development Education Centre, 1993.

(* Photograph: unknown copyright, from the Daily Telegraph; originally published as a brief note of Berry's passing on 2 January 2010.)

2 comments:

Mike W said...

Sad news, indeed. I believe that Martin Aitchison (b 1919) is the only artist still living from the classic age of Ladybird books. Of course your 2 blogs are connected as some artists such as CF Tunnicliffe illustrated both Ladybird and Brooke Bond books/cards.
Harry Wingfield who died a few years ago aged 91 was probably the last classic artist to pass away before John Berry. RIP John.

SLOW ROBOT said...

I was an avid reader of the Ladybird books when I was little and, in particular, the Hannibal the Hamster books.

I also liked the GARDEN GANG range by young upstart Jayne Fisher.