Saturday, December 30, 2006

Donald Bisset (a.k.a. Donald Bissett)

Donald Bissett was the author of hundreds of short tales for Robin in the 1960s. Many featured the character 'Tubby the Odd-Job Engine' based on the characters created by Eileen Gibb. The Tubby stories began appearing from the very first issue of Robin on 28 March 1953 at which time they were probably written by Eileen Gibb, who was credited with the collection Tubby the Odd-Job Engine (London, Hulton Press, 1956), illustrated by Jill Franksen. From April 1954, the Tubby yarns began alternating with other one-off stories, 'Tracey the Tug Boat', 'Basil Bus Stop', etc. Bissett was definitely writing these by 1964, the stories illustrated by Arthur W. Baldwin, and was still writing them in 1966 when the title of the series became 'Honeytown Tales'.

(Eileen Gibb was credited in Robin Annual until no.8 (1960) but receives no credit in the 1962 annual.)

Bisset (note the spelling) also contributed a weekly 'Story for Bedtime' to Treasure in 1968-69.

Donald Harold G. Bisset was born in London on 30 August 1910, the son of a dress designer, and was educated at the Warehousemen, Clerks and Drapers School in Addington, Surrey. He servied as a lieutenant with the British Royal Artillery during the Second World War. He was married to Nancy in 1946 (later divorced), with whom he had one son.

Bisset -- usually as Donald Bissett -- was an actor for radio, television and on stage, appearing with the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Theatre companies. He was a character actor (and an accomplished horseman) whose movie credits included Movie-Go-Round (1949), Murder in the Cathedral (1952), The Brain Machine (1955), Little Red Monkey (1955), Up the Creek (1958), A Touch of Larceny (1958), The Headless Ghost (1959), Battle of the Sexes (1960), Hide and Seek (1963), Eye of the Devil (1966), Two a Penny (1968), Laughter in the Dark (1969), Blind Terror (1971), Escape from the Dark (1976), Warlords of Atlantis (1977), The Thirty-Nine Steps (1978).

His TV credits included Doctor Who, The Professionals, Edward the King (1975), Dixon of Dock Green, The Year of the French (1982), Poirot, etc.

Alongside his acting career, Bisset was a prolific author, often illustrating his own novels and short story collections. Stephanie Nettell, writing in Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, commented, "Innocence is the essential quality of Donald Bisset's work -- a pure, shining, quite unselfconscious innocence that finds a delighted response in a small child's mind and has an extraordinary cleansing effect in an adult's. Of all the writers who protest that they write for only themselves, or the child within them, Bisset is one of the few I would believe. There is genuine simplicity, a total lack of contrivance or artifice or sophisticated humorous hindsight, in his style, plots (if plots there be -- perhaps "sequence of events" is more accurate), characters, and dialogue."

Bisset himself commented: "All my books are modern fairy stories -- animistic in concept -- and, on the surface, nonsensical, but nevertheless they have meanings (varied)."

As an artist, Bisset designed children's posters and produced what Nettell described as "spiky little childlike drawings" which are attractive to the four, five or six-year-old "who has learnt enough of the rules of language, logic, real life, to appreciate seeing them bent ... who is still immersed in the world of fairy stories and nursery rhymes to enjoy the comfortable recognition of their patterns."

Bisset's books were translated into 16 languages. His best-known series featured Yak, a creature from the Himalayas, which was adapted as an animated television series (which Bisset scripted and narrated) in 1975.

Bisset died in London on 10 August 1995.

Books for Children
Anytime Stories, illus. by the author. London, Faber & Faber, 1954.
Some Time Stories, illus. by the author. London, Methuen & Co., 1957.
Next Time Stories, illus. by the author. London, Methuen & Co., 1959.
This Time Stories, illus. by the author. London, Methuen, 1961.
Another Time Stories, illus. by the author. London, Methuen, 1963.
Little Bear's Pony, illus. Shirley Hughes. London, Benn, 1966.
Hullo Lucy, illus. Gillian Kenny. London, Benn, 1967; as Hello Lucy!, Ernest Benn, 1969.
Talks With a Tiger, illus. by the author. London, Methuen, 1967.
Kangaroo Tennis, illus. B. S. Biro. London, Benn, 1968.
Benjie the Circus Dog, illus. Val Biro. London, Benn, 1969.
Nothing, illus. by the author. London, Benn, 1969.
Upside Down Land. Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1969.
Time and Again Stories (selection of stories from Some Time Stories and This Time Stories), illus. by the author. London, London, Methuen, 1970.
Barcha the Tiger, illus. Derek Collard. London, Benn, 1971.
Tiger Wants More, illus. by the author. London, Methuen, 1971; as Ogg, illus. Amelia Rosato. Oxford University Press, 1987.
Yak and the Painted Cave, illus. Lorraine Calaora. London, Methuen, 1971.
Yak and the Sea Shell, illus. Lorraine Calaora. London, Methuen, 1971.
Yak and the Buried Treasure (from an idea by Susan Rutherford), illus. Lorraine Calaora. London, Methuen, 1972.
Yak and the Ice Cream, illus. Lorraine Calaora. London, Methuen, 1972.
Father Tingtang's Journey, illus. by the author. London, Methuen, 1973.
Jenny Hopalong, illus. Derek Collard. Tonbridge & London, Benn, 1973.
Yak Goes Home, illus. Lorraine Calaora. London, Methuen, 1973.
The Adventures of Mandy Duck, illus. by the author. London, Methuen, 1974.
The Happy Horse, illus. David Sharpe. London, Benn, 1974.
Hazy Mountain, illus. Shirley Hughes. Harmondsworth, Kestrel Boooks, 1975.
'Oh Dear', said Tiger, illus. by the author. London, Methuen, 1975.
Paws with Numbers, with Michael Morris, illus. Tony Hutchings. Maidenhead, Berks., Intercontinental Books, 1976.
Paws with Shapes, illus. Tony Hutchings. Maidenhead, Berks., Intercontinental Books, 1976.
The Lost Birthday, illus. by the author. Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1976.
Journey to the Jungle, illus. by the author. London, Beaver Books, 1977.
The Story of Smokey Horse, illus. by the author. London, Methuen, 1977.
This is Ridiculous, illus. by the author. London, Beaver Books, 1977.
The Adventures of Yak, illus. by the author. London, Methuen, 1978.
What Time Is It, When it Isn't?, illus. by the author. London, Methuen, 1980.
Johnny Here and There, illus. by the author. London, Methuen Children's Books, 1981.
The Hedgehog Who Rolled Uphill, illus. by the author. London, Methuen Children's Books, 1982.
The Joyous Adventures of Snakey Boo, illus. by the author. London, Methuen Children's Books, 1982.
Sleep Tight, Snakey Boo, illus. by the author. London, Methuen Children's Books, 1985.
Upside Down Stories, with Alison Claire Darke. London, Puffin, 1987.
Just a Moment!, illus. by the author. London, Methuen Children's Books, 1988.
Please Yourself. London, Methuen Children's Books, 1991.


  1. Donald Bisset is one of the greatest. Any idea why his books are not published any more?

  2. I have been seraching for who this guy is since I was 15 (I am 32) and lent a book by him to a friend and never got it back - I didn't know his name or the name of the book - until today I saw "Oh dear, said tiger" in a charity shop and recognised the style of drawing - after finding this website I now know the cherished book I lost was called Next Time Stories and I can finally go about getting a new copy! The guy should still be in print - his stories have stayed with me since I was 5!


  4. Trudi,

    Thanks for the additional information. I've just checked on marriage records and he married Ruth M. Clunn in London in July 1984. She died in September 1991, aged only 44.

    I suspect he must have separated from his first wife as the only trace of a Nancy Bisset is a record of death in Truro, Cornwall, in 1997; there are a few deaths listed for Nancy Bissett (with a double 't'), but none the predate Donald's second marriage.

  5. Steve-
    I observe your confirmation to the info I submitted.I should say, however, that when totally unsuspecting, I phoned their house snd asked to speak to her, Donald at first said that he”wasn’t married’..when I reminded him of who I, and she were, he then told me in the coldest matter-of-fact way of her death.I was in a state of shock for a week..and NOT impressed with his people skills...

    He was certainly no diplomat, whatever kind of actor or writer he was..

  6. I became friendly with Donald in the 1980s when we lived in the Barbican and both played bridge there.
    He gave me a copy of 'The JOyous Advebtures of Snakey Boo' and also painted a picture for my wife's birthday. It was shortly before we left London for Woodhall Spa. The painting is of 4 parrots playing bridge and in the background can be seen the St Bride's Church (in the Barbican) and the Tower on the Moor by Woodhall Spa's golf course.

    Roy Cross

  7. Hello chaps! Donald is one of the most amazing writer and same time the least recognized one IMHO. It was very strange that I Could not found recent English editions of his novels as it is still issued in my post soviet country on Georgian language. Could you tell me about him in Brit culture? was he well known? was he popular? or it was just only in soviet countries.

    P.S. It's very funny that soviet guys translated it. I don't think that they have realized same cool mix of absurdity and comedy of novels as it was soviet union itself.

  8. I read him in Russian in my childhood. And now I have a strong desire to read his tales in the original but can't find the books. In my children's book it was written Donald Bisset had painted all the pictures for his books himself, hadn't he really?

  9. My mother was his home carer when he lived in the Barbican. Donald painted my mother two paintings which I still have and also signed books to my children, and gave me an unprinted book, written in his own hand and with doodles all over it, I’ve treasured that for years! He was a lovely man and we would often have tea and cake, he called my children ‘tigers’ I remember him fondly.
    Janet Fowler 4/4/21

  10. Thanks for sharing your memories, Janet.

  11. It is really strange why there are no new publishings. I think it's because there were not no many colorful drawings in them. Now visual picture is more important to sell. But I'm sure we deprive our children of a truly creative and and non-trivial view on our world that always does for children.

  12. I knew Donald. He was my dad's best frirnd. My dad, a canadian soldier in london in WW2 met him in a pub, playing pool. The other players called Donald 'the actor' which to my dad's foreign ear sounded like 'Hector' which my dad y dad assumed was his name, which is what our family called him. My dad was a communist and indeed stalinist and 'Hector' would confide in me that he thought that was over the top.Hector became a darling of soviet cultural diplomacy, he thought because his books were non political. Id ask him about russian writers and maybe that's the seed of why i went on to learn Russian and a long intrrest in Russian literature. But he knew the score and would argue with my dad that it easnt so great back in the ussr. I remember him and my parents trying hash in our living room in London in about 1970 but nobody seemed to get high. And i remember his stories about serving in an anti aircraft gun at night in hyde park. Miss you donald. Dave



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