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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Ken Langstaff (1918-2008)

KEN LANGSTAFF (1918-2008)
by Robin Langstaff

I am writing to pay tribute to my late father, Charles Kenneth Langstaff, who died suddenly on Christmas Eve 2008. He was a quiet but nevertheless extraordinary man.

Born in Buckingham on 2 March 1918, my dad had a good life and, as described by many at his funeral, was a 'Gentle'man in all respects. His main claim to fame was as the illustrator of Tufty the squirrel, used by ROSPA to promote road safety to many thousand of children across the UK through books, public information films and the Tufty Club. Whilst he painted Tufty for many years, he was also an accomplished artist in many mediums and was painting to the end, exhibiting at the Royal Academy and 'Britain in Watercolors'.

Dad was a quiet and unassuming man who never lost his temper and always had time to talk to people. He was always relaxed and managed to maintain an air of calm in the most extraordinary circumstances. The son of a methodist preacher, as a child he moved around the country and then attended Kingswood School on Bath as a boarder. Being frankly hopeless at anything academic (His maths teacher wrote in a report words to the effect of "This subject is completely beyond him") he went on to study what was to be his lifelong passion—art at Nottingham Art College. Later he signed up with the 51st Highland Regiment during WWII and whilst stationed in Aberdeenshire met his wife Helen (Mum) whilst on one of his many excursions into Aberdeen to buy art materials in Boots Art Department where she worked.

During the war he was stationed in North Africa and France where his artistic skills were swiftly recognized and he was attached to military intelligence, being sent out into no-mans land to paint the landscape in order to assist allied tank commanders.

After the war he moved to London where he worked for many years as a commercial artist in a studio in London's Soho, mainly on figurework for brochures and leaflets, drawing people into furniture adverts, etc. It was whilst he was there that ROSPA asked him to draw Tufty. Dad was sent a story by Elsie Mills, the author of the Tufty Books and he would have free rein to do the illustrations. This was a job he loved and together he and Elsie produced many Tufty annuals.

Life changed in the mid-1970s when in the space of a few months was made redundant and at the same time was diagnosed with bowel cancer. After major surgery and many months of recovery he picked himself up and decided to go freelance, possibly one of the best decisions he ever made (apart from marrying Helen). Whilst he still had to so some bread and butter work to earn a living (corny animal greetings cards) he had the ability to broaden his outlook and held his own art shows to show his work.

After he retired (or at least started to draw state pension for he never really retired) he moved to Deddington in Oxfordshire where he continued to paint, in fact if anything I believe he painted more after he retired. After Helen died in 1992, he lived on his own for a number of years before he moved to Mid Wales and living with his eldest son.

In his later years Dad moved into a care home in Knighton, Powys where he enjoyed life to the full, and as I stated before he was painting to the end. He had a number of one man exhibitions in the area and at a rough count we believe some 50-60 of his paintings adorn the welsh houses of family and friends as well as those sold to lucky owners further afield.

Dad will be sadly missed by his 3 sons (Michael, Ian and Robin) and our families as well as his many friends, but most of all we will miss the 'Gentle'man that was our dad. If ever a man deserved to be remembered it was he.

RIP Dad

(* Column header: the discovery of a mammoth, cover from Look and Learn #829 (3 December 1977) © Look and Learn Magazine Ltd.; other images are photographed from original artwork. A huge thanks to Robin and his family for their help.)

6 comments:

Mike W said...

A fascinating tribute and obituary to a very talented and gentlemanly artist. One query - was he born in 1918 or 1924?

Steve said...

Hi Mike,

My mistake, now corrected.

Mike W said...

Hi Steve,
On my version, there is a different date in the title to that in the text. You must have corrected something that I didn't notice!

Steve said...

Hi Mike,

It's probably a cache problem. If you press Control and F5, that should refresh the screen (that's the combination on my PC anyway) and the correction will show.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry for your loss. What a full and interesting life your father had. I came across your tribute as I purchased a signed copy of Born Free from Alibris books that they said came from your father's collection. I feel somehow honoured to have one of his books. best wishes Karen N Melbourne, Australia

Anonymous said...

We have just found this wonderful tribute to your dad,as we were talking about Mr Langstaff's paintings we,ve got in our family and we were wondering how many he did. We were also talking about his very evocative Christmas cards,with family members on them.One in particular,Robin-with a stork on the chimney -shortly before you were born!
Very happy memories from us all,
Barbara,Hilary,Frances and Margaret Kinsey in Bristol.