Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Ladybird Books of Frank Hampson


While Frank Hampson did work on other strips in Eagle comic, he will be forever associated with the creation of Dan Dare. Yet there is another side to his work that rarely gets the credit that it perhaps deserves — the illustrations he painted for Ladybird Books.

Wills and Hepworth Ltd of Loughborough began publishing children’s books around 1915 but their familiar Ladybird format of 7 x 4.5 inches / 18 x 11.5 cm hardbacks were first issued in 1940. The page size was designed to allow the 56 page books to be printed on a single sheet of paper with no waste, an efficiency brought on in part by economic requirements and in part by wartime paper rationing.

After being paid off from Eagle in 1962, Hampson began work on a series of eleven Ladybird books for Wills and Hepworth. Ten of these were published between 1964 and 1970 with the eleventh remaining unfinished due to the artist’s ill-health. Hampson’s health had not been good for many years and had lead to a slow down in his rate of work which had proved to be problematic for the owners of Eagle. However Ladybird editorial director Douglas Keen allowed him to work at his own pace which, in addition to not having the stress of a deadline, meant that the adherence to detail that Hampson always strived to achieve was not compromised.

The books were –

The Stories Of Our Christmas Customs by N. F. Pearson (1964; Series 644)
Note that this is the only one of the Hampson Ladybird books to be originally issued with a dust jacket.

The First Ladybird Book of Nursery Rhymes [No credited autho] (1965; Series 413)

Out In The Sun by W Murray (1965; Ladybird Keywords Reading Scheme Book 5b)

The Second Ladybird Book of Nursery Rhymes [No credited author] (1966; Series 413)

The Third Ladybird Book of Nursery Rhymes [No credited author] (1967; Series 413)

Through The Ages: Food by Muriel Goaman (1968; Series 606F)

Kings and Queens of England Book 1 by L Du Garde Peach (1968; Series 561)

Kings and Queens Book 2 by L Du Garde Peach (1968; Series 561)

Lives Of Great Scientists: Madame Curie by L Du Garde Peach (1970; Series 708)

Through The Ages: Transport by Muriel Goaman (1970; Series 606F)

The eleventh title that Hampson began working on in 1970 was about the life of Sir Winston Churchill, probably for Series 561. During his work on this Hampson developed a sore throat that refused to go away. When he visited the doctor about it, he was diagnosed with cancer of the trachea for which he underwent deep ray treatment at the Royal Marsden specialist cancer hospital in London. The treatment for his cancer continued for three years during which time Hampson took the opportunity to make the trip of a lifetime to Samarkand, a city in Uzbekistan on the old Silk Road between China and Europe.

The Churchill Ladybird book was never finished by Hampson. It was not reassigned to another artist, either to complete or to begin again, and so was never published in any form. After his cancer scare Hampson did not return to illustrating Ladybird books but instead took a Batchelor of Arts course on Arts and Humanities with the Open University and began work at NESCOT, the North East Surrey College of Technology, in Epsom.

(* Ladybird Books © Ladybird Books Ltd.; you can find further information about Ladybird books from their official website; there is also an official website for vintage Ladybird Books.)


  1. Great stuff. Immediately I went off to Amazon to buy 1 or 2 for my boys (and myself). Some of the reviewers comments were funny though, recommending the modern editions with cartoon illustrations as they found Hampson's stuff creepy and too life-like!

  2. A most interesting article - many thanks.

  3. Just looked at some of the Amazon reviews of Ladybird books - they are almost worth a publication in themselves. My favourites are the ones for The Animal Series (497) which appear to be linked - titles such as Cocky the Lazy Rooster - and the reviews for the Well-Loved Tales Series which generally yearn for the original pictures for titles such as The Gingerbread Boy instead of the wishy washy cartoon like reimaginings!

  4. Alastair Crompton12 May 2012, 16:38:00

    Thanks Jeremy Briggs for the care and accuracy of your commentary. Every word spot on; no speculation or misleading claims. Up until his BA, Hampson suffered at the hands of academics, who wouldn't give him a teaching post in an art class
    because he had no formal qualifications. The funny thing
    is, he didn't have to draw or paint anything during his OU studies or when taking his final exam. The book covers look great.
    Thank you very much.

  5. I loved Ladybird books. Read Kings and Queens of England, King Alfred etc. while learning English.

  6. Do any of Frank Hampson's illustrations for his unfinished Churchill Ladybird book still exist?



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