Saturday, June 02, 2018

D L Mays

Robert J. Kirkpatrick

D.L. Mays was perhaps best-known for his dustwrappers and illustrations for many of Anthony Buckeridge’s Jennings books in the 1950s and 1960s. These appeared towards the end of a long and financially-rewarding career as a cartoonist, illustrator, poster and advertising designer and artist.

Mays was born on 4 August 1900 at 83 Hawks Road, Norbiton, Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, and baptized as Douglas Lionel Mays in the local St. Peter’s Church on 10 October 1900. His father, Adam Mays (born in 1874) was an upholsterer, who had married Violet Maud Gray (born in 1877) in Kingston in 1899. They went on to have one further child, Hilda, born in 1903.

At the time of the 1911 census, the family was living at 1 Clifton Villas, Oil Mill Lane, Kingston. Douglas was subsequently educated at Tiffin School, Kingston, and after leaving he enrolled in the 20th Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, serving as a Rifleman in the Army of Occupation in the Rhineland until his discharge in February 1920. He then spent three years at Goldsmith’s College, London, studying drawing and illustration under Edmund J. Sullivan and Harold Speed. At that time, he was living at 11 Ladywell Park Road, Lewisham, and between 1922 and 1925 he also had a studio at 5 New Court, Carey Street, Holborn. (He later moved to 11 and then 2 New Court).

As a professional artist, his early career appears to have been rather diverse. He worked on comics such as D.C. Thomson’s Beano and Dandy; he did covers for several issues of Aldine’s Boxing Novels in 1925 and 1926; and he worked for magazines such as The Windsor Magazine. Many sources say that he also contributed to Big Budget  –  however, as this ceased publication in 1909 this could not have been the case.

In 1928, in Birkenhead, Cheshire, he married Janet Walker Duff, born locally on 3 January 1903 and the daughter of Andrew Nelson Duff, a Scottish engineer. She was a graduate (BA Hons. French) from Liverpool University who had subsequently studied at Strasbourg University, and on returning to England had become Superintendent of the Birkenhead Unemployment Centre, and living at 31 Kings Road, Birkenhead.

In October 1929 Mays and his wife sailed from Liverpool to Montreal, Canada, where Mays took up a post as chief artist for an engraving firm. They returned to England in May 1931, along with a daughter, Mary Madelene, aged 5 months. They went on to have three more daughters: Janet (born in Westminster in 1936), Anna (born in Buckinghamshire in 1938), and Elizabeth (born in Buckinghamshire in 1940).

By then the Mays had settled at “Stannings”, Cokes Lane, Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire, while Douglas also acquired a studio at Museum Station Buildings, 139 High Holborn, which he maintained for much of the 1930s.

In June 1932 he achieved what he later admitted was his earliest ambition, when his first cartoon was published in Punch. He went on to become a prolific cartoonist for the magazine up until 1954.

His earliest known book illustrations appeared in 1938, when he began a long association with Blackie & Son. Amongst the Blackie authors he worked with was Percy F. Westerman, for whom he illustrated 10 books between 1933 and 1940. He worked in a range of genres – naval and air stories, overseas and domestic adventure stories, girls’ school stories – with two of his best-known sets of illustrations being for Noel Streatfeild’s Tennis Shoes in 1937 and Curtain Up in 1944.

He also worked for John Murray, J.M. Dent & Sons, the Lutterworth Press, Collins, the Oxford University Press, A.R. Mowbray & Co., George Newnes & Co., Macmillan & Co., and Thomas Nelson & Sons. According to the 1968 edition of Who’s Who in Art, he also worked for Odhams, William Heinemann & Co., and Hurst & Blackett, although his work for these publishers has yet to be identified.

His illustrations also appeared in several children’s annuals, such as the Amalgamated Press’s Holiday Annual, Blackie’s The Boy’s Budget and Blackie’s Boys’ Annual, the Daily Mail Annual, the Oxford University Press’s Big Book of School Stories for Boys, Great Book of School Stories for Boys, and The Oxford Annual for Girls, and Hodder & Stoughton’s Green Book for Girls.

He also continued contributing to periodicals, such as John Bull (for which he produced numerous full-colour covers), The Girl’s Own Paper (for which he illustrated several of W.E. Johns’ “Worrals” stories), The Bystander, The Tatler, The Passing Show, Brittania and Eve, The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News and, of course, Punch.

In addition to his work as a cartoonist and illustrator, he was also in demand as an advertising and poster artist, for example producing posters for British Railways, and Christmas cards for W.R. Royle & Son Ltd. But it was his humorous drawings and paintings of children and their parents which were generally regarded as his forte. As an obituary in The Times (27 May, 1991) put it:
Mays specialized in depicting the world of the family and of children. As the father of four attractive daughters he was never short of models, turning them on occasion into schoolboys with deft strokes of the pen when the situation required it. He was an immensely hard worker, preferring is house and garden to all distractions, and firmly turning his back on every kind of social ritual. He was therefore able to undertake an astonishing number of commissions, including many witty paintings of family situations for the covers of popular magazines like John Bull. He also illustrated many children’s books. Even with such a workload, his pictures were always superbly drawn, with an in-built elegance that became his hallmark.
Mays remained at “Stannings” in Chalfont St. Giles until the late 1940s, when he bought The Manor House, Church Street, Buckingham. He later also acquired “High and Over”, a modernist white concrete house in Amersham, built in 1931, and which he owned until around 1962. He then moved to 112 Hook Road, Epsom, and at around the same time bought “Mount Whistle”, Ashton, Cornwall, which he owned until around 1976. As The Times put it, “He liked living in country houses that had plenty of space for his studio and his family…..”

Mays left Punch in 1955 after the magazine’s editorship passed to Malcolm Muggeridge. He immediately found a rewarding outlet with Anthony Buckeridge’s Jennings books, beginning with Our Friend Jennings in 1955. (The previous six books had been illustrated by S. van Abbé and Reginald Heade). He went on to provide the dustwrappers and internal illustrations for a further 12 Jennings books, ending with The Jennings Report in 1970, plus a new dustwrapper for a re-issue of Jennings Goes to School in 1962, and the dustwrapper for the compilation volume A Bookful of Jennings in 1966. (Note that most other sources state that he illustrated just 11 Jennings books).

He appears to have done little other illustration work after 1960, and turned instead to oil painting, regularly exhibiting at the Royal Academy. He had previously exhibited with the Royal Society of British Artists and the Society of Graphic Artists, and he was appointed a Brother of the Art Workers’ Guild in 1951.

In around 1980 he moved to 26 Norbiton Avenue, Kingston, not far from his birthplace. His wife, who had had a busy life as a county councillor and J.P., died on 26 April 1985. Mays himself died at Norbiton Avenue on 4 November 1991, leaving an estate valued at just under £450,000 (around £750,000 in today’s terms).

Compiling a checklist of books illustrated by May is extremely difficult. He generally signed his work simple “Mays”, and searching “Mays” in library and bookseller catalogues turns up thousands of entries. The following checklist should therefore be regarded as very incomplete.

Wandy, The Wild Pony by Allen Chaffee, John Murray, 1933
The Disappearing Dhow by Percy F. Westerman, Blackie & Son, 1933
Rocks Ahead! By Percy F. Westerman, Blackie & Son, 1933
A Middy of the Slave Squadron by Harry Collingwood, Blackie & Son, 1933 (re-issue)
Andy-All-Alone by Percy F. Westerman, Blackie & Son, 1934
Melka: The Story of an Arab Pony by Joan Penney, Methuen & Co., 1934
The Queer Island by Violet M Methley, Blackie & Son, 1934
The Call of the Sea by Percy F. Westerman, Blackie & Son, 1935
Melka in England by Joan Penney, Methuen & Co., 1935
Up in the Air by Geoffrey Eyles, Oxford University Press, 1935
His First Ship by Percy F. Westerman, Blackie & Son, 1936
Jaggers, Air Detective by John Templar, Oxford University Press, 1936
John and Marytary by Harry Bulkeley Creswell, Faber & Faber, 1936
Midshipman Webb’s Treasure by Percy F. Westerman, Blackie & Son, 1937
His Unfinished Voyage by Percy F. Westerman, Blackie & Son, 1937
Tennis Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, J.M. Dent & Sons, 1937
Jaggers Swoops Again by John Templar, Oxford University Press, 1937
At The Circus: A Picture Book, Blackie & Son, 1937
Cadet Alan Carr by Percy F. Westerman, Blackie & Son, 1938
Jaggers at Bay by John Templar, Oxford University Press, 1938
Wandy Wins! More Adventures of Wandy, the Wild Pony by Allen Chaffee, John Murray, 1938
Come for a Drive (A Picture Book), Oxford University Press, 1938
On the Road (A Picture Book), Oxford University Press, 1938
Motors, Oxford University Press, 1938 (re-issue of Come for a Drive and On the Road)
In Eastern Seas by Percy F. Westerman, Blackie & Son, 1939
Wings in Revolt by Dorothy Carter, Lutterworth Press, 1939
Mistress of the Air by Dorothy Carter, Lutterworth Press, 1939
Along the Road by John Anderson, Oxford University Press, 1939
In Dangerous Waters by Percy F. Westerman, Blackie & Son, 1940
The House in Cornwall by Noel Streatfield, J.M. Dent & Sons, 1940
Chloe Takes Control by Phyllis Matthewman, Lutterworth Press, 1940
The One-Eyed Trapper by John Morgan Gray, Blackie & Son, 1941
Sword of the Air by Dorothy Carter, Collins, 1941
The Lost World of Everest by Berkeley Gray, Collins, 1941 (dustwrapper)
Sinister Island by C. Bernard Rutley, Blackie & Son, 1942
Josie Moves Up by Phyllis Matthewman, Lutterworth Press, 1943
Percy’s Progress, Oxford University Press, 1944
Hilda, Fifteen by Phillia Garrard, Blackie & Son, 1944
Curtain Up by Noel Streatfeild, J.M. Dent & Sons, 1944 (later re-issued as Theatre Shoes)
Three Terms at Uplands by Angela Brazil, Blackie & Son, 1945
Tubby of Maryland Manor by Olive Dougan, Blackie & Son, 1945
Junior Captain by Nancy Breary, Blackie & Son, 1946
Christmas Thoughts by Wallace Harold Elliott, A.R. Mowbray & Co., 1946
New Year Thoughts by Wallace Harold Elliott, A.R. Mowbray & Co., 1946
The Holiday That Wasn’t by Freda Constance Bond, George Newnes & Co., 1947
The Templeton Twins by Judith Carr, Blackie & Son, 1947
The Green Bracelet by Anne Mountain, A.R. Mowbray & Co., 1947
Secret Passages by Maurice Wilson, Blackie & Son, 1947
The Ghost of Aston Abbey by Anne Mountain, A.R. Mowbray & Co., 1948
Spindle’s Partner by Howard L. Apps, Blackie & Son, 1948
Gabriel was a Troubador: Poems of the Nativity by Pádraig O’Horan, A.R. Mowbray & Co., 1948
Rachel Changes Schools by Nancy Breary, Blackie & Son, 1948
The Adventurous Nine by Heather Prime, Blackie & Son, 1949
The Carols Explore by Freda Constance Bond, George Newnes & Co., 1949
The Queer Island by Violet M. Methley, Blackie & Son, 1949 (re-issue)
The Making of Jerry Dickson by Howard L. Apps, Blackie & Son, 1950
Why Pain and Evil? by Julian Casserley, A. & R. Mowbray, 1950 (dustwrapper)
In the Country by E.R. Boyce, Macmillan & Co., 1952
On the Farm by E.R. Boyce, Macmillan & Co., 1952
Which Religion? Is Christianity Unique? By E.O. James, A.R. Mowbray & Co., 1952 (cover)
Clare, The Younger Sister by Margaret Love, Blackie & Son, 1954
My Book of Elves and Fairies, Collins, 1956 (with other artists)
A Man Called Hughes by Kenneth Lillington, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1962
The Treleon Emeralds by Yvonne Jane Curry, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1962
Oystercatcher Bay by Conon Fraser, Blackie & Son, 1962
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, Collins, 1963 (re-issue)

JENNINGS BOOKS by Anthony Buckeridge, published by Collins (dustwrappers and internal illustrations):
Our Friend Jennings, 1955
Thanks to Jennings, 1957
Take Jennings for Instance, 1958
Jennings as Usual, 1959
The Trouble with Jennings, 1960
Just Like Jennings, 1961
Jennings Goes to School, 1962 (re-issue – dustwrapper)
Leave it to Jennings, 1963
Jennings, of Course!, 1964
Especially Jennings!, 1965
A Bookful of Jennings, 1966, (dustwrapper)
Jennings Abounding, 1967
Jennings in Particular, 1968
Trust Jennings!, 1969
The Jennings Report, 1970


  1. Steve and Robert, thank you for this. You have done brilliant research especially as he is known by his initials - which never helps a researcher and on top of that, the online archive of the Times has the wrong heading for his obituary! Well done. I'll see if I can supply an Odhams illo and try to beat your earliest date!

  2. Hi, thank you for this information on D L Mays as I have been doing a little research for an old gentleman who I bumped into at a local art exhibition in Buckingham yesterday. He’s 82 years old and informed me that his grandad was a friend of Douglas Mays and that he has a couple of original unpublished illustrations that Douglas had given his grandad. He brought me in a photo of a section of a piece of artwork and it’s brilliant and shows a huntsman on a horse holding a lead attached to a hare and a cage full off beagles in a trailer behind the horse. The old gentleman doesn’t have a TV or access to any form of technology to look up information so reading this blog has been really helpful. I will print a copy of the gentleman so he can read about his grandads friend. Many thanks Abby Cork

  3. My grandfather - Thomas Mays was D.L. Mays’s uncle. In 1912 Thomas, his wife Rose and 5 of their first born of 10 children left Kingston on Thames for a new life in Ontario Canada. My father Ronald was 4th born and would have been first cousin of D.L. Mays. My interest in your post is because I’m also an artist primarily in watercolour. I teach watercolours and travel to Europe, Mexico and Canada. My website is



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