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Sunday, May 05, 2019

Thomas Henry

Robert J. Kirkpatrick

Thomas Henry was, of course, best-known for his illustrations for Richmal Crompton’s “William” stories, in a collaboration that lasted from 1919 until his death 43 years later. But he was also noted for his work in other fields, with much of his output being humorous in nature, and his style being one of the most recognizable of all illustrators.

He was born on 30 June 1879 in Eastwood, Nottingham, with his full name being Thomas Henry Fisher. His father. Frederick, was an engineer’s fitter, born in Eastwood in 1858 (he died in 1927), who married Emma Roper (born in Norfolk in 1852) in Eastwood in early 1879. Thomas was the first of their six children, the others being Gertrude (born in 1884), Herbert (1887), John (1890), Nellie (1894) and Elsie (1898).

At the time of the 1881 census, the family was living at 19 Lytton Street, Nottingham. Ten years later, Emma and her first four children were living at 11 Bell Street, Nottingham (Frederick’s whereabouts are not known). In 1893 Thomas became an apprentice lithographer at Thomas Forman & Sons, a firm of newspaper proprietors and printers in Nottingham, while at the same time attending the Nottingham School of Art. Most sources claim that one of his first jobs at Forman & Sons was working on the sailor’s head design for Player’s Navy Cut cigarettes – however, the head was registered in 1883, and the final design, with the sailor’s head inside a lifebuoy, was registered in 1891, when Thomas was only 12. He may, however, have been involved in subsequent alterations or enhancements.

By the time of the 1901 census, when he was living at 71 Lees Hill Street, Nottingham with his parents, he was describing himself as a Lithographic Artist. It is thought that his earliest known works were cartoons for Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday in February 1904 and The Nottingham Football Post in September 1904. He signed his early works “T.F.”, and “Thomas Henry”, and he signed his paintings “T.H. Fisher” – this was to avoid any conflict with his employer, who may have objected to him freelancing.

On 1 December 1906, at All Saints Church, Cotgrave, Nottinghamshire, he married Gertrude Ellen Mensing, a local schoolmistress. Born in 1878 in the School House, Tollerton Lane, Cotgrave, she was the daughter of Thomas Wood Mensing and Ellen, née Browne, the village schoolmaster and schoolmistress respectively. They moved to 21 Ilkeston Road, Nottingham, and then, in 1910, to Keywood, Normanton-on-the- Wolds, Nottinghamshire, where they had their only child, Marjorie, born on 7 July 1910. (This address is sometimes recorded as being in Plumtree.) He later joined the Nottingham Society of Artists.

Thomas Henry’s career as an illustrator took off shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, when he began contributing to cartoons to Punch. He subsequently contributed to several other periodicals, including Printers’ Pie, The Strand Magazine, The Boy’s Own Paper, The Red Magazine, Cassell’s Magazine of Fiction, The New Magazine, Tatler, London Opinion, Pearson’s Magazine, The London Mail, The Humorist, The Passing Show, The Novel Magazine and The Royal Magazine. In 1916 he began a long association with the boys’ story paper Chums, published by Cassell & Co. (and for which he illustrated nine school story serials), and in 1919 he began contributing to one of its rivals, George Newnes’s The Captain.

In the same year he also began illustrating Richmal Crompton’s “William” stories in The Home Magazine, published by George Newnes (who had taken it over from Hodder & Stoughton in 1909). He was not, however, the first artist to illustrate a William story – Crompton’s first William story for the magazine was “Ricemould”, published in February 1919, was illustrated by Louise Hocknell, but neither Crompton or the editor felt that he had done the character of William justice, and after inviting other illustrators to submit drawings they chose Henry. He therefore illustrated the second William story, “The Outlaws”, in the March 1919 issue.

The Home Magazine continued to publish Crompton’s William stories and Henry’s illustrations until October 1922. In the meantime, George Newnes began to publish the William stories in hardback, complete with Henry’s original black and white illustrations and with full-colour dustwrappers designed by Henry, beginning with Just William and More William in 1923. These were not, however, Henry’s first book illustrations  –  these had appeared in Gullible’s Travels in Little-Brit, a political satire written by William Hodgson Burnet and published by W. Westall in 1920, and in Thereby Hangs a Tale, a collection of comic stories and sketches written by George Robey and published by Grant Richards in 1921. (This latter title also contained illustrations by H.M. Bateman.)

The William stories moved over to The Happy Mag, published by George Newnes, in December 1922, and Thomas Henry continued to illustrate them, with his illustrations also appearing in the subsequent collections of stories published in hardback by Newnes. In total, his illustrations appeared in 34 William books, ending with William and the Witch in 1964, which appeared after he had died and was partly illustrated by Henry Ford. Possibly uniquely, Thomas Henry was asked by Newnes to re-draw the illustrations later re-issues of the William books, bringing them up-to-date – he re-drew three illustrations for the 1946 re-issue of More William, and in 1950 he re-drew all the illustrations for the first three William books.

In addition to the William stories, Henry also painted covers for The Happy Mag, and usually illustrated at least one other story in each monthly number.

In the meantime, in 1924 Henry began contributing to The Crusoe Mag., launched by George Newnes in June of that year. In particular he illustrated A.M. Burrage’s serial “Poor Dear Esme,” a comedy about a boy who has to enter a girls’ boarding school disguised as a girl. This was subsequently issued in hardback by Newnes, with a Thomas Henry dustwrapper but lacking the original black and white illustrations. A subsequent Esme serial was also illustrated by Henry but not issued in hardback.

The Crusoe Mag. was re-launched as The Golden Mag. in June 1926, with Henry providing illustrations and covers. In 1925 Newnes had launched The Sunny Mag., a companion to The Happy Mag., and Henry again became a regular contributor, responsible for several colour covers featuring William, although the magazine never featured a William story. In 1927 Henry began contributing to The New Magazine, again including covers, which had been taken over from Cassell & Co. by the Amalgamated Press. He was also contributing to the humour magazine Gaiety.

In November 1927 he illustrated the first of a series of “Jane” stories, written by Evadne Price and published in The Novel Magazine. He went on to illustrate fifty or so further stories, although his illustrations were signed “Marriott,” as Evadne Price did not want her stories associated with the William stories. Henry’s illustrations also appeared in the first three hardback collections of Jane stories, published by John Hamilton, Albert E. Marriott and George Newnes respectively in 1928, 1930 and 1932 (with the Newnes title, Enter– Jane) having a Thomas Henry dustwarpper).

As well as the William books, Thomas Henry illustrated several other children’s books. These included five boys’ school stories (by R.A.H. Goodyear, Alfred Judd, Richard Bird, W.R. Henderson and Gilbert Jessop, published by Thomas Nelson & Sons and Blackie & Son), and six “Monty Trio” books, about a group of boy detectives, by Andrew Mackinnon, published by the Victory Press between 1945 and 1949.

In addition to individual children’s novels Henry also contributed to several children’s annuals and story collections, issued by publishers such as Blackie & Son, Thomas Nelson & Sons and Collins – these included The Boys’ Budget, The Big Budget for Boys, The Lucky Boys’ Budget, Blackie’s Children’s Annual, The Girls’ Budget, The Jolly Book, The Boys’ Book of School Stories, School Stories for Boys, Schoolboy Tales, The Schoolboy’s Annual, Schoolboy Stories, Nelson’s Jolly Book for Boys, Collins Boys’ Annual and The British Girls Annual.

He was also responsible for numerous postcards, painted in a variety of styles, both comic and serious, for printers such as Valentine & Sons. He also designed several items of William merchandise, including jigsaw puzzles, a card game, two magic painting books

Henry’s wife Gertrude died of cancer on 30 June 1932. A year later he married Anne Bailey, born in Newstead, Nottinghamshire, on 6 December 1901. She was an amateur operatic and musical comedy singer, who he met on holiday in Newquay. They moved to The Green, Old Dalby, Leicestershire, where Henry spent the rest of his life.

Henry’s workload dipped dramatically during the Second World War, with most of the magazines to which he was contributing ceasing publication. However, he was able to illustrate William stories which appeared in Modern Woman between 1940 and 1946, Homes and Gardens between 1943 and 1945, and in Home Notes between 1947 and 1954. In 1947 he began a series of William strip cartoons in Woman’s Own – these were originally written by Richmal Crompton, but after a while she left it to Henry to not only draw the strip but also to come up with ideas for it.

Also in 1947 he agreed to illustrate a series of new stories by Richmal Crompton about Jimmy, a younger version of William, which appeared in The Star, a newspaper published in London. All together, there were 87 Jimmy stories, with 62 of them being issued in hardback by George Newnes, Jimmy (1949) and Jimmy Again (1951). For some reason, these carried new black and white illustrations by Lunt Roberts. The original Thomas Henry illustrations, however, were restored when Macmillan & Co. re-issued the books in 1998 and 1999. (The “missing” 25 Jimmy stories have since been published by the Just William Society, in five slim volumes, complete with Henry’s original illustrations.)

It is also worth noting here that David Schutte published the 55 William radio plays written by Richmal Crompton and broadcast between 1945 and 1952, in six volumes, all of which had full colour Thomas Henry dustwrappers and black and white illustrations that originally appeared in The Happy Mag and Home Notes.

Thomas Henry died of a heart attack at his home in Old Dalby on 5 October 1962, when he was part-way through illustrating William and the Witch. He left an estate valued at £5,494 (around £104,000 in today’s terms).

(* With thanks to David Schutte.)


Books Illustrated by Thomas Henry
Gullible’s Travels in Little-Brit by William Hodgson Burnet, William Westall, 1920
Thereby Hangs a Tale by George Robey, Grant Richards, 1921 (with H.M. Bateman)
Jack O’Langsett: A Public School Story by R.A.H. Goodyear, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1923
The Luck of the Lennites by Alfred Judd, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1924
An Honest Living by George Robey, Cassell & Co., 1924
Our Elizabeth: A Humour Novel by Florence A. Kilpatrick, George Newnes Ltd, 1924 (re-issue)
Touch and Go and Other School Stories by Richard Bird, Blackie & Son, 1925
Poor Dear Esme by A.M. Burrage, George Newnes Ltd, 1925 (dustwrapper)
The Secret of the Marshes by Jessie Leckie Herbertson, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1928 (re-issue) (dustwrapper)
Tindertoken School by W.R. Henderson, Blackie & Son, 1934 (with Fred Bennett)
Old Amos by Arnold Edmondson, A. Barker, 1937
Adventure for Boys by various authors, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1940(?)
The Monty Trio’s Adventure by Andrew Mackinnon, Victory Press, 1945
Further Adventures of the Monty Trio by Andrew Mackinnon, Victory Press, 1946
The Monty Trio Investigate by Andrew Mackinnon, Victory Press, 1947
The Monty Trio’s Fourth Adventure by Andrew Mackinnon, Victory Press, 1948
Blue Fields by Constance Savery, Victory Press, 1947
Up a Winding Stair by Constance Savery, Victory Press, 1949
The Monty Trio Explore by Andrew Mackinnon, Victory Press, 1949
The Monty Trio’s Great Adventure by Andrew Mackinnon, Victory Press, 1949
Just Jimmy by Richmal Crompton, Macmillan, 1998
Just Jimmy – Again by Richmal Crompton, Macmillan, 1999
Arthur Peck’s Sacrifice by Gilbert Jessop, Thomas Nelson & Sons, (?) (re-issue) (dustwrapper)

“William” books by Richmal Crompton, published by George Newnes Ltd.:
Just William, 1922
More William, 1922
William Again, 1923
William the Fourth, 1924
Still – William, 1925
William – The Conqueror, 1926
William – The Outlaw, 1927
William – In Trouble, 1927
William – The Good, 1928
William, 1929
William – The Bad, 1930
William’s Happy Days, 1931
William’s Crowded Hours, 1932
William – The Pirate, 1932
William – The Rebel, 1933
William – The Gangster, 1934
William – The Detective, 1935
Sweet William, 1936
William – The Showman, 1937
William – The Dictator, 1938
William and A.R.P., 1939
William and the Evacuees, 1940
William Does His Bit, 1941
William Carries On, 1942
William and the Brains Trust, 1945
Just William’s Luck, 1948
William – The Bold, 1950
William and the Tramp, 1952
William and the Moon Rocket, 1954
William and the Space Animal, 1956
William’s Television Show, 1958
William the Explorer, 1960
William’s Treasure Trove, 1962
William and the Witch, 1964 (with Henry Ford)

William “Plays for Radio” published by David Schutte:
William – The Terrible, 2008
William – The Lionheart, 2008
William – The Peacemaker, 2009
William – The Avenger, 2009
William – The Smuggler, 2010
William’s Secret Society, 2019

Further reading 
The William Companion by Mary Cadogan, with David Schutte, Macmillan, 1990
William the Immortal: An Illustrated Bibliography by David Schutte, privately published, 1993

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