THE LADYBIRD BOOKS OF FRANK HAMPSON
by JEREMY BRIGGS
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 –
Note that this is the only one of the Hampson Ladybird books to be originally issued with a dust jacket.
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.)