Friday, 31 July 2009

Mary Gernat

Mary Gernat was probably one of the most prolific cover artists of the 1960s, and her sketchy, energetic style is probably familiar to nearly every child who bought a paperback book in the 1960s. The range of titles she provided covers for was wide: from Enid Blyton’s St Clare’s, Mallory Towers and The Mystery of... series through countryside stories like Monica Edwards to Malcolm Saville’s adventures. It’s probably fair to say she is better known as a cover artist than as an illustrator, although she did illustrate many children’s books: as illustrator of Sheila McCullagh’s Pirate and other early reader series, her illustrations were probably an intrinsic part of many children’s early reading efforts.

She had a very distinctive, sketchy style, which was well suited to situations full of action. I am particularly fond of her cover for the 1960s Armada printing of I Carried The Horn, which I think wonderfully captures the awful tension of the moment. Mary Gernat was good at capturing that moment, if not always so good at anatomical accuracy!

You would think, from the many paperback pony book covers she did that Mary Gernat was responsible for complete illustrations, but I have been able to find only three pony books for which she provided all the illustrations: Diana Pullein-Thompson's Janet Must Ride, Dorian William's Wendy Wins a Pony and Primrose Cumming's Penny and Pegasus. It's interesting seeing how her style developed in the seven years between the two:

Wendy Wins a Pony is a much more conventional, painterly production than Penny, which is in the instantly recognisable Gernat style.

Her covers for Dragon were even simpler than the ones for Armada: most of the backgrounds are simple blocks of colour, and there is much less background detail, though all the usual action and vigour.

So far, my search for biographical information on Mary Gernat has been pretty unproductive. She was presumably employed by Collins/Armada as a house artist, as she did many, many paperback covers for them, as well as for the Atlantic Publishing Co (Dragon) in the 1960s. I can find no books illustrated by her after 1969, so assume she either retired or died then.

Tracking down bibliographical information hasn’t been straightforward either: the fact she produced covers rather than internal illustrations means it is particularly difficult to track down exactly what she did, as for many books Armada and Dragon tended to keep the original internal illustrations, and it’s the internal illustrator who tends to be listed at the copyright libraries, and rarely a separate cover artist.

Her covers are often confused with those of Peter Archer, another staff artist for Collins/Armada, so it’s worth checking if it’s important to you who did what. The two styles are quite similar, and the cover artist is not always credited, or even, in the case of Monica Edwards’ Cargo of Horses, credited to the wrong artist: although the artist credit is Peter Archer, the style looks much more like Mary Gernat. Tracking titles down then can sometimes be a case of simply following your instincts.
To see all her pony book covers in one glorious go, click here.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Stanley Lloyd

Stanley Lloyd is probably better known for his illustrations for Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series, for which he did all the first edition illustrations than he is for his work on pony books. His background was, however, thoroughly horsy. He was the brother of the artist Thomas Ivester Lloyd, and uncle of John Ivester Lloyd. John's The People of the Valley was a real family affair, with John writing the story and Thomas and Stanley between them doing the illustrations.

The majority of Stanley Lloyd's published work featured horses. He started his career doing magazine illustration for The Detective Magazine, and later for Woman’s Magazine, but his most iconic illustrations are those he did for Primrose Cumming’s Silver Snaffles. Knight, when they republished the book as a paperback, cut the illustrations entirely, but they are one of the things that made the book so magical for so many readers. When Fidra Books reissued Silver Snaffles, all the original illustrations were included.

I think they are among his best - the child looks like a child, and patience is drawn into every line of the pony. It might have been tempting to emphasise the fantastical in a story where ponies speak, but by making their world real, Stanley Lloyd anchored the story, perhaps helping children to believe that it really could happen to them.

His donkey in Ethel Nokes’ That Ass Neddy does have a rare charm too, but his illustrations don’t meet with universal approval.

He did have a weakness for portraying ponies with very wide foreheads, and occasionally rather bulging eyes: Black Beauty is a case in point. This habit either seems to form part of his charm, or to infuriate.

For more pictures of books illustrated by Stanley Lloyd, click here. Many thanks to Carol Hewson, grand-daughter of John Ivester Lloyd for all the family information she so kindly gave me.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Janet Rising: The Word on the Yard (The Pony Whisperer 1)

Janet Rising: The Word on the Yard (The Pony Whisperer 1)
Hodder Children’s Books: £5.99

Information on Janet Rising

I had a bit of time to spare before I caught the train back from Edinburgh recently, so I wandered into Waterstones. I already had a couple of charity shop finds to read - Dervla Murphy’s Through Siberia by Accident, as well as, lick lips, Sherbatov’s The Arabian Horse in case I finished that, so I wasn’t short of reading matter. There’s always something though in the publishing world that slips you by , and in Waterstones I found the first of the The Pony Whisperer series by Janet Rising. Normally I know what’s coming out, but this one completely sneaked under my radar: probably because the most recent Pony Magazine I’ve read recently has been from 1969. Janet Rising, the author, is the editor of Pony Magazine (though if she’s the same person, she also contributed a couple of short stories to the Annual in the 1970s), and I imagine the book’s been promoted to death in the current mag.

I must admit I went into this book with all my prejudices flying. I’m not hugely keen on the horse whisperer genre, where a girl (and it always is a girl – where is Henry the Horse Whisperer?) can do things with horses that absolutely no one else can, and all done in accordance with the latest fashion in natural horsemanship. Why do we need another? I thought. Isn’t Heartland’s Amy enough? And Pippa’s covered the younger generation.

To be fair, pony books have always reflected current thinking in the horsy world. The Pullein-Thompsons promoted two things which no one would even begin to quibble with now: the forward seat and dressage, but at the time opinion was not always for them. Nevertheless, I was expecting nothing much from this book.

So, I didn’t crack and read it on the train. Dervla Murphy, interspersed with a lot of looking out of the window at the glorious Northumberland coast, and wondering quite why the couple sitting opposite me seemed to think my feet were the best place to put their parcel, won out.

A couple of days after I got back, I picked the book up. The heroine, Pia, has divorced parents, and she and her mother have had to move. Drummer, Pia’s pony, has had to move too, and has a place in a new livery yard. Pia immediately gets on the wrong side of the aptly named Cat, the yard’s nasty character, by refusing to move from the stable she’s been allocated. It turns out that this prime stable spot is next door to the yard heart throb, James. When Pia takes Drummer out for a ride, she falls off, and spots a tiny statue of a woman and a horse in the grass. When she picks it up she finds she can hear ponies talk.

I perked up at this, because it is soon fairly obvious that there’s not going to be any mooning about with poor damaged horses. Drummer has a voice of his own, and so do the other ponies. Drummer is more likely to be thinking something uncomplimentary about Pia than misty thoughts of love for his mistress. Pia’s “gift” instantly disappears the moment she puts the statue down, and this of course leads to all sorts of lovely plot complications. Not least of these is when Pia gets not one, but two tv programmes devoted to her and her gift.

I liked this book – it’s written with a lot of verve, and I think Janet Rising’s captured the teenage voice pretty well. It’s not quite Georgia Nicholson (which is perhaps just as well though I’d like to see what Louise Rennison and Georgia would make of the pony world. I’d recommend a good sports bra, Georgia, before you start) – but there’s something of the same energy. I liked Pia’s squirming as her mother starts dating again, and the real toe-crunching horror when mother overdoes the pre-tv show hospitality. The ponies’ voices are authentic, and it’s a good, fun read: some bits made me laugh out loud and it’s a long time since a present day pony book did that. I’m looking forward to the next book. It is, of course, part of a series. Go, Janet Rising, go.

A few words about the cover – Drummer is described in the book as about 14hh, and the animal on the front is a HORSE – not a pony. It’s at least 16 hh. Yes, they’ve got the colour right but whoever was responsible for the cover only had to read as far as page 3 to find a description. And if that was my daughter on the front, I’d tell her to tie her hair back. I bet she wouldn’t listen though.

Friday, 17 July 2009

And yet more fancy dress..

The 1963 Pony Annual decided to give its readers a few ideas to go on for their own fancy dress classes: Lieut Col C E G Hope, the editor, was often asked for ideas, so wrote an article with illustrations from the 1962 Ponies of Britain Show (and you will know from my previous blog post just what comedy gold that was).

I looked at this one for some time in bewilderment before it occurred to me to look at the caption and I could think of nothing whatsoever that this could represent, except possibly something to do with flying as the human seems to have flying goggles. Any ideas?

And would those ideas have included an Abominable Snowman? For this is what Miss A King and Shadow (who was only two) were. This was described as "a severe test for a young pony." Looking at it, I can see that Shadow was the Abominable Snow Pony but I still can't work out what his owner was.

This next is from Horse and Pony Illustrated, 1955, and is proof that the sixties weren't the only decade that had what it took. Jimmy Edwards judged the class at the National Pony Show, and here he is with Wendy and Peter Bucknall. I do like the hound, with her tail firmly stitched to her shoulder.

Back to the Ponies of Britain, here is the goose that laid the golden egg - another incredibly noble little pony.

Mrs E H Parsons and her family were Edwardian bathing beauties, complete with bathing machine:
This was quite a rare excursion into a peaceful activity. War seemed a far more popular theme in dressing up. Here is the Littleton Riding School as Genghis Khan and his horde at Ponies of Britain:

the Millfields Riding School as the Household Cavalry:

and Susan Cole as Boudicca at Ascot in 1955:

All that practice at war came in very handy for the no-holds-barred hell that was the musical sacks at the Weaverham British Legion Show in 1955:

Monday, 13 July 2009

A bit more fancy dress

By special request from Vanessa, because they made her laugh - here are the other Fancy Dress photos from the Ponies of Britain Magazine, 1970. I think she could probably do with a laugh, after all the work at the Fidra Gallery (which now I've seen it I can tell you is fantastic - well, well worth a visit) and having a guest, ie me, over the weekend too.

I'm afraid the cream has already been blogged, but here are the rest:

Mrs E H Parsons - I'm assuming this is the pony book author E H Parsons - and yes, she did, she really did, sew every button on herself. The pony is Garth Remus, one of her famous pair of New Forest ponies, once lent to the Queen. For this effort (the costume I mean, not the lending) she was Very Highly Commended.

This is the Millfields Riding School, Newmarket - "yet another winner .... with a Tyrolean group complete with genuine imported Hafflinger ponies and the whole party in authentic national costume." They won the Winifred Spooner Challenge Cup. Not a hard hat among them, I don't suppose. I think health + safety would have quite a lot to say, and imagine the risk assessment you'd have to do before you dare enter:

  • danger of pinched legs as Tyrolean shorts provide no protection against misplaced stirrup buckles

  • children walking next to the carts are in danger of being run over by those nasty wheels

  • to say nothing of the nasty headaches caused by all those Tyrolean plaits being pulled too tight

Look on it well - you'll never see its like again.


Paul and William Neaverson won 3rd prize with their cart and ciderbarrels. I do like the moustache.

This next lot are from the Summer 1970 show. Millfields Riding School were in the ribbons again: reserve for the Winifred Spooner Challenge Trophy with their "pack of cards".

Below is Mrs J Beaton of Yorkshire as a Zulu Warrior. Her horse was one of those who took a dim view of the mammoth. Poor beastie still looks rather uncomfortable.

"As beautiful as a Butterfly, as proud as a Queen, was pretty Polly Perkins from Paddington Green" - an unknown competitor. I would have thought those wings would have given the more nervous equine competitor pause for thought too, but nothing is mentioned. After the horror that was the mammoth presumably everything else paled into insignificance.

There was a caveman motif in the Summer 1970 show: here's another lot; these ones from Mrs M R Reid, showing Peterborough's cavemen. The exhibit was complete with woad, and a goat, which was being milked when the photograph was taken.

And that's it, I'm afraid. No more fancy dress pics. Or at least not until I unearth a few more of these fascinating historical documents.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The changing face of Jill

I actually had no idea when I started reading the Jill books that a. Black Boy was actually supposed to be black, and b. Jill was not born in the 1960s. This does show just what an impact illustrators make on us. To many, many people, Black Boy will always be a piebald, and that is all down to Bonar Dunlop. He illustrated the first Knight Jill paperbacks in the 1960s, and provided internal illustrations for three titles. When these books were published, Black Boy became a piebald in the text as well. He remained piebald in every edition after that, and so 40 years' worth or so of Jill readers have a piebald Black Boy galloping about their imaginations.

By the time I’d actually bought all the books and finished the Jill series, I had realised that there were other ways of looking at Jill, as the versions I found included some of the old Armada paperbacks, illustrated by Caney. Caney’s Jill was quite a different creature to Bonar Dunlop’s – much less sophisticated but with a charm all her own (and Armada did add to Jill’s sophistication in their publication of Rosettes for Jill by removing her plaits from the illustration to give her a smarter, shorter, hairstyle).

Jill is much sassier in Caney’s illustrations than in the Bonar Dunlops. There’s a lot of character there, which there perhaps isn’t in Bonar Dunop’s Jill, who is rather more of an indentikit 1960s girl having a holiday adventure. I still like the Bonar Dunlop illustrations, though. They have a lot of dash.

Elisabeth Grant, the only other illustrator who provided internal illustrations, produced a Jill who is a more traditional girl – though very few people will have seen those illustrations as they only graced one edition (the laminated hardbacks of the 1970s), with a frontispiece and no other internal illustrations.

Many more artists did covers. Caney of course did the originals, a little altered in the Hampton Super Library edition, and sometimes with re-coloured backgrounds in the Armada printings. Bonar Dunlop did five covers, Mary Gernat two, and there was this very odd effort by Wilding, produced for Foyle's Children's Book Club:

Oh dear. What my grandmother would have called a gawd-help-us. There were more to come. Armada used Caney illustrations for most of their paperbacks, but not all. Mary Gernat was an illustrator used very widely by Armada and Dragon Books in the 1960s. Her sketch style suited books in which there was a lot of action. Her two Jill covers are perhaps not a 100% success: Jill on A Stable for Jill looks short and awkward, and Rapide and Black Boy look more like horses than ponies on Jill Has Two Ponies.

Peter Archer was another illustrator widely used by Armada, and he did one Jill cover. I think his Pony Jobs for Jill has to rank amongst the worst Jill covers. Jill looks as if she's made of wood.

Armada also used an uncredited artist - far superior to the ones above, in my opinion – on some of their later 1960s printings. I have no idea who illustrated these four covers, though I have at times thought it might be Constance Marshall or Elisabeth Grant. I really don't know, but if anyone does, or has any other theories, I would love to hear them.

The only other artist apart from Caney who did a full run of Jill covers was W D Underwood, who did the 1970s Knight Jill edition. I admit I have a sneaking childhood fondness for this one:

but there is nothing at all washing round in my sentimental soul to save this one: cutesome, anatomically suspect, and oh, the eyes of the pony bottom left. My daughter would sell her soul for eyelashes like those. The poor thing looks like an early try out for My Little Pony.

Photographic covers at least avoided artistic licence and peculiar anatomy: in theory at least, a photograph should show horses and people as they are. Jill in the 1980s and onwards switched with fashion and had photographic covers. Only one set (the Rosette covers) were credited, to David Cox Studios. Some photographs are more successful than others, several of them bearing the dead, over-posed hand of the photo story. Here is A Stable for Jill, a particularly sterile example. Just keep holding those brushes above the straw, girls

At least this had a connection with what went on in the book. Bearing in mind Black Boy is supposed to be good enough to win showing contests, I am a bit puzzled by the piebald on this compilation, who is a bit of a podge.

In the 1990s, Jill covers returned to a pictorial cover style by Adrian Lascom, and they are very poor indeed. 

The Fidra editions are a considerable improvement, as after 50 years in the piebald wilderness, Black Boy is again black. Fidra used photographic covers as a direct appeal to today's market. But inside, everything is just as it was in the first edition, and that includes the Caney illustrations.

Jill hasn't always been well served by her illustrators. Childhood fondness can only excuse so much: we'll probably never know if Bonar Dunlop was a prime example of an illustrator not reading the book, or whether some bod at Knight had a precious piebald as a child and decided to make him live on in a newly piebald Black Boy, but I like looking at how Jill's changed over the years. May she continue to do so.

Originally published in 2009, and updated in 2018.