Creator of Dogger and Alfie, author and illustrator Shirley Hughes, who has died aged 94, was born in 1927 and brought up in West Kirby, near Liverpool, and studied at Liverpool Art School and the Ruskin School of Fine Art, Oxford. From the 1950’s she worked as a freelance illustrator of other author’s books but began to write and illustrate picture books when she had a young family of her own, with her first book, Lucy and Tom’s Day, published in 1960.
A household name, she is known for creating an affectionate but unsentimental picture of the joys and dramas of family life with small children, which have sold in the millions, and this was recognised when she was awarded the Kate Greenaway Medal for Dogger, the story of a favourite toy being lost, in 1977.
When asked in the AOI’s Varoom illustration magazine what was a significant illustration project she’d learnt an important lesson from, she nominated Alfie Gets In First, published in 1981, ‘He was the start of one of my best known creations in picture books. He’s an established character now, but the first time I drew him he was running up the street, in just a felt tip drawing, but I knew he was pink in the face with determination to get into this story.’ An extensive series of books, the most recent Alfie On Holiday was published in 2019.
Hughes has written and illustrated visually adventurous books like Stories by Firelight, Enchantment in the Garden, The Lion and the Unicorn and Ella’s Big Chance for slightly older children, and in 2009 her first graphic book for adults was published, the wordless Bye Bye Birdie. A young man, in his best bow-tie and boater, meets a fashionably dressed – and rather bird-like – young lady. When asked where the idea for this story came from, she said ‘I have no idea – you have to live dangerously, don’t you? Turned down by my regular publishers, and quite rightly too, ‘what on earth are you doing?’ they’d say. I then took it to Dan Franklin at Jonathan Cape, whom I admire for putting graphic novels on the map… I like to stretch myself, and with a character such as Alfie, I wouldn’t want to be on the treadmill of producing another and another, just because it’s a popular book, so I vary myself in between by doing something like Bye Bye Birdie.’
An Association of Illustrators Patron since 1994, she was awarded an OBE in 1999 for Services to Children’s Literature, and in 2000 she was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, followed by a CBE in 2017 for services to literature. A hugely successful creator whose work will live on, she was aware of the illustration world around her, and told Varoom magazine that some of her favourite illustrators were Chris Riddell, James Mayhew and Charlotte Voake, and her daughter Clara Vulliamy.
Illustrator/author, Marion Deuchars, “children love them! Her stories are beautifully simple but the language is evocative and real. Her drawings are exquisitely observed and tender. Every ‘would be children’s author’ should read Dogger. It manages to create drama, empathy and capture childhood in one book.”
Hughes lived in Notting Hill, West London with her architect husband John Vulliamy, who died in 2007. She leaves three children, Ed, Tom and Clara and her grandchildren.
Shirley’s Twitter account shows a large number of her delightful work.