Sidcup’s Quentin Blake celebrates entering ninth decade

PUBLISHED: 09:12 27 December 2012

Quentin Blake with his drawings celebrating Cambridge University's 800th birthday

Quentin Blake with his drawings celebrating Cambridge University's 800th birthday

Zak Hussein/PA Archive/Press Association Images

In the month he turned 80 Sidcup-born Quentin Blake is still the master of the unexpected.


The former Chislehurst and Sidcup Grammar School student is world renowned for his collaborations with Roald Dahl and other children’s authors.

He has been described as “the man who drew childhood” but his latest project is very different.

Sporting Girls, an exhibition which opened at the Malrborough Fine Art Gallery in London on December 12, is a series of nude female drawings.

Explaining the impetus to try something different, he says: “It is important that what I do now is not just a reminder of what everyone knows I can do.”

The cover for Mrs Armitage on Wheels, which Quentin Blake wrote and illustratedThe cover for Mrs Armitage on Wheels, which Quentin Blake wrote and illustrated

Blake’s life began in Hurst Road, Sidcup, where he “grew up with a pencil in his hand”.

Two of his biggest influences were the teachers at the grammar school – one of the reasons he was happy to open the new art block named in his honour in 2007.

“My English teacher J.H. Walsh made me want to get into literature. He was very amusing and engaging,” he says. “But I also owe a great debt of gratitude to Stanley Simmonds, my art teacher. He encouraged my development in art and showed a real interest in me.

“I never had anything like the facilities children have at the school now. It was a real honour to be asked to open the Quentin Blake Building and I hope it can inspire future generations.”

Chislehurst and Sidcup deputy headteacher Parm Thind thinks Blake is an inspirational figure for the school’s students: “There aren’t many children around who don’t know who Quentin Blake is.

“He’s synonymous with art and he went to the same school and came from the same background.

“The building will give great opportunities for pupils and it seemed appropriate to put his name to it.”

Blake lived in Sidcup until the late 1950s when he left to attend art school. But the partnership with another former Bexley resident, Roald Dahl, came about by chance at publishers Jonathan Cape in the 1970s.

Generations of children will be thankful for the partnership, with Dahl crediting the artist for bringing to life characters such as the BFG, Willy Wonka and the Fantastic Mr Fox.

Recalling their working relationship as well as their valued friendship, Quentin says: “Roald always talked to me about what he wanted – it was a collaborative effort but he would let me run away with ideas which would sometimes influence how he wrote the books.

“We were great friends. I know he could be a cantankerous so and so but our relationship worked because we had very different personalities.”

The octogenarian is keen to dispel one myth – of his natural affinity with children. He has never been married and has no children – nor did he want any.

“I’m interested in them as people but that’s about it. I seemed to be able to draw in a way they could relate to but then I always did have a very vivid imagination.”

Far from winding down, he says he is getting busier as he gets older. As well as Sporting Girls, Quentin has had exhibitions at Somerset House and Dulwich Picture Gallery this year, giving him quite a lot to celebrate.

His 80th birthday presents included a poem written for him by actress Joanna Lumley, which she presented to him at a party at Chris Beetles’ gallery in London.

“The week before my birthday was very busy. I met up with old friends and had a few parties but the actual day was quiet without much fuss. I’ve had quite a few birthdays after all,” he laughs.

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