We have amongst the membership several Stationers who are huge car enthusiasts and who will therefore enjoy the following story from Court Assistant Phil Ellaway which combines cars, writing, art and publishing:
At 5am today, Tuesday, 3 May, Gumdrop, a 1926 Austin-Clifton Heavy 12/4 - the big brother of the popular Austin 7 was delivered to the RAC.
Gumdrop belonged to Val Biro, the illustrator, children's book author, motoring enthusiast and Phil Ellaway’s step-father! He found the car in a sorry state in a Thame garage in 1961 and restored it for use as a family runabout. But Gumdrop didn't get into print until Val's publisher asked why he hadn't written any stories about his car. The first in what became long series (37 stories, with translation in 17 languages) appeared in 1966, and many Gumdrop books are still in print today.
Val and members of his family often appeared in caricature, alongside his alter ego - the responsible and rather traditional Mr Oldcastle, Gumdrop's owner, and his dog Horace - Val's own dog in real life.
Val was a prolific illustrator and story teller, driven by his passion for painting and drawing to work late into the night. Always with multiple projects on the go, he could be relied on to turn a job around quickly enough for commissions in weekly magazines, and for countless book jackets in the days when wrap around paper covers were key to selling the content.
Told by his Hungarian father to remain in London at the outbreak of WWII, Val completed his studies at the Central School of Art and was soon recruited as the Publisher John Lehmann's first in house art editor and illustrator. Influenced by artists such as John Piper and John Minton, Val evolved his own styles - from monochrome 'woodcuts' executed on scraperboard, to the ink and watercolour wash on art board that he used in everything from the Gumdrop titles to children's fairy tales and illustrations for school textbooks.
Val died in 2014, but at the age of 92 was still working for the sheer pleasure of it on his next publishing project, and his latest Treasury of Fairy Tales was published last Christmas. As Trustees of his Estate, his daughter Melissa and Phil are committed to keeping his books in print, and Phil's son Chris is the proud keeper of Gumdrop today.