Ladybird Books

The Ladybird busy bee

12 September 2017

If I say Ladybird Books to you, I imagine it will automatically conjure thoughts of childhood. (Unless you received one of the ironic adult Ladybirds Books last Christmas that is.) Hoarder that I am, I still have a shelf at home lined with battered titles ranging from ‘Underwater Exploration’ and ‘Telling the Time’ to ‘The Red Book of bedtime stories’.

Ladybird books

Despite being a graphic designer (and having a nerdy interest in such things) I shamefully never thought much about the many Ladybird series and the myriad of authors and illustrators required to create them over their 150 year history. That is, not until my printer friend Jason popped by the studio with a copy of Ladybird’s ‘Printing Processes’ published in 1971 for us designers to geek out over.

Ladybird Books

Now Jason – who grew up in Addington – and I often chat more about Croydon than printing, but it wasn’t until he’d left, that he decided to do some research on the book’s illustrator, Bernard Herbert Robinson.

By happy coincidence it turns out Robinson was a Croydonian, born in Broad Green in 1930 and schooled at John Ruskin and later Croydon School of Art. As well as an accomplished jazz musician he became a prolific illustrator working for many companies including Ladybird Books for 15 years from 1965-1980.

He illustrated many titles in the ‘How it Works’, ‘Achievements’ and ‘Learn About’ series including ‘Printing Processes’, ‘Computer’, and ‘Making a transistor radio’ – for the latter he didn’t just illustrate the subject matter, but actually made all the radios in the book to make sure the instructions made sense.

Ladybird books

I was curious to see more of his Ladybird illustrations so acquired copies of ‘Computer’ from 1971 and ‘Road Sense’ from 1977.

Ladybird books Ladybird books

‘Road Sense’ intrigues me the most as you can obviously see the influence of our Croydon landscape here with the 60s style roads and architecture. Do you recognise this particular view?

Ladybird books

We may have a few more shrubs and trees since this was illustrated but you can clearly tell this is a view by the now unused subway next to the Fairfield Halls.

Ladybird books

Robinson passed away in 2004 but if I’ve whet your appetite you can find out more about Robinson’s life on this rather fascinating blog dedicated to old Ladybird books:

Thank you to Jason Maclaren for the tip off about BH Robinson and for the photos of ‘Printing Processes’. Ladybirds in the header image by Wes Breazell from the Noun Project.

Posted by Julia.


Jason Maclaren

Great read Julia, I’m glad that I’d stirred this research into B H Robinson. Thanks for the acknowledgement!

Matthew Robinson

Julia. Nice article. I am B H Robinson’s son and am in the picture of Croydon going down into the subway. My brother and sister are the other two in the picture. We were frequently taken out and he would take instant polaroid pictures for reference. I’m glad you like the printing process book as he was very meticulous in his research and accuracy in doing more technical illustrations, and it was all done by hand with gouache paints and ink, with no copiers, scanners or computers! I have a lot more information if you are interested, and much of the original artwork exists (and is much larger that the resulting printed books).

Julia Woollams

Lovely to hear from you Matthew. And great to hear the story behind the subway image. So are you and your siblings in lots of his work? It would be great to see pictures of any other Croydon scenes your dad may have illustrated.

Matthew Robinson

Yes we are in some – in the same Road Sense book we are dotted around I think, many of the remaining street scenes being in East Grinstead High Street. I live in the US now but next time I am back I will look through the artwork and other books to see what I can find of Croydon. In his last few years he did do some sketches of how he remembered the house in West Croydon he grew up in (Southsea Road), which was demolished in the 60’s, that may be interesting to someone..

Martin Hatter

What an interesting post and fascinating comments, thank you.
I absolutely love the art in the old Ladybird books and BH Robinson’s are probably my favourite of them all.


Matthew Robinson, my mother grew up in Southsea Road. I would love to see the sketches (or a photograph of them).


B H Robinson was my favourite artist of the ladybird books especially ‘Horses’. The Roundhead one riding through a stream, I think, has stuck in my mind.


Matthew it’s lovely to hear your story about being included in your dad’s illustrations. We all grew up with those books and loved them. You mentioned there is still some of his artwork around…do you ever sell any of his pictures? If so I would love to buy one (or a print of an original, if that’s an option). I worked in TV studios and outside broadcast units for 25 years so the illustrations in the book ‘How it works – Television’ have always been dear to my heart! Thanks if you can let me know

John Marc Edun

By pure chance I stumbled across this blog after a friend sent me a joke mock-up photo of a Ladybird book entitled “Understanding Croydon” and I did a search to see if there was, by any remote chance, some sort of Croydon/Ladybird link and I was astonished and delighted to read this. Marvellous stuff indeed!

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