24th October 2003 at 01:00
Portrait by Neil Turner

There were two teachers who were particularly important to me, though in completely different ways, and they both taught English at Chislehurst and Sidcup grammar school.

I knew RQ Rahtz best as a friend. I was pleased to discover that his second name was the same as my first name, and after I got to know him as a teacher, I found out that he lived across the road from my home. He became almost a pseudo-parent. I would pop across to see Mr Rahtz and his wife and three young children whenever I was at a loose end.

They introduced me to cultural activities such as the local film society and lectures about the arts at the local education centre, and I became so much a member of their family that they even took me on holiday with them to the West Country. Unlike mine, their house was full of books and I can remember poring over their pre-war editions of art books which had wonderful tweed covers.

But our friendship didn't influence our relationship in class. I wasn't teacher's pet, and I remember being disappointed when I got an essay back from Mr Rahtz marked simply, satis. To me he was more interesting as a person than as a teacher. His classes were quite sober. You had to know him well before you discovered his sense of humour. But he encouraged me to get involved with the school magazine, which I edited and wrote and drew in, and the dramatic society and school concerts.

My most influential English teacher, whom I didn't know nearly as well, was JH Walsh. He taught me through to sixth form and prepared me for the Cambridge exam when I got an exhibition to Downing College. He wrote for The Use of English magazine and publications of that kind, and was good at getting you to write about poetry and books as a critic rather than regurgitating facts. Mr Walsh gave me an independence of thought, and you can't have anything better than that. He wrote poetry, which was published.

He died young, but there are plans to reissue his work and I have been approached to do the illustrations.

Probably because of Mr Walsh's influence, I went on to read English at university, intending to teach because I didn't think I could make a living as an artist. I was at Downing when the literary critic FR Leavis was there, so I sat at the feet of the master. I didn't think he was a very good teacher. Harold Mason, my supervisor, was much better. You didn't get any give and take with Leavis until you got to his level, and we were too frightened to say anything.

All through school I drew in the back of my exercise books and on scraps of paper. A nice woman called Mrs Jackson taught me Latin, not to much effect, and it was her husband, a painter and cartoonist, who introduced me to the idea of contributing to Punch. I had two drawings published when I was 16 and continued to work for the magazine for the next 40 years.

By the time I reached the sixth form, most art masters didn't have much effect on me because they tended to adapt lessons to people who couldn't draw. Then a teacher called Stanley Simmonds, who was a painter, came back from the war and he talked to me and gave me practical advice as one artist to another. I owe him a great deal.

When I became a teacher - I taught illustration to postgraduate students at the Royal College of Art for 20 years - I drew on my experiences with JH Walsh and people like him. They showed me that lessons are not just about imparting information, they are also about creating a situation in which you get some kind of reaction from those you are teaching. I adopted the same approach when I came to do books. I thought of the reader as I would a class, thinking how to pace a story: how soon are they going to get bored? What can I put in that would make them think?

Artist Quentin Blake was talking to Pamela Coleman. For the Big Draw (see right), he hosts a creativity workshop for children today at the Royal Academy of Dance, London. His illustrated selection of French poetry is featured in this week's TESTeacher magazine (page 27) The story so far

1932 Born Sidcup, Kent

1943-51 Chislehurst and Sidcup grammar

1953-56 Downing College, Cambridge

1965-78 Lectures at Royal College of Art

1968 Publishes first picture book, Patrick

1978 Illustrates first Roald Dahl book, The Enormous Crocodile

1978-86 Department of illustration head, RCA

1999 Appointed first Children's Laureate

2000 Becomes founding patron of the Campaign for Drawing, which is staging the fourth Big Draw this month

2001 Tell Me a Picture exhibition at the National Gallery

2002-2003 Hans Christian Andersen award for illustration; publication of autobiographical Words and Pictures, and Laureate's Progress; unveils plans for Quentin Blake Gallery of Illustration

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