Tuesday, 12 July 2011


I conducted this interview with the charming and fascinating illustrator Jill Bennett, as part of my University Final Major Project 'tea and irony' - a website dedicated to British brands and icons. I have decided to republish this Mulberry inspired piece as I have just read Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox on my new Kindle and was feeling a little sentimental.


Mulberry’s nostalgic inspiration brought back memories of beloved childhood books and bedtime stories, to the Claridge’s audience and Tea and Irony alike. To celebrate the much-loved and missed Roald Dahl, I spoke to Jill Bennett – original illustrator of Fantastic Mr. Fox.

“A good writer’s work brings pictures with it when you read”, Jill informs me when speaking of the inspiration behind her illustrations. True also of a long phone call, after which I dreamt up images of Jill Bennett in a countryside manor house with a crackling open fire, surrounded by Disneyesque foxes and hedgehogs. “Not quite”, says Jill, when I confess these images, “We lived in London – Putney by the Thames, but we did have an old Somerset farmhouse for the summer…and a dear old dog”.

Jill, who studied Theatre Design at Wimbledon School of Art, landed the Fantastic Mr. Fox job as her very first commission; speaking with reminiscent glee about the Fantastic Mr. Dahl, Jill said “I do hope I can remember for you my dear, it’s been such a long time since I spoke of it”. A long time indeed, for it was way back in 1974 when Jill packed up her modest portfolio and set off to seek her fortune. But despite her concerns, memories of her first job soon came flooding back, “I put a folder of work together and set off to see the publishers. The editor of Puffin and The puffin Club - Kay Webb, saw me whilst she was putting an exhibition up in Hyde Park; she took me on at once”.

Speaking of arguably the greatest (and without a doubt, the most memorable)children's author of our time, with what I imagine, a twinkle in her eye, Jill recalls how nervous she was on meeting the late and great Mr. Dahl, who she describes as “tall, slender and wearing old cardigans with his elbows coming through”, reminiscent of one Mr Roald Dahl's own characters, perhaps The BFG?. Jill who was understandably very nervous, left the meeting even more jittery than when she had arrived, courtesy of Dahl’s blood-curdling tales, “he loved to make people shudder with his horror stories”, Jill then proceeded to list off a selection of Dahl’s adult books in recommendation, including 'Kiss, Kiss.' “have you read it dear? You must, I read it when I was a student”.

Jill’s apparent and ever-growing fondness of stories has led her to many different areas in her fruitful career, from authoring her own books, to 3D theatre design more recently, she is now one of the leading scale doll makers in the country, but feels a return to drawing and painting may soon be on the cards.

Jill, who arrived in Britain at the age of 11 in 1945, obviously has many more stories to tell, and the next book may well be about the country she now calls home, “I could write a novel about the way things in Britain have changed, I arrived just after WWII, London had been blitzed, there was rationing and no heating.” Yes things have certainly changed since Jill’s arrival and return to her roots (both her parents were British), but as she points out “people are still people”, and what is it exactly that makes a Brit? According to Jill, it is “our ironic sense of humour” adding thoughtfully,  “also, we do love a good grumble, don’t we? Especially about the weather!”