Born: 7 February, 1913, in New York City.
Died: 5 March, 2005, in Exeter, aged 92.
IT WAS from his father, a Glasgow-born engineer working in New York, that George Adamson acquired his love of technical precision and structure. Whereas his father was a master car-builder for the New York railways, Adamson was to find creative expression through his art.
Following the death of his mother when he was eight, Adamson and his two sisters sailed to England in July 1921, to be raised by maternal aunts in Wigan. His father kept his job in New York, but died the following year, a week before turning 40. After Wigan School of Art (1930-4), Adamson enrolled at Liverpool City School of Art, specialising in engraving.
By 1939, he was working part-time as a visiting art master in a Liverpool secondary school. This was cut short by the outbreak of war, but he had by then exhibited two etchings at the Royal Academy and published the first of many Punch cartoons and covers.
In 1940 he joined the RAF, serving as flight-lieutenant, navigating Catalina flying boats. He was appointed official war artist and some of his drawings are now in London’s Imperial War Museum and the RAF Museum.
After lecturing at Exeter College of Art from 1946 to 1953, Adamson worked briefly for the designers Byrne and Woudhuysen before embarking in 1954 on a prolific career as humorist and book illustrator.
Forever dapper in his cravat or hand-tied bow tie, he was a slightly built man of boundless physical and mental energy. A good swimmer and qualified lifesaver, he once saved a man from drowning while on RAF training in Nassau. He was always a keen walker and well into his eighties he was striding round Manhattan. His taste buds remained finely tuned throughout his life: he greatly enjoyed his wife’s cooking and after she died, he continued to appreciate good food.
Of the more than 100 books for which he did illustrations and covers, he is probably best known for the first children’s books by Ted Hughes. When Adamson spotted the Massachusetts address on the manuscript for Meet My Folks! he assumed the writer was from the US. So he gave his illustrations a New England flavour - Sylvia Plath described them as "very fine and witty".
In the mid 1960s, Adamson stepped into the shoes of Heath Robinson to illustrate Norman Hunter’s Professor Branestawm books. His quirky but assured line perfectly suited the antics of the zany professor. Between 1980 and 1984 five Dear Bill books, written by Richard Ingrams and John Wells, were illustrated by Adamson. They were phenomenally successful; Private Eye reckoned that together they sold several million copies.
As an author in his own right he published A Finding Alphabet (1965), Widdecombe Fair (1966), A Finding One to Ten (1967) and Rome Done Lightly (1972). For the first of these Adamson created colourful but rather surrealist compositions; in the last he takes us on a whimsical tour of Rome, revelling in its architecture and atmosphere.
He undertook many commissions for The Listener, and illustrated Auberon Waugh’s diary column in Private Eye for a while, as well as some 200 case studies for Nursing Times, the latter drawn, as he put it, with "sympathy, humour or grave seriousness".
Meanwhile hundreds of his cartoons adorned the pages of Punch, Private Eye and The Daily Telegraph, among others. His skill as a draughtsman shone through his cartoons as much as his humour leavened his illustration work.
After his sight and hearing had begun to fail, and he could no longer wield a pen, he carried on composing pictures in his mind. Sometimes he talked about them as though others around him could share in his imagination; sometimes all that could be seen of the inner artistry was a beaming smile and a twinkle in his eye.
In the late 1970s Adamson had returned to etching, being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers in 1987. A print of St Andrew’s Cathedral is in the Fleming Collection of Scottish art: amid the gaunt ruins and the tourists, ghostly monks may be glimpsed processing solemnly towards the altar. From behind a tombstone a small child looks on - we too are invited to watch.
Adamson is survived by his two sons, Peter and John.