‘I’ll paint you a story about Jackanory…’ TV show’s art up for sale

Lovers of the BBC story slot can recapture their childhood with illustrator’s images for Stig of the Dump and more

A good story creates pictures inside a child’s head, but the much-loved BBC television show Jackanory was not content to leave it at that. Throughout the last half of the 20th century, commissioned illustrations were as much a part of the programme’s magic as the books. If many of its viewers still have a firm idea what Stig of the Dump looks like, it’s probably thanks to the work of artist Gareth Floyd.

Some of the most evocative images from the Jackanory back catalogue are now being put up for sale for the first time. Floyd, 80, who was born in the then Lancashire town of St Helens, and grew up in Suffolk, is selling more than 1,200 of his storyboard illustrations in an online auction this month: they include many images from Clive King’s Stig of the Dump, and from children’s books by Penelope Lively, Cecil Day-Lewis and Jill Paton Walsh.

The programme, superseded by CBeebies’ Bedtime Story slot, was first broadcast in December 1965 as a short-term experiment. Its title came from a nursery rhyme with the line, “I’ll tell you a story of Jackanory. And now my story’s begun.”

A Gareth Floyd illustration for The Otterbury Incident by Cecil Day-Lewis.
A Gareth Floyd illustration for The Otterbury Incident by Cecil Day-Lewis. Photograph: Ewbank’s Auctions

High-profile actors were initially reluctant to take the storyteller role, particularly Kenneth Williams, who was reportedly put off at first by the idea of wearing a special Jackanory hat. The hat soon went out of favour, but Williams became a regular, as did Bernard Cribbins, now 92, the record holder, with a tally of 111 programmes to his name.

Other actors to sit in the Jackanory chair include British cinema greats such as Margaret Rutherford and Wendy Hiller, as well as Joyce Grenfell, Sheila Hancock, Arthur Lowe, Prunella Scales, Victoria Wood, Judi Dench, Rik Mayall, Michael Palin and Martin Jarvis. Artists Quentin Blake and Barry Wilkinson were also regularly used as illustrators.

Auction house Ewbanks is selling paintings – ranging in size from 27 x 40cm to 40 x 55cm – which would have been shown over five days of broadcasting. Floyd has worked with the auctioneers to group the storyboards into 100 lots, each estimated to sell for between £50 and £150.

“This is an unprecedented sale, with artwork from one of the most iconic children’s TV series ever broadcast,” said the firm’s Chris Ewbank, who believes the sale offers fans of the programme a chance to “recapture a piece of their childhood” by buying illustrations from “a truly talented artist”. “Each image is an impressive size, so would hang well on the wall,” he said.

Illustration for The Dolphin Crossing by Jill Paton Walsh.
Illustration for The Dolphin Crossing by Jill Paton Walsh. Photograph: Ewbank’s Auctions

The sales includes illustrations for books including: The Otterbury Incident by the late poet laureate Day-Lewis, which was read by Martin Jarvis in 1983; Lively’s The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, read in 1977 by actor Ronald Pickup, who died earlier this year; and Paton Walsh’s Dunkirk story The Dolphin Crossing, read by Michael Bryant in 1976. The lots, of up to 15 ink-and-watercolour pictures, often represent one day’s broadcast.

Some books were read over filmed inserts, and occasionally there were no pictures at all, such as in Denholm Elliott’s telling of Ted Hughes’s The Iron Man in 1972. When Dench read Philippa Pearce’s A Dog So Small in 1968, the studio was filled with dogs.

Notable storytellers from outside the world of theatre included illustrator and artist Edward Ardizzone and Prince Charles, who read his book The Old Man of Lochnagar in 1984. The show was dropped by the BBC in 1996, though a brief revival as Jackanory Junior was aired on CBeebies between 2007 and 2009.

• This article was amended on 8 August 2021. Gareth Floyd was born in St Helens, rather than Suffolk as an earlier version said. And he is 80, not 81.

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Vanessa Thorpe Arts and Media Correspondent

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