A prolific and popular illustrator and cartoonist, Charles Henry Chapman is best known for his work on boys’ stories, in magazines such as The Magnet, and especially those involving that immortal schoolboy, Billy Bunter. Charles Henry Chapman was born in Thetford, Norfolk, on 1 April 1879, one of the three sons of an engineer on the staff of Charles Burrell & Co, makers of farming equipment. Educated at Thetford Grammar School from 1889, he moved with his family to Reading, Berkshire, in his early teens, and there attended Kendrick Boys’ School. He showed an early aptitude for art, winning the school drawing prizes and founding and illustrating its magazine, The Kendrick Comet, to which his brother, Walter George, also contributed. He then went on to study at Reading School of Art under the ornithological artist, Allen W Seaby, among others.
In 1898, Chapman began to train as an architectural draughtsman with Anthony Fox, a Basingstoke architect, spending his spare time drawing cartoons. He had his first drawing published in The Captain at the turn of the century, and then in numerous other comics, including Chips, Comic Cuts and Marvel.
Soon able to launch himself as an illustrator and architectural artist, he joined the staff of C Arthur Pearson, and worked regularly for one of its titles, Big Budget, which was edited by Arthur Marshall.
On 24 May 1905, Chapman married Winifred Lewis, the daughter of a builder and owner of a large timber mill. They settled in Woodcote, a small Oxfordshire village 11 miles northwest of Reading. In 1912, they would move to 44 Highmoor Road, Caversham, on the north side of Reading. From there he would commute to London by car. Attracted by the offer of more money, he transferred from Pearson to the Amalgamated Press, though continued to work freelance for magazines issued by other publishers, including Ally Sloper’s Half-Holiday, between 1908 and 1916.
In 1911, Chapman was called into the office of The Magnet, an Amalgamated Press publication, and ‘told that Arthur Clarke, who had been doing all the illustrations, had died suddenly… Would I care to take over The Magnet pictures, covers and all, being sure to copy Clarke’s style so that readers wouldn’t suspect anything? Of course, I said yes’ (‘Brian Doyle meets the distinguished “Magnet” illustrator C H Chapman shortly before his 90th birthday’, Collectors’ Digest, April 1969, page 6). As a result, he illustrated the ‘Billy Bunter’ stories of Frank Richards (the pseudonym of Charles Hamilton) and, in time, became the foremost and finest of Bunter’s illustrators. He produced both the illustrations and cover designs of TheMagnet until 1926, when the arrival of Leonard Shields allowed him to concentrate on the illustrations alone. Though The Magnet folded in 1940, he returned to the subject of Billy Bunter in 1955, succeeding R J Macdonald as the illustrator of books. Through the 1950s, he also illustrated the Billy Bunter’s Own annuals. He continued to fulfil commissions until the late 1970s.
About 1965, Chapman moved to Wingfield, Tokers Green Lane, Tokers Green, to the north of Caversham. Until his death in 1972, his two daughters, Dorothy and Marjorie, looked after him.