Roy Gerrard was best known for his delightful picture books, which ‘charmed children with ... bouncy rhymes and thumb-shaped characters acting out their adventures – and misadventures – in sumptuous period settings’ (Wolfgang Saxon, The New York Times, 13 August 1997, ‘Obituary’). The son of a coal miner, Roy Gerrard was born in Atherton, Lancashire, on 25 January 1935. His artistic talent was recognised at an early age and, in 1948, at the age of 13, he won a scholarship to train at Salford School of Art. Focusing on etching and lithography, among other subjects, he received a National Diploma in Art and Design in 1954. While working as an abstract oil painter in his spare time, he taught Art at Egerton Park County Secondary School, in Denton, rising to become head of the department.
He then held the equivalent position at Hyde Grammar School, Hyde (1966-80).
An enthusiastic cyclist and rock climber, Gerrard suffered a climbing accident in 1972 and, while laid up, began to paint in watercolour. Realising that this was his ‘true medium’, he abandoned oil, which he had grown to dislike, and destroyed his work to date. He came to the attention of an interior designer, Glynn Stockdale, who collected his pictures. This led to him leaving his teaching career, in 1980, to paint full time. He exhibited at the Royal Academy, and had solo shows at the Seen Gallery, London, between 1978 and 1985, and also at the Crescent Gallery, New Orleans, and in Atlanta, Georgia.
In 1981, Gerrard illustrated his first book for children, Matilda Jane, written by his wife, Jean, head of the lower school at Marple Ridge High School, Stockport, Cheshire. His visual contribution was essential to communicate this story of a Victorian seaside holiday, and spurred him to produce his own texts. Having been encouraged by his father to develop a love of poetry from an early age, he developed a style of amusing, jaunty narrative verse to tell historical tales, in a variety of settings from the Stone Age to the Wild West. Proving very popular, they were translated into most European languages. (A list of the dozen volumes appears opposite.)
Gerrard and his family lived in Chinley, in the Peak District, in Derbyshire. He died on 5 August 1997 of a heart attack, while cycling in the countryside near his home. He had delivered his artwork for his final book, The Roman Twins, to Hamish Hamilton just three weeks before.
With thanks to Jean Gerrard for her help in compiling this entry.