David McKee, the children’s author and illustrator for iconic books Elmer, Not Now, Bernard and Mr Benn, has died at the age of 87.
David died surrounded by his family, following a short illness in the South of France, where he has spent a lot of time in recent years his publisher Andersen Press said in a statement today, Thursday, April 7.
David was born in Devon and studied at Plymouth Art College. His work allowed him to travel the world, spending extensive periods in Barcelona, Nice, Paris and Italy. Most recently he was happy spending time between his home in London and in Provence with his partner of many years, Bakhta.
In the early part of his career he regularly drew and sold humorous drawings to magazines and newspapers such as The Times Educational Supplement, Punch and the Reader’s Digest.
David’s first book Two Can Toucan was published in 1964 by Klaus Flugge whilst he worked at Abelard-Schuman. Once Klaus established Andersen Press in 1976, David became a mainstay of the publisher, creating over 50 books for them.
His most famous story, Elmer, was first published in 1968 by Dobson Publishing, but after being re-illustrated and re-released by Flugge’s Andersen Press in 1989 it became the household name it is today.
The themes of inclusivity, celebration and friendship that run through the Elmer stories are a testament to David’s character and outlook on life, and he leaves an incredible legacy of acceptance for children around the world.
Elmer remains one of the most widely read children’s book series of all time, selling over 10 million copies. David wrote and illustrated 29 original Elmer books, and collectively they have been translated into more than 60 languages.
As well as a children’s book creator David had a successful career as a fine artist, and through King Rollo Films co-created some of the most celebrated animated programmes in history including Mr Benn, based on David’s series of books, about the eponymous explorer who through a magic costume shop went on a series of fantastical adventures.
The series celebrated its 50th anniversary since it premiered on BBC, in 2021.
McKee’s character Mr Benn wore a black suit and bowler hat and went on a different adventure in each story.
Before each new adventure Mr Benn visited a fancy dress store and tried on a different outfit, before leaving the shop through a magic door and going on a journey related to his costume.
The concept was later adapted as an animated television series, originally transmitted by the BBC in the early 1970s.
David McKee’s long time publisher Klaus Flugge has said: ‘I am devastated by the sudden death of my best friend David McKee. He was as close to Andersen Press as I am. He was there from the very beginning and essential to the origin of the company. He became great friends with everyone he encountered; staff, authors and illustrators alike.”
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