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BB - Denys Watkins-Pitchford

What puzzled me and, I guess, many people when they first come across BB's wonderful illustrations, is - why did Denys Watkins-Pitchford decide to use the pseudonym 'BB'? Well the explanation is quite simple - BB is the size of the lead shot used for goose shooting.

He decided that it was much more memorable than his real name, was instantly recognizable and gave his work an air of mystery. In this he definitely succeeded and the mystery continues for the uninitiated today.

BB was born on 25 th July 1905, the second son of twins, in Lamport, in the Northamptonshire countryside. His father, a rector, encouraged him to spend much of his boyhood exploring the countryside around the family home, Lamport Rectory, which was a spacious Queen Anne period house. It was at this early stage that BB developed his talent for drawing and painting, and at the age of 15 went to Northampton School of Art.

After art school BB obtained a position as assistant art master at Rugby School where he remained for 17 years. During his weekends at home he completed his first full length story, Wild Lone, about a one eared pytchley fox called Rufus. BB later wrote about this book "the story unfolded with a strange and quite frightening intensity - I could not write fast enough, it was as though my hand was guided by an invisible driving force". He completed the book in just eight weeks, sending it to the publishers Eyre & Spottiswoode along with the story Sportsman's Diary. Most unusually the publisher accepted both works, a great compliment for a young writer.

BB's fifth book and his first children's book, has the instantly memorable title ofThe Little Grey Men. It's an enchanting story of four gnomes - Sneezewort, Dooder, Cloudberry and Baldmoney, who live under an oak tree beside Folley Brook.

This book was a well deserved winner of the prestigious Carnegie Medal in 1942. BB went on to write some 20 children's books including Down The Bright Stream , a sequel to Little Grey Men, and Monty Woodpig's Caravan - the story of a bachelor hedgehog of settled habits, who one day met a dormouse, Milly Gobbysim. They got married and set off on an adventurous honeymoon in Monty's caravan. Other children's books by BB include a series of nine books about Bill Badger in which Uncle Bill and Izzybizzy, his hedgehog friend, sail countless miles up and down the canals in their barge The Wandering Wind.

 

BB is a man of many interests, but one of his most consuming was his passion for the majestic Purple Emperor (Apasture Iris) butterfly. He realized that the butterfly was on the brink of extinction, and therefore spent long hours seeking it and finding its eggs and larvae which he raised in specially built outdoor breeding cages.

 

Another of BB passions was fishing about which he wrote several books. The first of these was The Fisherman's Bedside Book. This title is more common than his other fishing book because it was published in 1945 at the beginning of a revolution in the angling world, and therefore sold well as fisherman snapped up every title looking for new ideas. The Fisherman's Bedside Book was the third in the Bedside series of five books.

 

BB went on writing books well past his 70th birthday, although the frequency slowed down and the style became more reflective in tone.

In all BB wrote and illustrated over 60 titles and also illustrated at least another 30 books written by other people, his illustrations being distinctive for their black and white scraperboard style. He was awarded the MBE for Contributions To Literature in 1989, and died a year later aged 85.

 

Since his death BB's books have become ever more sought after, mainly for his delightful yet simple illustrations. In the year 2000 a group of BB's fans founded the BB society, who now issue regular newsletters, an annual journal and conduct an ongoing programme of events.

 

You can find out more information about the BB Society on their website

Submitted by Adam Parker

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