The Merry-Go-Round

Illustration from the Childcraft Book 1972

Charles William James Keeping was born in Lambeth, London, on 22 September 1924, son of Charles Keeping senior, who distributed newspapers to shops and newsstands in the area and boxed under the name Charlie Clarke, and his wife Eliza, née Trodd. He grew up in a terraced house that housed three generations of the family, in an inner city environment of street markets and working horses that would inform his work his entire life. He and his older sister Grace wrote and illustrated stories as children on surplus newsstand placards brought home by their father.

He left school at fourteen. When he turned 18 in 1942 he was called up and joined the Royal Navy as a radio operator. He returned to civvy street in 1946 with a profound depression and a belief that a head wound he had sustained had disfigured him on the inside as well as (temporarily) on the outside, and would cause him to turn evil like Dr Jekyll becoming Mr Hyde. He received treatment, was institutionalised for a time, and made a full recovery, but perhaps his sympathetic visual treatments of Frankenstein's monster and Grendel, the monster from Beowulf, owe something to this period of his life.

He applied for a grant to study art at Regent Street Polytechnic, but for several years was turned down, so he read meters for a gas company during the day and took life drawing classes in the evening. He also worked as a life model, and on one such occasion in 1949 his demonstration of the functions of the muscles of the back attracted the eye of Renate Meyer, a student who married him in 1952. Eventually he was admitted to Regent Street Polytechnic, where he studied illustration and lithography under Nigel Lambourne and Stuart Tresilian.

His first published work was a comic strip in the Daily Herald, which he drew for four years, beginning in 1952. He also drew cartoons for the Jewish Chronicle, was political cartoonist for the Middle Eastern Review for a time, and later contributed to Punch.

His first book was a humorous health-promotion book called Why Die of Heart Disease? in 1953, and he illustrated a number of educational textbooks, but his breakthrough came in 1957 when he illustrated Rosemary Sutcliff's historical children's novel The Silver Branch, which he would later refer to as his "first book". His drawings were vigorous and played with the conventions of size and placement within the text, and he would go on to illustrate many more children's novels by Sutcliff, Henry Treece, Charles Kingsley, Alan Garner, Geoffrey Trease, Charles Causley, Kevin Crossley-Holland and many others. Leon Garfield and Edward Blishen's retelling of Greek myths, The God Beneath the Sea, which Keeping illustrated in 1970, won the Carnegie Medal for that year.

He also illustrated books outside the children's sector, including editions of H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines and Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone. In 1964 he began an association with the Folio Society with an edition of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. He made no secret that he didn't like the book, but nonethess produced twenty-two two-colour lithographs for a publisher who only wanted, and was only prepared to pay for, twelve. The lithographs were sweeping, expressionistic and emotionally charged. He took a similar approach for Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, Victor Hugo's Les Misérables and others.

In 1966 he created his first picture books, Black Dolly and Sean and the Carthorse, both about mistreated working horses. He followed these with the stunning Charley, Charlotte and the Golden Canary (Oxford, 1967), a modern fairy tale about two children who grow up in the same street, are separated when one family moves to a new tower block, and are reunited thanks to a pet canary. It depicts the gradual disappearance of the London of Keeping's childhood, a theme he would persistently revist. The full-colour illustrations are excitingly messy and spontaneous, using intense colour, sponge texturing and wax resist, and won Keeping his first Kate Greenaway Medal.

Keeping created 15 full-colour picture books for Oxford University Press, and several for other publishers. Joseph's Yard (1969) and Through the Window (1970), two of his finest, were also produced as short films for the BBC's "Storyline" programme. Through the Window in particular showcases many of Keeping's techniques and themes. Told through the eyes of a small boy watching events in the street outside from his bedroom window, the illustrations are full of intense evening light and colour, movement, and even, when a horse-drawn dray rattles across a double-page spread, virtual sound. Other picture books include Richard (1973), about a day in the life of a police horse; Wasteground Circus (1975), on the transient but magical effect on two young boys of the circus coming to town; and Willie's Fire Engine (1980), a romantic, dreamlike tale of a young Edinburgh boy's dream of being a firefighter.

In 1975 Keeping produced perhaps his most personal work, Cockney Ding Dong, a lavish 190-page volume collecting and illustrating the traditional songs of the family singalongs of his childhood. A record of some the songs was also released, featuring the voices of members of Keeping's family. Charles himself sings "They're Moving Father's Grave to Build a Sewer!"

Beginning in 1978 with The Pickwick Papers, Keeping took on the mammoth task of illustrating the complete works of Charles Dickens for the Folio Society. His knowledge of the vanishing world of industrial London made him the perfect man for the job. The books were originally to be produced by letterpress printing, meaning the illustrations must be pure line drawings with no tones or washes. When they came to be published more modern printing techniques were used which would have allowed Keeping a full range of tones, but he had started with line drawings, so he used the same technique for the entire series, illustrating two books a year until he completed the task with Martin Chuzzlewit in 1988.

Oxford University Press created a new format for Keeping - the black and white picture book for older children. Keeping created four books in this format: The Highwayman (1981), illustrating the 1906 poem by Alfred Noyes in gruesome detail, for which he won his second Greenaway Medal; Beowulf (1982), adapted from the Anglo-Saxon epic by Kevin Crossley-Holland, in which the illustrations subverted the text with a certain sympathy for the monster; The Wedding Ghost (1985), an original story by Leon Garfield; and The Lady of Shalott (1986), illustrating the 1833/1842 Arthurian poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. All were illustrated in evocative line and wash.

Keeping continued to produce colour picture books from time to time, including Railway Passage, which was Highly Commended for the 1974 Greenaway Medal; Sammy Streetsinger (1984), about a subway busker's rise to fame as a pop star and subsequent return to happy obscurity; and his final book, Adam and Paradise Island, another story of the changing landscape of London, which was published posthumously in 1989.

For his contribution as a children's illustrator Keeping was a runner-up for the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1974, and was the British nominee in 1978. In addition to his two Kate Greenaway Medals, he was runner-up for the award three times, for Joseph's Yard (1969), The God Beneath the Sea (1970) and Railway Passage (1974). He won the Francis Williams Award for Illustration twice, for Tinker Tailor: Folk Song Tales (1972) and The Wildman (1977), the Kurt Maschler Award for Jack the Treacle Eater (1987) and the W. H. Smith Illustration Award for Charles Keeping's Classic Tales of the Macabre (1988).

His lithographs have been exhibited in London, Italy, Austria and the U.S., including at the 1958 Fifth International Biennial of Contemporary Color Lithography in Cincinnati. He has prints in many collections, including at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

He died of a brain tumour on 16 May 1988. His widow, Renate Meyer, ran the Keeping Gallery, displaying his and her own work for many years. She died in 2014.

His biographer has commented,

"His formidable originality within the picture-book convention may not have been altogether apparent to Keeping himself, which is both a strength and a weakness: the strength that he could communicate with unrivalled emotional intensity - but possibly only with one child in twenty; the concomitant weakness is that there was not a lot he could do to broaden this minority appeal and ensure that his books remained in print over longer periods." Douglas Martin (1993), Charles Keeping: an illustrator's life

Books illustratedEdit

Children's fictionEdit

  • Eric Allen, The Latchkey Children, Oxford University Press, 1963
  • E. M. Almedingen, The Knights of the Golden Table, The Bodley Head, 1963
    • -- The Treasure of Siegfried, The Bodley Head, 1964
  • Bernard Ashley, Terry on the Fence, Oxford University Press, 1975
    • -- Break in the Sun, Oxford University Press, 1980
  • Nina Bawden, The Robbers, Gollancz, 1979
  • Paul Berna, Flood Warning, The Bodley Head, 1962
  • Marie Butts, Champion of Charlemagne, The Bodley Head, 1967
  • Clifford Carver, Stumpy, Oxford University Press, 1965
  • Charles Causley, The Batsford Book of Stories in Verse for Children, Batsford, 1979
    • -- The Sun, Dancing: Christian Verse, Kestrel Books, 1982
    • -- Jack the Treacle Eater, Macmillan, 1987
  • Ruth Forbes Chandler, Three Trumpets, Abelard-Shuman, 1962
  • Edna Walker Chandler, With Books on her Head, Meredith Press, 1967
  • Leonard Clark, The Tale of Prince Igor, Dennis Dobson, 1979
  • William Cole, The Poet's Tales: A New Book of Story Poems, Collins, 1971
  • Clare Compton, Harriet and the Cherry Pie, The Bodley Head, 1963
  • Lee Cooper, Five Fables from France, Abelard-Shuman, 1970
  • Kevin Crossley-Holland, King Horn, Macmillan, 1965
    • -- The Wildman, Deutsch, 1976
  • Mitchell Dawson, The Queen of Trent, Abelard-Schuman, 1961
  • Tony Drake, Breakback, Collins, 1979
  • Kathleen Fidler, Tales of Pirates and Castaways, Lutterworth Press, 1960
    • -- Tales of the West Country, Lutterworth Press, 1961
  • Leon Garfield & Edward Blishen, The God Beneath the Sea, Longman, 1970
    • -- The Golden Shadow, LOngman, 1973
  • Alan Garner, Elidor, Collins, 1965
  • Nicholas Stuart Gray, Mainly in Moonlight: Ten Stories of Sorcery and the Supernatural, Meredith Press, 1967
    • -- Grimbold's Other World, Meredith Press, 1968
    • -- The Apple-Stone, Meredith Press, 1969
    • -- Over the Hills to Fabylon, Hawthorn Books, 1970
  • Roger Lancelyn Green, The Tale of Ancient Israel, Dent, 1969
  • Nigel Grimshaw, The Angry Valley, Longman, 1970
  • Elizabeth Grove, Whitsun Warpath, Jonathan Cape, 1964
  • René Guillot, Tipitti the Robin, The Bodley Head, 1962
  • Helen Hoke, Weirdies: A Horrifying Concatenation of the Super-sur-real or Almost or Not-quite Real, Franklin Watts, 1973
    • -- Monsters, Monsters, Monsters, Franklin Watts, 1974
    • -- Spectres, Spooks and Shuddery Shades, Franklin Watts, 1977
  • James Holding, The King's Contest and Other North African Tales, Abelard-Schuman, 1964
    • -- The Sky-Eater and Other South Sea Tales, Abelard-Schuman, 1965
    • -- Poko and the Golden Demon, Abelard-Schuman, 1967
  • Mollie Hunter, Patrick Kentigern Keenan, Blackie, 1963
  • Lewis Jones, The Birds and Other Stories, Longman, 1973
  • Harold Keith, Komantcia, Oxford University Press, 1966
  • Lace Kendall, Rain Boat, Hamish Hamilton, 1966
  • Frank Knight, They Told Mr Hakluyt, Macmillan, 1964
  • David Kossoff, The Little Book of Sylvanus, Collins, 1975
  • Martin Lines, Tower Blocks: Poems of the City, Franklin Watts, 1975
  • Walter Macken, Island of the Great Yellow Ox, Macmillan, 1966
    • -- The Flight of the Doves, Macmillan, 1968
  • Kenneth McLeish, The Story of Aeneas, Longmans, Green, 1968
  • Kenneth McLeish, John Bailey & David Spearman, Gods and Men: Myths and Legands from the World's Religions, illustrated with Derek Collard and Jeroo Roy, Oxford University Press, 1981
  • Margaret J. Miller, Knights, Beasts and Wonders: Tales and Legands and Mediaeval Britain, Brockhampton Press, 1969
  • B. Mitchell & J. Margetts, La Caza del Lobo, Longmans, Green, 1964
  • Ira Nesdale, Riverbend Bricky, Blackie, 1960
    • -- Bricky and the Hobo, Blackie, 1964
  • Robert Newman, The Twelve Labours of Hercules, Thomas Y. Crowell, 1973
  • Neil Philip, The Tale of Sir Gawain, Lutterworth Press, 1987
  • Barbara Leonie Picard, Lost John, Oxford University Press, 1962
  • Richard Potts, An Owl for his Birthday, Lutterworth Press, 1966
    • -- The Haunted Mine, Lutterworth Press, 1968
    • -- A Boy and his Bike, Dennis Dobson, 1976
  • Eric & Nancy Protter, Celtic Folk and Fairy Tales, Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1966
  • James Reeves, The Cold Flame, Meredith Press, 1967
    • -- An Anthology of Free Verse, Basil Blackwell, 1968
  • Philip Rush, The Castle and the Harp, Collins, 1963
  • Ian Serraillier, I'll Tell You a Tale, Longman, 1973
  • Mary Francis Shura, The Valley of the Frost Giants, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1971
  • Roger Squire, Wizards and Wampum: Legends of the Iroquois, Abelard-Shuman, 1972
  • Joyce Stranger, The Running Foxes, Longmans, Green, 1968
  • Forbes Stuart, The Magic Horns: Folk Tales from Africa, Abelard-Schuman, 1974
    • -- The Dancers of Burton Fair: Folk Tales from Britain, Abelard-Schuman, 1976
    • -- The Mermaid's Revenge: Folk Tales from Britain, Abelard-Schuman
  • Rosemary Sutcliff, The Silver Branch, Oxford University Press, 1957
    • -- Warrior Scarlet, Oxford University Press, 1958
    • -- The Lantern Bearers, Oxford University Press, 1959
    • -- Knight's Fee, Oxford University Press, 1960
    • -- Beowulf, The Bodley Head, 1961
    • -- Dawn Wind, Oxford University Press, 1961
    • -- Heroes and History, Batsford, 1965
    • -- Mark of the Horse Lord, Oxford University Press, 1965
    • -- The Capricorn Bracelet, Oxford University Press, 1973
  • Ursula Synge, Weland: Smith of the Gods, The Bodley Head, 1972
  • Joan Tate, Jenny, Heinemann Educational, 1964
    • -- The Next-Doors, Heinemann Educational, 1964
    • -- Mrs Jenny, Heinemann Educational, 1966
  • Geoffrey Trease, Bent is the Bow, Nelson, 1965
    • -- The Red Towers of Granada, Macmillan, 1966
  • Henry Treece, Horned Helmet, Brockhampton Press, 1963
    • -- The Children's Crusade, Longmans, Green, 1964
    • -- The Last of the Vikings, Brockhampton Press, 1964
    • -- Splintered Sword, Brockhampton Press, 1965
    • -- The Dream-Time, Brockhampton Press, 1967
    • -- Swords from the North, Pantheon Books, 1967
    • -- The Invaders: Three Stories, Brockhampton Press, 1972

Picture booksEdit

  • Charles Keeping, Black Dolly: The Story of a Junk Cart Pony, Brockhampton Press, 1966
    • -- Shaun and the Carthorse, Oxford University Press, 1966
    • -- Charley, Charlotte and the Golden Canary, Oxford University Press, 1967
    • -- The Christmas Story, BBC, 1968
    • -- Alfie and the Ferryboat, Oxford University Press, 1968
    • -- Tinker Tailor: Folk Song Tales, Brockhampton Press, 1968
    • -- Joseph's Yard, Oxford University Press, 1969
    • -- Through the Window, Oxford University Press, 1970
    • -- The Garden Shed, Oxford University Press, 1971
    • -- The Spider's Web, Oxford University Press, 1972
    • -- The Nanny Goat and the Fierce Dog, Abelard-Shuman, 1973
    • -- Richard, Oxford University Press, 1973
    • -- Railway Passage, Oxford University Press, 1974
    • -- Cockney Ding Dong, Kestrel Books, 1975
    • -- Wasteground Circus, Oxford University Press, 1975
    • -- Inter-City, Oxford University Press, 1977
    • -- Miss Emily and the Bird of Make-Believe, Hutchinson, 1978
    • -- River, Oxford University Press, 1978
    • -- Willie's Fire Engine, Oxford University Press, 1980
    • -- Sammy Streetsinger, Oxford University Press, 1984
    • -- Adam and Paradise Island, Oxford University Press, 1989
  • Kevin Crossley-Holland, Beowulf, Oxford University Press, 1982
  • Leon Garfield, The Wedding Ghost, Oxford University Press, 1985
  • Rudyard Kipling, The Beginning of the Armadilloes, Macmillan, 1982
    • -- Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and Other Animal Stories, Macmillan, 1984
  • Alfred Noyes, The Highwayman, Oxford University Press, 1981
  • Alfred Tennyson, The Lady of Shalott, Oxford University Press, 1986

Classic fictionEdit

Folio SocietyEdit

  • Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights, The Folio Society, 1964
  • Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Folio Society, 1966
  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot, The Folio Society, 1971
  • M. R. James, Ghost Stories of M. R. James, The Folio Society, 1973
  • Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, The Folio Society, 1976
  • Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story, The Folio Society, 1976
  • Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, The Folio Society, 1981
    • -- Great Expectations, The Folio Society, 1981
    • -- Edwin Drood, The Folio Society, 1982
    • -- Our Mutual Friend, The Folio Society, 1982
    • -- David Copperfield, The Folio Society, 1983
    • -- Hard Times, The Folio Society, 1983
    • -- The Adventures of Oliver Twist, The Folio Society, 1984
    • -- Dombey and Sun, The Folio Society, 1984
    • -- Bleak House, The Folio Society, 1985
    • -- A Tale of Two Cities, The Folio Society, 1985
    • -- Little Dorrit, The Folio Society, 1986
    • -- Nicholas Nickleby, The Folio Society, 1986
    • -- Barnaby Rudge, The Folio Society, 1987
    • -- The Old Curiosity Shop, The Folio Society, 1987
    • -- Christmas Books, The Folio Society, 1988
    • -- Martin Chuzzlewit, The Folio Society, 1988

Heron BooksEdit

  • Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone, Heron Books, 1963
  • Joseph Conrad, The Shadow Line and Within the Tides, Heron Books, 1968
  • Aldous Huxley, After Many a Summer, Heron Books, 1968
    • -- Time Must Have a Stop, Heron Books, 1969
  • W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage, Heron Books, 1967
    • -- The Mixture as Before, Heron Books, 1968
  • Nevil Shute, Ruined City, Heron Books, 1969
  • Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Heron Books, 1967
    • -- New Arabian Nights, Heron Books, 1968
    • -- More New Arabian Nights and The Story of a Lie, Heron Books, 1968
    • -- The Wrecker, Heron Books, 1968
  • H. G. Wells, Mr. Britling Sees it Through, Heron Books, 1969


Textbooks and non-fictionEdit

  • D. E. Adland, The Group Approach to Drama, Books 1-3, Longmans, Green, 1964-65
  • Simon Clements et al, Reflections: An English Course for Students Aged 14-18, Oxford University Press, 1963
  • Henry Daniel-Rops, The Life of Our Lord, Burns & Oates, 1965
  • Guthrie Foot, Merrily On High: Carols and Hymns for Christmas, Oxford University Press, 1959
  • Marthe Freudenberger & Magda Kelber, Heute und Morgen Book Two, Ginn, 1955
  • Marthe Freudeberger, Heute und Morgen Book Three, Ginn, 1956
  • Ted Kavanagh, Why Die of Heart Disease?, Harrap, 1953
  • Lancelot Hogben, Man Must Measure: The Wonderful World of Mathematics, illustrated with André and Kenneth Symons, Rathbone Books, 1955
  • William Mathias & Gwyn Thomas, The Nightingale, Oxford University Press, 1970
  • John Reginald Milsome, Damien, The Lepers' Friend, Burns & Oates, 1965
  • John Stewart Murphy, How They Were Built: Bridges, Oxford University Press, 1958
    • -- How They Were Built: Ships, Oxford University Press, 1959
    • -- How They Were Built: Roads, Oxford University Press, 1960
    • -- How They Were Built: Canals, Oxford University Press, 1961
    • -- How They Were Built: Dams, Oxford University Press, 1963
    • -- How They Were Built: Railways, Oxford University Press, 1964
    • -- How They Were Built: Wells, Oxford University Press, 1965, Oxford University Press, 1966
  • R. E. Rogerson & C. M. Smith, Enjoy Reading Book 4, Chambers, 1970
    • -- Enjoy Reading Book 5, Chambers, 1971
  • Jacoba Tadema Sporry, The Story of Egypt, Nelson, 1964
  • Denys Thompson & R. J. Harris, Your English Book 4, Heinemann Educational, 1964
  • John Watts, Early Encounters: An Introductory Stage, Longman, 1970
  • Frederic Westcott, Composers and their Times: Bach, Garnett Miller, 1967


  • Gwen Grant, Enemies are Dangerous, Heinemann, 1980
  • Mollie Hunter, A Pistol in Greenyards, Hamish Hamilton, 1975
  • Anne Huston & Jane Yolen, Trust a City Kid, J. M. Dent, 1967
  • Rosemary Sutcliff, Blood Feud, Oxford University Press, 1976
  • Robert E. Swindells, When Darkness Comes, Brockhampton Press, 1973
  • Paul Theroux, The Black House, Hamish Hamilton, 1974
  • P. L. Travers, Friend Monkey, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971


  • D. Martin, "Charles Keeping", in Douglas Martin, The Telling Line: Essays On Fifteen Contemporary Book Illustrators (Julia MacRae Books, 1989), pp. 36–59
  • Douglas Martin, Charles Keeping: an illustrator's life (MacRae, 1993)

External linksEdit