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Honorary Degree Orations
Public Orator, Professor Mario Minichiello presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Ceremony held on Monday 23 July at 10.30am
I doubt that the name of this year’s candidate is unfamiliar to
any of you.
Quentin Saxby Blake was born in Sidcup in 1932 and educated at the local Grammar School. He always loved drawing and was having his first sketches published at 16 years of age, in Punch Magazine.
His other great love, unsurprisingly, was literature; and his first degree, gained in 1953 from Downing College, Cambridge, was in English. This he followed by a postgraduate teaching diploma at the University of London and a part-time course at Chelsea School of Art.
He has long been associated with the RCA; was Head of the Illustration Department for ten years and has been its visiting professor since 1989.
He has always made his living as an illustrator.
His first book was published before I was even born, in 1960, and since then he has illustrated over 300 books and written more than 30. He is, of course, most famously associated by his children's book partnership with Roald Dahl, but has also collaborated with many other well-known authors such as Joan Aiken and Russell Hoban as well as his solo creations.
Quentin is himself a giant in his achievements - and unlike many who become famous – it has never gone to his head - his ego appears unaffected even in light of so many awards: including the Whitbread, the Kate Greenaway, the Emil/Kurt Maschler, the Smarties; and the most prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award.
In 2001 he completed a successful two-year tenure as the first Children’s Laureate (followed by Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Rosen) but Quentin is the only one to receive this honour on the basis of both is illustration and his writing – in many ways he has given illustration the respect hitherto lacking as a profession – his career embodies the qualities of the profession in terms of research, practice and teaching. He is also an ambassador for children’s arts he inspired countless organisations, exhibitions, events and services, as well as amazingly still finding time to continue working.
Quentin’s reputation is based on his considerable abilities as a creative thinker and inventive draftsman. He is not only one of the most popular and consistently successful artists in the world, he also one of the most admired and respected by his peers, voted ‘the illustrator's illustrator’.
Despite all this it was not until 2006 that his future was assured when he was the castaway on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs - the only time that any of my children, and my friend’s children have ever wanted to listen to this programme.
But I have to confess that in my own student days I didn’t fully understand his popularity – our approach could not be more different – if we were musicians he would be Mozart while I would be more like the Artic Monkeys – his work seemed so light and easy.
Then, in 1995, while I was finishing a Bosnia war drawings commission for the Guardian, I saw footage of a child in a UNHCR camp holding one of his books as her most vital possession – and I understood.
He is enlightening and inspiring but, above all, he is a genuinely original and gifted artist.
Therefore, Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you and the University, Quentin Blake, for the degree of DOCTOR OF LETTERS honoris causa."