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The illustrator is one of the UK’s most iconic voices in children’s literature, drafting images for more than 300 books, including 18 written by Dahl. The 88-year-old’s own story, the Clown, will be given new life today as his creation comes to Channel 4, capturing Blake’s unique hand-drawn style. It revolves around a toy clown who is trying to find a new home after being thrown away, and is a character Blake describes as one of his favourites.
Speaking before its festive release, the illustrator admitted it was “wonderful now to see him off the page and running about on his own”.
Arguably his biggest achievement in a career that has spanned decades, was his collaborations with Dahl, which re-engaged a generation of children with reading.
Yet, one row between the pair over the appearance of the Big Friendly Giant – or BFG – saw both writer and illustrator make wholesale changes to the book and images.
Having previously worked together on The Enormous Crocodile and The Twits, the pair readied themselves for their third piece – the BFG.
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Originally Blake sent a set of two illustrations to Dahl, which were instantly rejected by the author as “there weren’t enough of them”.
He continued: “This was a much longer book so I was not surprised when my editor asked me to produce simply 12 full-page drawings for a modest payment.
“I did these and everything was at the printers when I received a phone call to say that our author ‘was not happy.’
“This was not because Roald had disliked the drawings, but because there were not enough of them.”
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After that rejection, Blake said he “produced another 20 or so drawings that could be slipped in at the head of each chapter without altering the layout of the book”.
He told the Guardian: “I had hardly relaxed from that effort when the phone rang again: ‘He’s still not happy.’
“It’s a very acceptable problem when an author feels that he has not got enough illustrations.
“What was more to my advantage was that, starting again to re-illustrate the book and let the drawings make their way continuously among the text.”
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Blake was discussing the drawings as part of an exhibition in 2016, which displayed some of the illustrator’s unpublished works.
According to the Evening Standard, among some of the problems Blake faced with producing the character, was keeping up with the ever changing text Dahl was creating.
It also saw Blake’s images influence the telling of his story.
He explained there “were times when Dahl would take the drawings into account in the story”, adding: “When I did the drawings for the BFG I gave him an apron, like Dahl said, but when he looked at it flapping around, he said, ‘this won’t do’, and rewrote it.”
The process allowed Blake to “get a sense of greater dimension” to the BFG than he had before, enjoying the character’s “human side”.
He detailed how this new BFG was “gentler… grandfatherly”, concluding during a 2016 BBC interview: “The Twits was a very black story, with vicious humour – which has made it a favourite with children.
“But The BFG has got mystery and wonder in it. It’s much more sympathetic. It’s actually about a relationship.”
Quentin Blake’s Clown, narrated by The Crown star Helena Bonham-Carter, airs on tonight at 7.45pm.
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