Photo of Jean Adamson

Jean Adamson

Peckham-born alumna Jean Adamson is the creator of more than 100 much-loved children’s books spanning five decades.

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Born on 29 February 1928, Jean attended grammar school until the age of 16, before joining Goldsmiths to study illustration. Here she met her future husband and writing partner Gareth Adamson (1926-1982) and, after graduating, continued to teach illustration and design at the university.

Jean also worked for a large animation company: creating illustrations for Birds Custard among other clients, in the 1950s.

After marrying in 1957, Jean and Gareth moved to Newcastle and began working on children’s books together, with Gareth producing the storylines and Jean the illustration.

In contrast to less realistic popular children’s characters at the time, from dragons and witches to Thomas the Tank Engine and Noddy, the Adamsons aimed to create modern, fresh, contemporary books: starring characters and plots that children of the ‘60s could relate to and actually experience.

Twins Topsy and Tim appealed equally to girls and boys because they were so relatable – and just as naughty as each other. Publishers were delighted with the first book, ‘Monday’ (1960), and commissioned a full ‘days of the week’ series of hardbacks. The characters went on to star in books of varying formats as they took part in ever more exciting adventures.

More than 130 Topsy and Tim titles have been published, selling upwards of 21 million copies around the world. Since 1998, over a million copies have been sold in the UK alone. Sixty episodes of an animated TV series followed, and so far three seasons of a live-action version have broadcast on CBeebies.

“The ideas for new stories never run out as children are always doing new things,” Jean told the BBC in 2013.

In 1999 Jean Adamson was awarded an MBE for her services to children’s literature.