Judith Kerr (1923- 2019)

Yes, we’re straying off-topic here. Judith Kerr, the acclaimed writer and illustrator of over 30 children’s books who died recently at the age of 95, never wrote for Doctor Who (though it would surely have made for an intriguing episode if she had).

Nor did her husband, the Quatermass author Nigel Kneale, who firmly resisted the best efforts of the production team to persuade him. Those cheeky folk running Doctor Who decided to borrow freely from Kneale’s Quatermass storylines anyway and gave us Season 7, but that’s another story…

But we love stories and storytellers here at the DWC, and Kerr’s books delighted generations of children. Among her best-known work was The Tiger Who Came To Tea, the gently anarchic tale of a tiger who turns up unannounced in suburbia and proceeds to eat his way through a family’s larder. The story was often assumed to be an analogy for Kerr’s unsettled childhood, which had seen her family forced to flee Nazi Germany. Kerr herself denied this, insisting that it was, well, just the story of a tiger who comes to tea, and was created to amuse her children.

Kerr wrote a long-running series of books about Mog, a black and white cat inspired by a number of pets her family owned over the years. The final volume, 2002’s Goodbye Mog, was written at a time when she was contemplating her own death and that of her friends. The story was told as sensitively as you would expect, and must have helped many children come to terms with the prospect of loved ones dying.

There was no denying the influence of Kerr’s past in When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, the children’s novel which tells the story of a young girl and her family escaping Germany as the dark forces of the Hitler regime threaten to envelop them. Despite her background, Kerr always maintained a positive outlook, telling Mark Gatiss in a 2017 Radio Times interview:

“I loved these experiences of my childhood. It all felt like an adventure! My only concern, as of all refugees, was just to belong here as quickly as possible. So I became very English, though I still think twice before I say
“we”! Whereas my mum, who was in love with England, would say “we” with a sort of slight German accent. I remember she once said, “When we won the First World War,” and everybody was a bit taken aback!”

Among the many tributes to Kerr is a charming one from The Guardian’s Nancy Banks-Smith, which recounts how Kerr stopped a cyclist in the street and asked him to wait while she sketched his bike. Her attitude to life is nicely encompassed in another Radio Times interview, this time from 2014, in which she describes how, at the age of 91, a Martini Rosso at lunchtime nicely set her up for an afternoon’s work.

Our thoughts go to her family and friends.