David McKee

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McKee at the Montreuil Book Festival in 2011

David John McKee[1] (born 2 January 1935) is a British writer and illustrator, chiefly of children's books and animations.

For his contribution as a children's illustrator, he was UK nominee for the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2006.[2]


McKee was born and brought up in Tavistock,[3] South Devon, England. After attending the local grammar school he studied at Plymouth College of Art. While still at college, he started selling one-off cartoons, particularly to the national press. On leaving college he continued this to support himself while painting, drawing regularly for, among others, Punch, Reader's Digest, and The Times Educational Supplement.[4]

The first book that he sold was of a story he had told at college, Two Can Toucan. It is about a South American bird who can carry two cans of paint on its enormous bill. This was published by Abelard-Schuman in 1964; a 1985 edition with new illustrations by McKee was re-issued in 2001 by Andersen Press.

McKee was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Arts from Plymouth University in 2011.

He was awarded a BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020, in recognition of his whole body of work.[5] He declared it a "shock" but "fantastic", and said he'd "never been one for the spotlight or winning awards".[6]

Television and films[edit]

The BBC used some of McKee's books on television and asked about the possibility of a more extensive project. The result was the development of a series about McKee's Mr Benn character running to thirteen episodes which were regularly repeated for two decades.[7] Five films for the Save the Children fund followed, then a series of films based on the King Rollo books, with two friends, Clive Juster and Leo Nielsen.[8] The company King Rollo Films was started. The company maintained its success, with McKee being involved on projects usually as a writer. They have been responsible for various films including Tony Ross's Towser, Eric Hill's Spot the Dog, and Lucy Cousins's Maisy. The company plans to produce 26 animated films of Elmer.

King Rollo Films has produced many other animations including Spot the Dog and the animated stories within the BBC's flagship children's program Fimbles.

Writer and illustrator[edit]

McKee has produced several other characters that have developed into book series, including Elmer the Patchwork Elephant. Elmer was first published by Dobson Books in 1968, and was re-issued by Andersen Press in 1989.[9] Elmer is now published in more than 20 languages and has spawned a range of merchandise, including soft toys, from London Emblem and other companies worldwide. One of McKee's earliest books, Six Men (1972, 2011), teaches how a war can develop.

He has also illustrated books by other authors, including some of the more recent Paddington Bear books. He also illustrated books written by his mother, Violet McKee, and by his son, Chuck McKee.[1]

McKee has produced Elmer board books, bath books, colouring books, an Elmer flap book, an Elmer hole-in-the-page book and an Elmer pop-up book. He has illustrated the songs "Toy Boy" and "Lonely Alcoholic" in singer-songwriter Mika's extended play Songs for Sorrow.

Personal life[edit]

McKee has homes in London and the south of France where he lives with his second wife Bakhta, a French-Algerian art-dealer with whom he shares an interest in collecting drawings and African tribal art.[10][11] He won the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis in 1987.


  • The Poor Farmer and the Robber Knights (1969)
  • Six Men (1972, 2011) ISBN 978-0-7358-4050-8
  • The Magician and the Sorcerer (1974) ISBN 0-8193-0772-6
  • Tusk Tusk (1978) ISBN 0-916291-28-6
  • Not Now, Bernard (1980) ISBN 0-05-004559-8
  • I Hate My Teddybear (1983)
  • Two Monsters (1985)
  • The Hill and the Rock (1984)
  • Elmer (1989) ISBN 0-688-09171-7
  • Elmer Again (1991)
  • Elmer on Stilts (1993)
  • Elmer and Wilbur (1994) ISBN 0-06-075239-4
  • Elmer in the Snow (1995)
  • Elmer and the Wind (1997)
  • Elmer and the Stranger (2000)
  • Elmer and the Lost Teddy (1999)
  • Elmer Plays Hide and Seek (1998)
  • The Elmer Pop up Book (1996)
  • Look! There's Elmer (2000)
  • Elmer and Grandpa Eldo (2001)
  • The School Bus Comes At 8 O’clock (1993)
  • Isabel's Noisy Tummy (1994)
  • The Sad Story of Veronica (1987)
  • Snow Woman (1987)
  • Zebra's Hiccups (1991)
  • Who's a Clever Baby Then? (1988)
  • The Monster and the Teddy Bear (1989)
  • King Rollo and the bread (1979) ISBN 0-316-56044-8
  • King Rollo and the new shoes (1979) ISBN 0-316-56044-8
  • King Rollo and the birthday (1979) ISBN 0-316-56044-8
  • King Rollo and the Letter (1984)
  • Two Can Toucan (1985)
  • Charlotte's Piggy Bank (1996)
  • Prince Peter and the Teddy Bear (1997)
  • Mary's Secret (1999)
  • King Rollo and the New Stockings (2001)
  • Mr Benn – Gladiator (2001)
  • Elmer's Concert (2001)
  • Elmer and Butterfly (2002)
  • Elmer's New Friend (2002)
  • Elmer and the Hippos (2003)
  • The Adventures of Charmin the Bear (illustrated By Joanna Quinn, 2003)
  • Who is Mrs. Green? (2003)
  • The Conquerors (2004)
  • Denver (2010)
  • Elmer's Walk (2018)


  1. ^ a b "David (John) McKee Biography (1935–) – Sidelights". jrank.org. Retrieved 2 January 2012.
  2. ^ "IBBY Announces the Winners of the Hans Christian Andersen Awards 2006". International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). Press release 27 March 2006.
      "Hans Christian Andersen Awards". IBBY. Retrieved 2013-07-22.
  3. ^ Jeffries, Stuart (12 July 2014). "25 years of Elmer the elephant". The Guardian.
  4. ^ "Home".
  5. ^ "Elmer and Mr Benn creator David McKee wins BookTrust's Lifetime Achievement Award". BookTrust. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  6. ^ "'The shock is hard to get over!' David McKee". BookTrust. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  7. ^ Beaumont-Thomas, Ben; McKee, David; Brooks, Ray (7 March 2017). "How we made cult cartoon Mr Benn". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
  8. ^ Billen, Andrew (19 January 2008). "Billen and Benn". The Times. Retrieved 12 March 2010.
  9. ^ Eyre, Charlotte (12 March 2019). "McKee reflects on three decades of Elmer as the iconic elephant turns global". The Bookseller.
  10. ^ Anstead, Mark (17 October 2003). "Elephant man who never forgot his bank". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 February 2021.
  11. ^ Bletchly, Rachael (1 October 2019). "Elmer the Elephant believes Brexit or no Brexit that we need each other". The Mirror. Retrieved 24 February 2021.

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