Kathleen Hale was born in Broughton, Salford, Lancashire, and was brought up in a suburb of Manchester. Her childhood was far from idyllic: her father died when she was very young and she was forced to endure long periods of separation from her mother. This, along with the frustrations of an unexpressed artistic talent, produced a rebellious reaction in the young girl's naturally ebullient nature. However, her talent as an artist was recognised at school by a sympathetic headmistress at Manchester High School for Girls and she went on to attend art courses in Manchester and at the University College, Reading, where she was taught by Professor Allen W. Seaby.
In 1917, Kathleen moved to London to make a life for herself as an artist. She worked for some time as Augustus John's secretary whilst developing a wide circle of friends in the artistic community, such as Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. During the 1920s she earned a living as an illustrator, accepting commissions for book jackets, posters and illustrations for children's books, as well as selling her own drawings. She also attended the Central School of Arts and Crafts.
She married Douglas Maclean, a young doctor working in medical research. They settled in Hertfordshire where they could bring up their two young sons and entertain their friends. She created Orlando and his world to entertain her children at bedtime. Orlando the Marmalade Cat 'with eyes like twin gooseberries' was one of the classic children's book characters of the 1940s and 1950s. The stories are known for their quirky wit and extravagant illustrations. They combine adventure with friendship and family life. As the creator of Orlando, Kathleen was awarded the OBE in 1976.
Hale died on 26 January 2000, in Bristol, at 101 years of age.
- A Slender Reputation: An Autobiography (1994)