John Worsley
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Born John Godfrey Bernard Worsley
(1919-02-16)16 February 1919
Liverpool, UK
Died 3 October 2000(2000-10-03) (aged 81)
Occupation Artist, Midshipman, Illustrator
Nationality British
Education St Winifred's boarding school, Brighton College, Goldsmiths
Genres Children's books
Notable work(s) P.C. 49, Belle du Ballet, John Worsley's War

John Godfrey Bernard Worsley (16 February 1919 – 3 October 2000) was a prolific British artist and illustrator, best known for his naval battle scenes, and portraits of high-ranking officers and political figures. One of the very few active service artists of the Second World War, Worsley was the only person to render contemporary sea-warfare in situ, and the only official war artist captured by the Germans.[1] Detained in the infamous prisoner-of-war camp Marlag-O, Worsley documented prison life with supplies provided by the Red Cross, his expertise employed in the forging of identity papers, and an ingenious escape attempt requiring the construction of a mannequin named Albert R.N.[2] During his lifetime, Worsley was president of the Royal Society of Marine Artists: sixty-one of his paintings – including portraits of Field Marshal Montgomery, and the First Sea Lord, Sir John Cunningham – hang in the Imperial War Museum, with another twenty-nine pictures archived in the collections of the National Maritime Museum.[2]


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Worsley spent his childhood on a coffee farm in Kenya, his family emigrating from Liverpool just six months after his birth. An alumnus of Goldsmiths' School of Art, Worsley secured work as a commercial illustrator, before joining the Navy, where his etchings of wartime naval experience at sea soon gained the attention of Kenneth Clark – the director of the National Gallery – who designated him Official Naval War Artist on the Commander-in-Chief's staff, Malta; one of just two active service personnel awarded the position.[1] In 1943, the Navy dispatched Worsley to an island in the north Adriatic, where he hoped to record an attempt by Allied saboteurs to establish a base camp, but the Germans intercepted his party, forcing them to surrender.[3]

As a prisoner, Worsley documented camp life with warmth, accuracy, and humour. He also directed his talent to covert pursuits, including the creation of counterfeit documentation, and Albert, an ingenious life-size figurine, crafted from newspaper, a wire frame, and human hair. The figurine had blinking ping-pong ball eyes that were powered by a pendulum made from a sardine tin.[3] For four days, Albert successfully deceived the prison guards, masquerading as an officer during roll-call, while the lieutenant he had replaced made good his escape.[3] However, the escapee was eventually recaptured, and Albert was hidden for the next escape.[2]

After the war, Worsley remained under Naval engagement, painting portraits of high-ranking officers for the Admiralty, before securing a commission for the popular children's weekly, Eagle, and its companion paper, Girl, achieving his greatest success with The Adventures of P.C. 49,[4] a comic strip featuring the exploits of a British constable.[2] Aside from illustrating comics, periodicals, and advertisements, Worsley also assisted Scotland Yard; his ability to draft from description secured the capture of the nurse implicated in the notorious London baby-snatch of 1990.[5]

By 1970, Worsley entered the arena of family entertainment, rendering hundreds of large plates for televised adaptations of The Wind in the Willows, Treasure Island, A Christmas Carol, and The Little Grey Men, later released as large-format prints for children.[6] During his lifetime, he illustrated over forty books, concluding with a record of his exploits during the Second World War.

John Worsley died on 3 October 2000 at the age of 81.[3]

Selected works

Selected filmography

See also


Further reading

External links

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