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Angus McBride (1931-2007)

Posted in Art, Illustrators on Saturday, 26 May 2007

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James Bruce African Explorer (illustration Angus McBride)

Angus McBride, who died on 15 May, only a matter of days after celebrating his 76th birthday, was one of Britain’s finest military illustrators, his work appearing in over 150 books ranging from The Zulu War to Warriors of Medieval Japan. Martin Windrow, who edited many of the books McBride illustrated, has said, “Angus is known for his brilliant use of colour, for his mastery of direct and reflected light effects, and for his command of the viewer’s eye, which is directed exactly where he wants it to fall, as soon as the page is turned.”

In the past, military history books had demanded accurate depictions of uniforms but allowed them to be hung on people that looked like tailor’s dummies; McBride and his contemporaries—amongst them Ron Embleton, Gerry Embleton and Richard Hook—breathed life into their subjects. “He could make them look like living people,” says William Shepherd of Osprey Publishing. “It was that and the filling in of detail that made his work so exciting.”

McBride was born in London in May 1931 of Scottish ancestry. Orphaned by the age of 12 and educated at the Canterbury Cathedral Choir School, McBride had no formal art training but began by teaching himself. At 16, he joined an advertising studio where his first task was making the tea; eventually he learned the basics of art and design from the artists around him, although his progress was interrupted by two years National Service. Returning from Berlin, where he had been stationed, McBride found that opportunities for advertising work were limited and decided to emigrate to South Africa.

After ten years working as a commercial and advertising artist, McBride returned to London and found regular work as an illustrator. One of his first commissions was for an annual based on the popular TV show Emergency Ward 10 published by Purnell who were also about to launch a new educational magazine called Finding Out. McBride was to become one of the magazine’s most prolific artists and continued to work for the magazine until it was absorbed into Look and Learn in 1967.

The British Abroad (illustration Angus McBride)Although he had contributed to Look and Learn before, he now became one of magazine’s mainstay artists, turning his had to every subject available, from one-page features on shaving or raising cattle to full-colour double-page spreads on ‘Great Events in the World’s History’. Over the years, McBride would illustrate features on the histories of Africa and America, tales of the Canadian Mounties and an adaptation of Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. Some of his work could be rather more light-hearted, such as his illustrations for the series ‘The British Abroad’, but all were instantly recognisable, even if his trademark signature ‘McB’ was missing.

McBride continued to produce illustrations for other magazines but, from 1975, was primarily an illustrator for books. Following the publication of two early titles, The Way We Lived (1967) and The Roman Empire (1971), McBride became one of the leading artists for Osprey, the Oxford-based publisher of military history, writing and illustrating The Zulu War (1976) and illustrating a series on the various soldiers of Napoleon’s armies.

African Warrior (illustration Angus McBride)Working in a mixture of gouache, watercolour and inks, McBride went on to illustrate some 60 books for the company, a number greatly increased when omnibus volumes and revisions are taken into account. A selection of some of his best work was gathered together in Warriors & Warlords (2002) in which Martin Windrow noted that McBride was more comfortable with ancient and medieval periods. “He brings to these often immensely difficult reconstructions not only the respect for the sometimes shadowy fragments of historical evidence, but a flare for dramatic atmosphere and characterisation.”

In 1976, McBride returned to Cape Town where he worked for local publishers and painted portraits. His work continued to appear in Britain, Europe, America and Hong Kong. In the mid-1980s, his artwork was also to be found on role-playing games based on J. R. R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings books. A collection entitled Angus McBride’s Characters of Middle-Earth was published by Iron Crown Enterprises in 1990.

In early 2006, McBride and his wife moved to the quiet Irish countryside near Waterford where their daughter was living. He continued to work on new books for Osprey, the latest of which (The Army of Herod the Great by Samuel Rocco) will be publishd in November. During a break from work, McBride suffered a sudden and fatal heart attack.

“We were so looking forward to seeing more of him, because he didn’t visit England very often,” says William Shepherd. “All the editors who worked with him loved him, both for the quality of what he did and for his personality, inventiveness and creativity. He could work so quickly to such a high standard. If you were to name a key artist to say what Osprey really meant, that would be Angus.”

Steve Holland, Archivist

With many thanks to William Shepherd and Martin Windrow for their great help in compiling information on Angus and his work. Martin’s tribute to Angus can be found on the Osprey website.

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