Mabel George was central to the children’s books division at Oxford University Press when Rosemary Sutcliff was published by OUP.
A printer’s daughter, she joined OUP in 1946 as a production assistant. From 1948-56 she was was production manager. She took over the whole department in 1956.
From then to her retirement in 1974 she developed an astonishing array of artists and writers.She discovered a cockney gasman, Charles Keeping; a Hungarian refugee, Victor Ambrus; Bridget Riley’s ex-assistant, Fiona French – and Brian Wildsmith. Mabel saw his potential when he first arrived with some abstract paintings. She set him to work on black and white illustrations first and then turned him loose in full colour on the Arabian Nights. To this day he remembers the review in the TLS (Times Literary Supplement): ‘We now descend to the lowest depths with Brian Wildsmith’s…pointless scribbles which do duty for drawings wander aimlessly about the page.’
‘Take no notice, Brian,’ said Mabel. ‘We make up our own minds here. We’re now going to do an ABC.’ This he did, won the Kate Greenaway Medal, and changed the face of picture books.