‘My dear Michael,
Mummy and I are very pleased that you are now able to read books for yourself . . .
As you grow older you will find that good books can be some of your best friends . . .
Much love from Daddy’
It is 16 January 1947 and, as he does most days, Charles Phillipson has taken up his fountain pen to write to his young son Michael. Before Michael started school in 1944 Charles had already made him a book of playful drawings of the alphabet to encourage his reading. From early 1945 to the autumn of 1947 a sequence of 150 illustrated letters followed, creating a series which would, ‘like the Pied Piper’s irresistible sounds’, draw Michael into a world of reading.
In these letters Charles captures the delight to be found in the mundane detail of everyday life, seen through the lens of his own quirky imagination: passengers on the morning train hidden behind their newspapers; clouds sketched as if they are players on a stage; the fun to be had on a revolving office chair; numerals that morph into animals; the different ways in which men carry their umbrellas; a walk on a very windy day; the sun rising over chimney-pots; the postman on his bicycle; carrying home a Christmas tree. Jotted on a sheet torn from a pad of office paper, and often sketched in haste in tea or lunch breaks, each letter was embellished with a hand-drawn stamp which made the young Michael feel as if he was receiving ‘real’ letters. And real letters they
are – love-letters, even – for through their affectionate words, mischievous drawings and gentle encouragement of Michael’s own literary and artistic explorations, a father’s love for his son shines out.
Charles Phillipson grew up in a green suburb of Manchester where much of his time was spent with pen, pencil or brush in hand, exploring the surrounding countryside. After leaving school at 14, he attended evening classes at the city’s School of Art – L. S. Lowry was a fellow student – and developed his drawing and lettering skills as a printer’s apprentice. Some years later he became head of the publicity department of a large chain-making company, where he used his humour and love of language to create instruction manuals and advertising for their products.
In 1937 Charles married Marjorie and they moved to a village just south of Manchester. For a short time, life seemed idyllic but then tragedy struck when Charles was diagnosed with progressive and untreatable multiple sclerosis. The war, with its barrage balloons and communal air-raid shelter in the garden, followed – as did Michael – and the letters began soon after. Charles was made redundant in 1955 and from then on received only a small disability pension but, despite the inexorable progress of his disease, he never stopped painting and drawing, and he illustrated a number of educational children’s books.
Now these letters, saved by Marjorie who recognized their unique quality, and treasured by Michael after his father’s death in 1974, have been gathered together in a handsome cloth-bound hardback edition. Letters to Michael presents a touching portrait of the relationship between a father and his son and captures a bygone age when people still wrote letters using pen and paper. Altogether, this charming book is an antidote to troubled times and would make a perfect present.