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Letters to Michael
Charles Phillipson, Letters to Michael: a father writes to his son 1945–1947 - Slightly Foxed
Charles Phillipson, Letters to Michael: a father writes to his son 1945–1947 - Slightly Foxed
Charles Phillipson, Letters to Michael: a father writes to his son 1945–1947 - Slightly Foxed
  • ISBN: 9781910898635
  • Pages: 324
  • Illustrations: B/W
  • Publication date: 9 November 2021
  • Producer: Smith Settle
  • Binding: Cloth hardback
  • Trimmings: Silk ribbon, head- & tailband
Made in Britain

Letters to Michael

a father writes to his son 1945–1947

Charles Phillipson
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‘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.

‘There is a poignant urgency underpinning Phillipson’s letters, his care to underline tricky spellings, his striving to imagine the world through his tiny son’s eyes.’ Iona McLaren, Telegraph

‘These sweetly simple records of an ordinary suburban life render everything about it miraculous. The sheer quality of a devoted father shines from every detailed line, written and drawn . . . I keep returning to this magical collection, each time with renewed wonder that the letters survived.’ Bel Mooney, Daily Mail Book of the Week

‘Marvellously decorated with characterful pen-and-ink drawings, Letters to Michael is testament to a bygone era when snow fell thick, real pennies were squirrelled in plum puddings and letter-writing sketched the true contours of a relationship.’ Telegraph Best Books of 2021

‘Between early 1945 and autumn 1947, Charles Phillipson, an illustrator in the publicity department of an electrical company, wrote 150 letters to his young son, Michael – amusing drawings of daily life accompanied by a few cheerful words . . . His wife, Marjorie, kept them all and they have been gathered into an exquisite book, Letters to Michael, published by Slightly Foxed.’ Country Life, 2021 advent calendar issue

‘We couldn’t resist including this really rather lovely book, which arrived before Christmas, but is still giving us so much pleasure . . . This charming book, just right for our troubled times, is the perfect antidote to the bleak midwinter.’ Daunt Books Five Favourite Books of January 2022



    Letters to Michael | Introduction

    My father Charles Phillipson would have been amazed and delighted to learn that his series of letters to me, written when I was a small boy, were to be published. No such thought would have occurred...

    Read more

    Daily Mail Book of the Week | Letters to Michael

    I keep returning to this magical collection, each time with renewed wonder that the letters survived — but also with a strange sadness that these days there is so little inclination to write any...

    Read more

    ‘Dear Michael . . . Love, Daddy’ | Letters to Michael

    There is a poignant urgency underpinning Phillipson’s letters, his care to underline tricky spellings, his striving to imagine the world through his tiny son’s eyes.

    Read more

    Best Books of 2021 | Letters to Michael

    Marvellously decorated with characterful pen-and-ink drawings, Letters to Michael is testament to a bygone era when snow fell thick, real pennies were squirrelled in plum puddings and letter-writing...

    Read more

    Letters to Michael: a father writes to his son 1945–1947

    ‘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...

    Read more

    A Telegraph Best Book of 2021 | Letters to Michael

    We are absolutely delighted to report that copies of our recently published Special Release – Letters to Michael: a father writes to his son 1945–1947 – have been flying out of Foxed HQ to...

    Read more

    ‘An exquisite book, Letters to Michael, published by Slightly Foxed’

    Between early 1945 and autumn 1947, Charles Phillipson, an illustrator in the publicity department of an electrical company, wrote 150 letters to his young son, Michael – amusing drawings of daily...

    Read more

    ‘An exquisite book’ | Letters to Michael

    An antidote to troubled times and a perfect Christmas present. ‘Between early 1945 and autumn 1947, Charles Phillipson, an illustrator in the publicity department of an electrical company, wrote...

    Read more

    ‘I don’t think Slightly Foxed has ever published a book which is not both beautiful and interesting’

    ‘This winter they have published two very different books, both completely charming.’

    Read more

    Comments & Reviews

    Leave your review

    1. Country Life, 2021 advent calendar issue says:

      “Between early 1945 and autumn 1947, Charles Phillipson, an illustrator in the publicity department of an electrical company, wrote 150 letters to his young son, Michael – amusing drawings of daily life accompanied by a few cheerful words . . . His wife, Marjorie, kept them all and they have been gathered into an exquisite book, Letters to Michael, published by Slightly Foxed.”

    2. “I don’t think Slightly Foxed has ever published a book which is not both beautiful and interesting . . . The letters in this wonderful collection were written to Michael by his father between February 1945 and October 1947 and follow a set format: half letter, half drawing. The letters are short, usually relating a single item of home news or something that his father has noticed which has amused him or sparked his imagination. For as well as being a talented artist, Charles Philipson has a vivid imagination and a splendid sense of humour . . . The drawings contain a wealth of detail and often tell a story themselves: the artist hard at work at his desk, a very upright man on a penny farthing bicycle or the joy of V. E. Day. The letters can be read straight through or dipped into at random, either way each page is an utter delight; it is impossible to look at any of these letters and not smile. The introduction, written by Michael, supplies the background information to the letters and tells the story of his father – clearly a remarkable man I would love to have received letters from and met.”

    3. “What a charming, sweet dream of a book . . . Charles Phillipson wrote and illustrated letters to his son Michael between 1945–1947. The weight of love for his child just pours out of these short letters – little accounts of the goings on of his day. The words are brought to life by the quite simply exquisite drawings that made me laugh and at times made my heart ache . . . What a treasure to have kept and what a beautiful thing for us now to be able to share in.”

    4. “‘As you grow older you will find that good books can be some of your best friends,’ wrote Charles Phillipson to his son Michael, in 1947. Letters to Michael bears out the truth of that fatherly counsel. Phillipson first began drawing when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis – and, despite his illness, never stopped writing to his son. Marvellously decorated with characterful pen-and-ink drawings, Letters to Michael is testament to a bygone era when snow fell thick, real pennies were squirrelled in plum puddings and letter-writing sketched the true contours of a relationship.”

    5. ‘Dear Michael . . . Love, Daddy’ | “In 1945, an artist in bad health began writing a daily letter to his young son . . . his nimble pen conjuring up what he had seen – windy trees, the puffed cheeks and scowl of a bassoonist – or things his fancy had invented: ‘Would it not be very exciting to ride to school on an ostrich? We should have to let it sleep in the garage.’ He even gave each letter a hand-drawn stamp to make his son feel like a grown-up getting real post . . . There is a poignant urgency underpinning Phillipson’s letters, his care to underline tricky spellings, his striving to imagine the world through his tiny son’s eyes.”

    6. “‘Dear Michael, Guess how much I love you’: A father’s enchanting daily letters and drawings to his son are a powerful and tender portrait of paternal love — and of Britain emerging from war’s shadow . . . The magic of a bonfire, the thrill of four days before Christmas, praise for a small boy who proudly brings his parents tea in bed (‘You made it so nicely’), the shapes of cows in a field, how a six can be turned into a cat, what a bassoon looks like, how Daddy’s shadow lengthens before him, how books become friends . . . These sweetly simple records of an ordinary suburban life render everything about it miraculous. The sheer quality of a devoted father shines from every detailed line, written and drawn . . . I keep returning to this magical collection, each time with renewed wonder that the letters survived — but also with a strange sadness that these days there is so little inclination to write any letters at all, let alone ones as happy and touching as these.”

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