John T. Kenney

From TrainSpottingWorld, for Rail fans everywhere

John T. Kenney (born 1911, died 1972) was an English illustrator who worked on a number of the Railway Series books (also known as the Thomas the Tank Engine stories) by W.V. Awdry. His full name was John Theodore Eardley Kenney.


Kenney was born in 1911 and trained at the Leicester College of Art, the same school that produced Clarence Reginald Dalby, the first illustrator of the Railway Series. Upon graduation he was employed by J.E. Slater, a firm of commercial artists located in Leicester.

Kenney served with the 44th Searchlight Regiment and the 121st Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment during World War II. He landed in Normandy on D-Day, and although he was not officially a war artist he recorded the scenes he saw in a number of impromptu drawings. He continued to draw what he saw as his regiment swept across Europe with the rest of the Allied contingent. After the war, he returned to Leicester, resuming work at J.E. Slater. It was at that time that he met his future wife, Peggy. In 1957 Kenney quit his position, choosing to work as a full-time freelance artist.

Contributions as illustrator

Awdry's choice of Kenney as a replacement for Dalby has been considered a fortuitous one. Kenney brought a lightness of touch and a naturalism to the illustrations that had been previously lacking. In the first book illustrated by Kenney, The Eight Famous Engines, Kenney's superb draftsmanship and his attention to detail are already obvious.

Kenney's last illustrations in the Railway Series were for 1962's Gallant Old Engine. By that time his eyesight was failing and he was unable to handle the fine details required for the Series's illustrations.

Before his retirement, Kenney also illustrated 27 children's books for the Leicester publisher Ladybird Books, including books on Charles Dickens, Florence Nightingale, and Queen Elizabeth I. He also provided art for the Hunter Hawk, Skyway Detective series.

John T. Kenney died in 1972 at the age of 61.


  • The Eight Famous Engines
  • Duck and the Diesel Engine
  • The Little Old Engine
  • The Twin Engines
  • Branch Line Engines
  • Gallant Old Engine

Further Reference

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