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Ionicus. Artist whose illustrations caught the spirit of P G Wodehouse's country house world
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The Daily Telegraph Saturday 7 February 1998


Artist whose illustrations caught the spirit of P G Wodehouse's country house world

IONICUS, the artist and illustrator who has died aged 84, was known outside his professional work by his real name of Joshua Armitage; his best-known work evoked the comic world of P G Wodehouse.

Armitage contributed cartoons and drawings to Punch for more than 40 years, and provided cover designs and text illustrations for nearly 400 books. But he was noted above all for his interpretations of such much-loved characters of Wodehouse's stories as Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves, Gussie Fink-Nottle, and Lord Emsworth and his butler Beach, and his prize pig Empress of Blandings.

Joshua Armitage, known to his friends as Jos, was born on September 26 1913 and lived at Hoylake, a seaside town at the tip of the Wirral peninsula, all his life.

He started drawing to pass the time when he was a patient in Hoylake Cottage Hospital at the age of five. His talent was encouraged at the local secondary school, where the art master put forward his name for a Cheshire county junior art scholarship. He studied at Liverpool College of Art and then taught at a training centre for jobless youths in Liverpool during the late l930s.

During the Second World War he served in the Navy, but defective eyesight prevented him from obtaining a commission. Apart from a spell on minesweepers, his service was largely spent on instructional duties in signalling.

It was during his naval service that he sent off his first batch of cartoons to Punch, and one was accepted - earning him four guineas. It depicted two music critics walking past a concert hall where a notice announced: Tonight - Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. One critic says to the other: "Talk about plugging - that's the third time in 12 months they have played Beethoven's Fifth!"

That first publication determined Armitage's choice of penname, derived from the Ionic columns of the hall. The cheque was considerably more than his weekly income before the war, and he was filled with optimism for the future. "But I discovered," he said later, "that it was not that easy."

After demob, he spent a year struggling as a freelance artist, but then returned to teaching at a school in Liverpool, and afterwards at Wallasey School of Art, continuing to do freelance art work in his spare time.

This did not meet with the approval of the principal at Wallasey, and in 1950 Armitage left, to spend the rest of his life working freelance, his drawing board propped up on a table in the front room of his home in a quiet suburban road near the sea front at Hoylake.

As he established himself as a Punch "regular", he also obtained work as a book illustrator. He had a 40-year association with Chatto & Windus, and worked for many other publishers, including Penguin Books, Hodder & Stoughton, Macmillan, Dent and the OUP. His gentle sense of humour, sound draughtsmanship and inimitable style won him many admirers.

But his name was most particularly linked with P G Wodehouse's humorous novels. He provided 58 covers for Penguin Books' Wodehouse paperback series, and these resulted in further commissions, including a request to provide 12 watercolours for the walls of the United Oxford and Cambridge University Club in London.

Although Armitage never met Wodehouse, many readers felt that his illustrations successfully realised the atmosphere of Blandings Castle, the Drones Club, the Oldest Member's golf club and Bertie Wooster's milieu. "I don't want to appear big-headed, but I believe Penguin thought I got it right," he said.

Armitage was particularly pleased to be asked to draw a bird's-eye view of Blandings Castle and its surrounding Shropshire countryside for Wodehouse's last, uncompleted novel, Sunset at Blandings.

He was a regular contributor to The Countryman, and supplied the Yorkshire Dalesman with its covers in the l960s and 1970s, many of them set in his own imaginary valley called Ghylldale.

Golf was also a subject in which Ionicus found inspiration. He was a member of the Royal Liverpool Golf Club at Hoylake for more than 30 years, and a corner of the members' lounge there serves as a gallery wall for a selection of his amusing golfing watercolours.

Armitage's wife Catherine predeceased him; they had two daughters.

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