john watson’s noisy corner

November 7, 2008

John Watson (1960-2000) was my friend. I first came across his work while doing a bit of visiting lecturer work at Brighton. Raymond Briggs came into the staff room and showed me photocopies of John’s work. Raymond had been judging the Macmillan Children’s Book competition (the first one) and John had won it. I loved his drawings and said to Raymond “We must get him teaching here!” Quite a demand for someone who was only passing through. But sure enough they did get John in and we became good friends. He was very shy as a person but the students loved him (they felt it was their responsibility to look after him). He became a successful children’s book illustrator as well as continuing his role as the drummer in the band Hackney Five-0. I later introduced him to Spitting Image and he designed the puppets for a programme called Bigg New World.

He was so prolific, always drawing. He used to regularly send me photocopies of fold-out A4 magazines called ‘Spy’ or ‘Cuckoo’. He made me so jealous! But he was so generous. While Linton Bocock and I were trying to get published as comedy writers John mentioned to me that he had a friend in another band who was a comedy writer and his writing partner was a plasterer. He offered to arrange a meeting with them but I was reluctant to schlep all the way up to north London to meet such uninspiring sounding people. More fool me…they turned out to be Charlie Higson and Paul Whitehouse.

John got married and had two lovely children and everything seemed to be going well when I heard that he had suddenly died. His widow, Mei-Hsien, organised a terrific retrospective exhibition of his work and I helped her get it into one or two art schools around the UK. Then she too sadly died a few years later. While there is the catalogue for the show (“My Mouth Is Quiet But My Mind Is Noisy”) I am not aware of any website that is devoted to John’s work. If there is one I will gladly publicise it. Until then I will be posting here some of the many images I have of John’s from over the years. I hope you like them.


front cover


back cover


full fold-out inside


half fold-out inside


9 Responses to “john watson’s noisy corner”

  1. Oscar Grillo Says:

    Oh, man!…What a loss has been his early demise!…Watson was a true genius!!!!!

  2. sharrock Says:

    Yes, it was very sad. He was so talented and such a nice man. I still miss him. I want to keep his memory alive.

    Did you know Graham Percy was dead too? I only just found out and I used to be his agent…. He was another lovely man. He did some really nice illustrations too.

  3. Oscar Grillo Says:

    Yes, I did. One of my earliest jobs in Europe (Milan to be precise) was to transfer some colour illustrations by him into black and white. The man was too busy to do it himself and I needed the job. Never met him personally.

  4. sharrock Says:

    I’ve put a link up to his website (managed now by his son). There are some great things there. Check out his sketchbooks and the book he did for adults- it has a toaster for Kurt Schwitters in it…!

  5. ian borthwick Says:

    god this is terrible – I type johnny’s name into google and find out he has died – I went to Aberdeen school of art with John but lost touch with him what a lovely guy what a loss

    • sharrock Says:

      Hi Ian,

      I don’t know if we ever met..I met a lot of John’s friends. You are right, it is terrible; his sudden, early death was a terrible loss for his family, friends and illustration. He was such a lovely, talented man. So talented, so shy. The students at Brighton loved him, everybody loved him. His children (who are great!) I am sure, still love him. His work lives on. He lives on through his children. They carry that special John-ness.

      I do what I can to keep his memory alive. I should probably do more. Thanks for dropping by.

  6. Steve Says:

    Hello there,

    Delighted to find this little tribute to John’s work. He did some illustrations for a magazine I once worked on many years ago.

    I was a big fan of his Spy stuff at the time and so was delighted to meet him if only the once.

    I do remember he was working on producing a Spy book comprising all the little fold outs he used to do and he kindly gave me a zerox dummy of the whole thing plus some other little bits and pieces he had lying around his studio.

    Over the years I often thought it odd I didn’t see more of his work around as he was so wonderfuly unique – and it was only a few years ago I read somewhere he had died. A great shame.

    Thanks for this.

  7. Colin Morgan Says:

    Hi there,
    I found your website while looking up John Watson. A few days ago I was going through some old paperwork and I found an old invitation from 1993 John sent to me and it prompted me to see if John’s work lives on! I am proud to have been a friend of John’s (we shared a flat in Tulse Hill) but was shocked to hear that Mei Hsien has also died! I have been a fan of John’s work ever since we met and even have an original piece which I still treasure to this day. Hopefully one day John Watson will get the full recognition he trully deserves.

  8. Hi there, I was involved in bringing John’s retrospective to Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen. Very pleased to see this blog about John. A huge talent, sadly missed along with Mei Hsien. He was extraordinarily prolific and it was quality. There should be a proper site dedicated to his work. Great that a friend of John’s has done this. Thank you.

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