Thomas the Tank Engine Wiki

John Theodore Eardley Kenney (16 May 1911 - 27 November 1972), known as John T. Kenney, was the illustrator of The Railway Series books from The Eight Famous Engines to Gallant Old Engine, after which he retired due to a developing eye trouble.


Kenney trained to be an artist at Leicester College of Art, and then took up a job at a firm called J. E. Slater, where he later met his future wife, Peggy. In World War II, Kenney served in the 121st Light AA Regiment, during which time he made many sketches of the D-Day landings and the sweep of the Allies across Europe.[1]

As well as being a commercial artist, Kenney illustrated two self-written books - "The Grey Pony" in 1954 and "The Shetland Pony" the next year. Unfortunately, sickness meant he had to resign and take a job in freelance art. Edmund Ward commissioned him to illustrate a series called "Hunter Hawk, Skyway Detective" and The Eight Famous Engines. He also illustrated several titles for Ladybird Books, including "The Story of Nelson", "Florence Nightingale", and "King Alfred the Great" and most notably "Tootles The Taxi" which, like Thomas, is coincidentally about anthropomorphic vehicles.[2] The book focused on short rhymes for every character in the book, these characters include: "Tootles The Taxi", "Stumbles the Steamroller", "Co-Co the Caravan", and much more.[3] In 1962, four years after retiring from illustrating The Railway Series, he lost sight in one eye. His health began to fail in the early 1970s, and he died on November 27th 1972, the same year an exhibition of his paintings was held in Chicago, USA.

He was nominated for a Green Plaque Award for several years[4], and was finally recognised on 13 June, 2019, as one of twelve of Leicestershire's most famous people and buildings.[5][6]

Books Illustrated

  1. The Eight Famous Engines (1957)
  2. Duck and the Diesel Engine (1958)
  3. The Little Old Engine (1959)
  4. The Twin Engines (1960)
  5. Branch Line Engines (1961)
  6. Gallant Old Engine (1962)


  • Kenney was born in the same Leicester as his predecessor C. Reginald Dalby and trained at Leicester College of Art.
  • In the fourth illustration of Percy Takes the Plunge, a tanker has a face, this is the only time seen in The Railway series.
  • In the sixth illustration of Steam Roller, a blue car's the number plate is "JTK 62" referring to the initials of Kenney and the year of publication.



  1. John Theodore Kenney on Kibworth Village
  2. An afternoon with John Kenney on Ladybird fly away home
  3. Tootling About on The Wee Web
  4. Finalists from the last round of nominations on Leicestershire County Council
  5. Honour for Thomas the Tank Engine illustrator on Leicestershire County Council
  6. Thomas the Tank Engine illustrator honoured on BBC News

See Also

External Link