Though John Burningham was a distinguished children’s author and illustrator, his quirkiness was more evident in his books for adults about France and Britain, which were always witty and sometimes bizarre.
It was also evident in his unusual acquisitions. In India he purchased a lot of elephant umbrellas on the grounds that “they would probably come in useful”.
He transplanted an entire wall from a French railway bridge to abut the swimming pool at his house in Provence. He inserted the stairway from a church pulpit into his East Anglian boathouse and placed a church belfry in his Hampstead garden to serve as a summer house.
His most ambitious architectural venture was the restoration of a vast arts-and-crafts mansion overlooking the sea at Ramsgate, Kent. When told that only a “madman” would have bought this house, he agreed enthusiastically.
John’s imagination overflowed from art to life and he sometimes acted out his fantasies. Bored during lunch, he might suddenly appear at a window in the character of Quasimodo. His postcards were richly satirical, often illustrated and written in the vein of his character Mr Gumpy.
He was an inspired mimic. One speech he made in several different accents, all the while tugging at the lead of his microphone and making belief that a disobedient dog was on the other end of it. His opinions were wry, humane and original – like John himself.