John Burningham’s Hampstead cafe-loving dog inspires storybook

PUBLISHED: 12:30 20 September 2016

John Burningham with his dog Miles who is the subject of his latest book 'Motor Miles'

John Burningham with his dog Miles who is the subject of his latest book 'Motor Miles'

© Nigel Sutton email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

When Miles the Jack Russell moved to Hampstead several years ago, he occupied a prime canine hotspot any dog would die for.

John Burningham with his dog Miles who is the subject of his latest book 'Motor Miles'John Burningham with his dog Miles who is the subject of his latest book 'Motor Miles'

When Miles the Jack Russell moved to Hampstead several years ago, he occupied a prime canine hotspot any dog would die for.

But his owners, children’s authors Helen Oxenbury and John Burningham were dismayed to find instead of walks on the Heath opposite their home, he preferred to be driven up to a High Street cafe.

Miles is now the subject of Burningham’s latest storybook – about a difficult dog who doesn’t come when called, and doesn’t like rain, walks, or dog food.

Burningham says: “For most dogs the idea of a walk on the Heath is absolute heaven but he is quite a character and would much rather drive up to the village. His favourite place is The Wells.”

In Motor Miles (Penguin) the pet’s next door neighbour builds a natty red car and the dog finds happiness learning to drive himself and his young owner on day trips.

Burningham, who has written and illustrated children’s favourites such as Mr Gumpy’s Outing and Granpa says: “We took him on because he had a bad past and the people who had him couldn’t cope with him. He’s a lovely dog who had a lot of problems – the same as the dog in the book - and someone asked my wife if she could do something with him.”

One of Burningham’s illustrations for the book is based on a photograph of Oxenbury and Miles in a Hampstead café with the dog sitting obediently on a chair.

“It was just that idea of a dog that loves cars rather than walking. I thought ‘there’s something here,” says Burningham.

After tenderly caring for Miles, the difficult dog is now “much better than he was”.

“Unconditional love helps everyone really,” says Burningham, who claims writing children’s books was “something that just happened years ago and I stuck with it.”

“Whenever I say I write and illustrate books for children, people usually say ‘how lovely’. But actually it’s not an easy thing to do because you are working on such a tiny number of pages. They are tricky things to pull off really but I get ideas and think I should make use of them.”

A Miles doll and a two metre long model of the car feature in Happy Birthday Mr Burningham, an exhibition at Oxford’s Story Museum marking the author’s 80th birthday this year.

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