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Last Updated: Friday, 8 December 2006, 17:32 GMT
Faces of the week
Faces of the Week

Our regular look at some of the faces which have made the news this week. Above are BEATRIX POTTER (main picture), with IAN McEWAN, AUDREY HEPBURN, TOMMA ABTS and GEN SIR MIKE JACKSON.


The film Miss Potter, starring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, which previewed in London this week, turns the spotlight on one of Britain's best loved authors, Beatrix Potter.

Just how did a repressed Victorian woman manage to produce some of the most endearing children's literature of the 20th century?

Beatrix Potter's natural empathy with children was, perhaps, surprising given her upbringing. Born in 1866 into a middle-class Victorian family, her parents set a strict code of behaviour.

Beatrix had a lonely childhood; her brother, Bertram, born five years later, was sent off to boarding school while she remained at home to be educated by a succession of governesses.

Renee Zellweger posing at Miss Potter premiere
Renee Zellweger plays Beatrix in Miss Potter

She found consolation in her menagerie of pet animals including frogs, newts and even a bat. She had a succession of rabbits, the first two of which were named Benjamin and Peter, the latter being happy to go everywhere with her on a lead.

She began sketching her pets and gradually improved her technique to include the use of watercolours.

Her illustrations won influential admirers. The painter John Everett Millais gave her encouragement and, in turn, she declared that the Pre-Raphaelites' admiration for copying natural details certainly influenced her.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit began as a series of letters written to the sick child of a former governess and were illustrated with her sketches. It was almost 10 years before she decided to publish the story, having been rejected by six publishers.

Eventually Frederick Warne offered to take the book if she added colour to her sketches. It finally appeared in the small format that she insisted upon to ensure her works would fit in to the tiny hands of her readers.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit was something of a revelation. Its soft watercolours, elegant language, and gently ironic tone set it apart from the heavy humour and condescending baby talk which typified many children's books of the time.

Wealthy landowner

Financially independent by the age of 36, she bought a small farm in the Lake District. She had also fallen in love with her editor Norman Warne, a relationship bitterly opposed by her parents who saw publishing as "trade". She was not allowed even to talk about it in London's high society.

In 1905 Norman proposed but sadly, less than a month later, had died of leukaemia.

Beatrix Potter buried herself in the Lake District where she worked on her books in order to generate the money needed to keep her farm going. She built it up and became a wealthy landowner, a woman ahead of her time.

In 1912 she received a marriage proposal from William Heelis a local solicitor. Her parents again opposed the match (she was 46) but she received support from her brother Bertram and eventually was able to marry.

Scene in the Lake District
Beatrix Potter became a wealthy landowner in the Lake District
She published her final "Tale of..." book at the time of her wedding. With a husband to love, she no longer needed her animal fantasies for company. She died in 1943 leaving 4,000 acres of Lake District property to the National Trust.

Potter's little books show no sign of losing their appeal and there is hardly a top 50 list of children's literature that does not feature half a dozen of her volumes. Part of that appeal lies in her beautifully detailed illustrations.

It is a measure of her skill that, in an age when children are bombarded with computer games, DVDs and television programmes, her books still find ready buyers.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit alone has sold more than 40 million copies and been reprinted over 300 times.

Potter's books have generated a flood of merchandise, much of which the author licensed and controlled in her lifetime. The new film can only add to the plethora of Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck items in the shops, while Potter's enchanting books look set to continue selling well into their second century.

Author, Ian McEwan

Fellow authors, including Margaret Atwood and Thomas Pynchon, rushed to the defence of novelist Ian McEwan this week. McEwan had been accused of plagiarising the diaries of a wartime nurse, the late Lucilla Andrews for his 2002 work, Atonement. McEwan had defended himself arguing that not only was he using a non-fiction work to give authenticity to fiction, but that he openly acknowledged the source material. "Unless we were actually there," wrote Pynchon, "We must refer to people who were."

Audrey Hepburn

The black Givenchy dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in the film Breakfast At Tiffany's, fetched the extraordinary sum of 467,200 at auction in London this week. The dress, which helped create the so-called Hepburn look in the early 1960s, was the one she wore at the beginning of the movie when she peers into the window of the New York jewellery store, while eating breakfast from a paper bag. The buyer was an anonymous fan.

Turner Prize-winning abstract painter, Tomma Abts

The 38-year-old German-born painter, Tomma Abts, became only the third woman in 22 years to win the prestigious Turner Prize. At a lavish celebration in London's Tate Britain gallery, she was presented with the award plus a 25,000 cheque by Yoko Ono. Abts, who lives in London, creates small abstract oil and acrylic canvasses. She is the first painter to receive the Turner Prize since Chris Ofili's elephant dung on canvas works won in 1998.

Former British army chief, Gen. Sir Mike Jackson

The former British army chief, General Sir Mike Jackson, has delivered a strong attack on Britain's Ministry of Defence. He accuses it of failing to meet the basic needs of soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and described their families' accommodation as sometimes "shaming". "It is our soldiers who pay the cost in blood: the nation must therefore pay the cost in treasure. Soldiers and their families must be properly valued," he said.

Written by BBC News Profiles Unit's Nick Serpell

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