In Memoriam: Illustrator Victor Ambrus, the refugee who brought British history and legend to life

Victor Ambrus. Image Time Team

We’re sorry to report the death of the award-winning and much-admired Victor Ambrus FSA FRS, the Hungarian-born British illustrator of history, folk tales, and animal story books, and a writer of some, too – and an integral part of Channel 4’s Time Team from the very start.

Victor, who was 85, passed away peacefully in his sleep and was still drawing and painting almost every day until he was admitted to hospital.

Victor Ambrus at work on a Time Team shoot. Image:Wikimedia

Victor is probably best known generally from his appearances on the Channel 4 television archaeology series Time Team, on which he visualised how sites under excavation may have once looked.

The producers of the show announced his passing earlier this week.

“As one of the founding members of the Time Team family he was loved and respected by the whole team,” they said. “He was an essential part of the team’s success – who brought the past to life.

“He was an exceptional and unique artist and a wonderful human being. He will always be in our memory and forever part of the Time Team story.

“Our thoughts are with his family at this time. May he rest in peace.”

The World of Dinosaurs (1976)
“Earl Grey Alchemist”, one of Victor Ambrus’ many illustrations for Time Team – this for an episode about Codnor Castle, first broadcast in 2007

Victor has led an eventful life – back in 1956, he took part in the Hungarian Uprising. After escaping from a building with his fellow students when it came under fire from the Soviets, he eventually decided to leave his native Hungary and moved to England. After arriving in London, he continued his artistic dream and began to study at the Royal College of Art.

Whilst studying at the RCA, Victor embarked upon his first job as an illustrator, at just 20 years old. This first assignment was to illustrate the History of Britain for the Reader’s Digest – and it was that work which led to the team behind Time Team deciding that Ambrus could illustrate all the subjects they were likely to present, and invited him to take part in a pilot episode.

This started his career as a historical illustrator, which has lead to him illustrating almost 300 books, including covers for Puffin Books and more, and designed six sets of historical stamps for the Jersey Post Office, and one for the Royal Mail.

Great Escape Stories, 1963 (Puffin Books)
Flambards, 1976 (Puffin Books)
A Book of Magicians, 1977 (Puffin Books)

The winner of numerous awards, including the Kate Greenaway Medal, Ambrus was an Associate of the Royal College of Art and a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Arts and the Royal Society of Painters, Etchers and Engravers.

He was also a patron of the Association of Archaeological Illustrators and Surveyors up until its merger with the Institute for Archaeologists in 2011.

Victor Ambrose created this in a few hours: archaeologist Raksha Dave as a mill worker and Time Team host Tony Robinson as a scavenger. Via Raksha Dave on Twitter

Tributes to Victor

“He shall be greatly missed by all at Mall Galleries and The Pastel Society,” commented Mall Galleries, among the first to note Victor’s passing.

“So sad to hear about the passing of our georgeous Victor Ambrus.,” said archaeologist and Time Team member Raksha Dave. “What a talented, generous, kind soul. He brought all of our sites to life on Time Team through his wonderful art.”

“Victor Ambrus was surely Britain’s greatest archaeological illustrator since Alan Sorrell,” commented historian and folklorist Dr. Francis Young, citing his reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo ship burial is a particular favourite. “His ability to draw off-the-cuff reconstructions, as depicted on Time Team, was breathtaking. A visual imagination immersed in the complexity of the past to an astonishing degree – and with a touch of humanity that even the finest CGI reconstruction can’t match.”

An illustration from Drawing Somerset’s Past, published in 2018

“His illustrations were always beautiful,” noted photographer Erin Morn. “I will always admire his ability to humanize the burials that were dug on Time Team. He always drew them in such a kind, thoughtful manner. Showing that they were not just long buried bones, but humans deserving remembrance and dignity.”

“[His] highly distinctive work entranced me from an early age,” noted illustrator and BBC TV graphic designer Richard Wells, author of the upcoming Damnable Tales – A Folk Horror Anthology from Unbound. “I think that was down to several of his pieces appearing in the Usborne book of How to Draw Ghosts, Vampires and Haunted Houses!”

“A great loss,” noted natural history illustrator William Spring. “The finest of draftsman and an ongoing inspiration from when I was a child. He’ll be greatly missed… He was an absolute master. He taught me so much through his books and watching him on TV. Very sad to see him go.”

“A fantastic artist and a huge influence on me,” said writer and illustrator Ben Pook. “I think he influenced and brought more to Time Team than may be realised.”

László Győző Ambrus, 19th August 1935 – 10th February 2021)

• Official Web Site: www.victorambrus.com (Under Construction)

• Currently and coincidentally available to listen on BBC Radio is the Front Row episode “Wagner’s Ring, Bloodlands, Victor Ambrus, Jessie Brennan”, repeated tonight, celebrating the refugee who brought British history and legend to life in our books and on Time Team.

Wikipedia: Victor Ambrus

Mall Galleries: Art by Victor Ambrus

• Flickr: An album of book covers by Victor Ambrus for Puffin Books, assembled by longtime collector Mike K

Books illustrated by Victor Ambrus (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)

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The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.



Categories: Art and Illustration, Books News, downthetubes News, Features, Obituaries, Other Worlds

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