Roy Cross, the world’s greatest artist

As a small boy of nine or ten, I was very keen on Airfix plastic kits. They came originally in see-through plastic bags with a folded piece of paper stapled over the open end of the bag. The instructions for making the kit were inside the folded paper.

The smallest Series 1 kits were one shilling and threepence, or perhaps one shilling and sixpence. Series Two were three shillings and Series Three were four shillings and sixpence. Series Four cost six shillings and Series Five seven shillings and sixpence. Series Six, of which for many years there was only one, the Short Sunderland, was twelve shillings and sixpence. At this time I used to get around two or three shillings pocket money per week. As life grew more sophisticated, Airfix decided to put most of their kits into boxes and to decorate them with illustrations of that particular aircraft in action. The absolute toppermost of the poppermost of the Airfix artists was a man called Roy Cross (born 1924). Let’s take a look at his talents as an artist.

After initially helping illustrate Eagle comic  Roy moved to Airfix in 1964 and started his career with the Dornier Do 217. Here is the box art:

Notice how he makes the Dornier’s opponents the Polish Air Force, something out of the ordinary. Below is the original drawing. Both illustrations featured on an auction website, where Roy’s first ever aircraft sketch was on sale for £790.

Let’s take a look at some more of Roy’s best work. Here’s a Series 1 Spitfire, with the plastic bag still in place and the model unmade.

Series 2 included the de Havilland Mosquito, the Fairey Battle and the Bristol Blenheim. This one is flown by the Free French Air Force. Roy’s work never seems to drop in standard:

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A Series 3 kit might have been the Junkers Ju-88 and Heinkel III. A bigger box allowed him to make his pictures more and more complex. Notice again how he makes the Heinkel’s opponents somebody out of the ordinary, in this case the Soviet Red Air Force:

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In Series 4 was the Vickers Wellington:

The mighty Avro Lancaster was in Series 5, as was the B-17 Flying Fortress. Notice how the very large box has enabled him to portray accurately the huge wingspan of both aircraft:

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Here’s the Short Sunderland:

The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was of such a size that it probably was in Series 29. This box is big enough to portray a defensive “box” of B-29s, and a Japanese fighter:

I was not very good at making the kits, as I would be the first to confess. With biplanes such as the Roland Walfisch of World War I or the Handley Page HP 42, the 1930s airliner, I was hopeless at gluing the top wing to the bottom one and soon there were gluey fingerprints all over the place:

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Quite a rare kit in my experience was the de Havilland DH.88 which won the race from England to Australia in 1934 with an official time of 70 hours 54 minutes 18 seconds. The raw plastic for it was bright red. I am not wholly sure if Roy Cross did this artwork. The kit may have appeared pre-1964:

There are some kits that I would like to have made but never did.  There was the Mitsubishi “Dinah” which was reckoned to be the most aerodynamically perfect aircraft of World War II. This is one of Roy’s very best pieces of work in my opinion:

The Spitfires defending Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia certainly couldn’t catch the Dinahs that flew high above them day after day.

The second kit I yearned for was the Angel Interceptor used in the TV series “Captain Scarlet”. That too, was a fairly rare kit during my modelling years:

I can’t bring this post to an end without showing you the last few masterpieces by Roy Cross. They are the B-25 Mitchell, with a choice of either a glazed or a solid nose:

Here’s the Aichi “Val”, looking for all the world like a Stuka that’s put on a lot of weight:

The Westland Whirlwind was a very advanced concept for 1938. It was one of the fastest combat aircraft in the world and with four Hispano-Suiza HS.404 20 mm autocannon in its nose, the most heavily armed. Prolonged problems with the Peregrine engines delayed everything and few Whirlwinds were built……only 116 in actual fact:

And let’s not forget the Blohm und Voss Bv 141 reconnaissance aircraft, one of the few aeroplanes ever to have had an asymmetrical structure. And yes, it flew very well, but was never produced in numbers because of the shortage of the engines of choice.

One last detail I found out about Roy Cross. He was apparently highly amused by the modern practice of taking his artwork, but photoshopping out any explosions and burning aircraft in case they upset anybody and reminded them what most of these aircraft were designed to do.

If you want to see more of Roy Cross’ art, then, please, use google images to sort out some pictures of other aircraft whose boxes he decorated. Roy may not be a famous artist, but his images of planes are irrevocably etched for ever in the memories of so many men of my age.



Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Humour, military, Pacific Theatre, Personal, the Japanese

28 responses to “Roy Cross, the world’s greatest artist

  1. You make a good case for your claim for Roy Cross – but Frank Hampson was the best for me.

  2. GP

    Mr. Cross’ attention to detail and action never did waiver over the years – as I’m sure your talent in putting the models together would have improved. (I do know the panic of having a piece glued to my finger though…).

    • You are very kind, but the evidence says otherwise. I struggled when I was about eight or nine, and then when I helped my younger brother with his kits when I was around seventeen or eighteen, I was not really much better. Still, I enjoyed the experience, which is presumably the aim of taking up any hobby.

  3. Chris Waller

    This takes me back a few more years than I’d like to admit to. I recall building a Fokker triplane and an English Electric Lightning. That latter looked so very modern at the time. Am I right in thinking the kits came also with transfers for the roundels etc.? I never painted my kits, lacking the dexterity to do it to an acceptable standard. I also built the Airfix kit of the Ark Royal aircraft carrier. It seemed huge at the time but was probably only 12″ long. The majority of the kits I built were of model railway accessories like lineside buildings.

    • Yes, the kits did come with the relevant transfers, and as the years went by, Airfix tried to attract people by offering a choice of two different air forces. The Bristol Blenheim, for example, was either the RAF or the Free French AIr Force. I only ever built one modern warship, HMS Tiger, although I managed a Great Western and the Golden Hind. My pet hate was the series of famous people where I attempted the Coldstream Guardsman and made a terrible mess of it. He finished up looking more like Frankenstein in a big hat.
      I made one or two trackside accessories, most notably the signal box at Oakham which I made several times. When I went to university on the train, I was delighted to see the real thing. As far as I can see, it’s still there to this day!

  4. A fine tribute to the artist Roy Cross.

    • Thank you. He is one of the finest artists of his type, although, obviously he can’t compare to a top artist in our National Gallery. He always managed to capture an exciting moment, which, ultimately I suppose, will encourage the young modelmaker to buy it.

  5. His work is good. Still, we are not exactly an unbiased bunch since our artwork is done by Jack Fellows. 😉

  6. I remember those days, but I would have made a motorbike instead. Coventry Eagle and the Indian.

    • I can’t remember ever making a motorbike, but they may have been quite rare because a quick look at ebay show only three kits on offer, with a BSA 250cc C15 Star and an Ariel Arrow. Both kits are priced at £99 !!
      It could be worth checking the attic for any unmade kits you might have!

  7. I used to love Airfix but I was crap at putting them together. My favourite box painting was the Westland Lysander but I cannot explain why.

  8. This is a great tribute to the man John, I always loved the artwork on those boxes and I had enough of them! At last count, and I must have been in my early 20s, it was over 100 models all of which ended up in the bin after various house moves and breakages. They were certainly emotive scenes, always full of action and very distinctive. I believe the Australian version was one of those where bombs and explosions were removed, which I find quite astonishing consider a) the subject matter and b) the fact that Australia sent so many men to the war!

  9. I hadn’t realised that it was in Australia that the pictures were censored. I can certainly understand it, given the extreme sensitivity of most Australians, especially their cricketers who frequently blush with shyness when spoken to by the umpires or the opposition.
    I had just over 100 models when my Mum and Dad decided that the best thing to do with them was to give them to a rummage sale. Still, that wasn’t the most valuable thing that they humanely destroyed, and even nowadays, mention of the four words “your football programme collection” is enough to drive me into a frenzy.

  10. atcDave

    Some beautiful classic work! I think the colorful (should I say fiery?) paintings and artwork of the time breathed life and excitement into the subject matter for so many of us. Perhaps aided by how limited actual action photography of the time was?

    • I would fully agree with you there! Those pictures on the boxes made everybody want to make a kit of such a wonderful aircraft. And you make a very original point about the actual action photography of the time. Again, I am with you on that one. All the books about aviation that I had in the early sixties had b/w photographs, often of aircraft on the ground. Even the films here in England were b/w. No wonder Roy Cross persuaded us all to buy, buy, buy!

  11. I remember these kits well, John, for some of my brothers were forever putting the models together. I can still smell the paint from these models. I don’t agree with the motive behind the scenes to buy! but to think these kits gave my brothers happiness is what counts.

  12. And the older you get, the louder they seem!

  13. GP

    I’m sure you’ve read this story, but I only just did. I had to bring it here just in case…

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