Mike Jeffries (Born 26th April 1939) is an English born professional artist who specialises in depicting road and rail transport in authentic settings of the mid 20th century.
Born in Plymouth, Devon the firstborn of a Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer Mike was evacuated along with his mother to St Dominic in Cornwall where he spent an idyllic six years growing up with his younger sister on a farm. After the War his father, who Mike doesn’t remember seeing for the duration, was demobbed and the family moved to the industrial city of Birmingham quite a change from life on the farm. Even at this age Mike drew incessantly, not the farm animals but tractors, buses and Army lorries which were very evident in war-time Cornwall in the build up to D-Day.
Mike soon made many friends in his new home and attended Central Grammar school, leaving in 1955 with five GCEs ,one of course in Art , but had for years been winning a half-a- crown (12p) in the weekly Daily Express art competition which supplemented his income from his paper round.
Art wasn’t considered a career option in those days so very much against his will he was ushered into a career as an apprentice in the jewellery trade. Soon bored with a life at a work bench and much to the despair of his parents he then joined British Railways as a locomotive fireman at Saltley shed where he worked on all types of steam engines from little 0.6.0s to the mighty 9F 2.10.0s until called up for National Service at the end of 1958.
Even though far from the world of art Mike counts this as one of the happiest of times where the dirty, arduous and sometimes dangerous but always exciting life on the footplate gave him a working knowledge of the railway and the steam locomotive which stood him in good stead as a railway artist later on.
The swinging sixties
The sixties were far from swinging for Mike who on demob from the Army in 1961 after 3 years service, during which he learned to drive and also obtained his PSV and HGV licence at the young age of 21, decided that a return to the footplate held no future and opted to work as a driver to make a living. Even while in the Forces Mike had still drawn at every opportunity and planned that one day he would work as an artist but bills had to be paid and life go on so in the meantime driving jobs from buses, coaches and lorries became the order of the day. Although driving in those days before the tachograph, motorways and satellite tracking was still a life of comparative freedom Mike knew he still needed to make the break to become a professional artist sooner rather than later.
Now a married man with a young son Mike and family moved back to Plymouth to work as an artist but it proved to be a false start and although moderately successful he wasn’t yet ready to make a good living from his work and had to return to driving to live. Now with a broken marriage behind him Mike had to compromise so from the mid seventies worked at churning out what the gallery trade called “pot-boilers”, pictures known to sell but soul destroying to produce. With up to ten or even twenty pictures a week to complete but not in his chosen field of transport art Mike was yet to make a mark as a serious artist.
The busy eighties
Now re-married Mike now went back to bus driving for some years to make a living but still in his spare time from bringing up a new family strived to improve his technique and contacts in the growing old vehicle preservation movement. Persistence finally paid off in the late eighties when at an exhibition in London his work was spotted by art buyers from Eversheds at that time a leading trade calendar producing company. A large section of Evershed’s market were garages, tyre fitting and battery companies who used their calendars for publicity but increasingly female customers were often offended by the sometimes very graphic girlie calendars displayed in workshops and trade counters. An alternative was needed to win back the custom and so the classic transport calendar was born. The success of the road transport calendar was immediate, people were bored with girlie calendars anyway and seeing old vehicles in their proper settings gave much more scope to make a good painting. From a six sheet the calendar soon became a 12 sheet and because of the exposure this best seller gave Mike’s career a kick start and it finally took off.
Building on his success with Eversheds Mike with help from his good friend Julian Bowden was introduced to vehicle historian Peter Love who was about to launch a new magazine aimed at the growing vintage commercial vehicle market. Mike’s work now started to appear on the covers and centre-speads of the new magazine, print sales and many more commissions followed including the use of his images on greetings and postcards. Mike was now recognized as one of the country’s leading transport artists and the first hand experience of his chosen subject gave his work a credibility which set it apart.
The 21st century
Now firmly established as a serious artist in his field Mike continues to produce work to an even higher standard in his ambition to show the past as he remembers it, not though rose coloured spectacles but as it really was warts and all.