Bernard Ashley lives in Charlton, south east London, only a street or so from where he was born. He was educated at the Roan School, Blackheath and Sir Joseph Williamson's Mathematical School, Rochester. After National Service in the RAF Bernard trained to teach at Trent Park College of Education, specializing in Drama. He followed this with an Advanced Diploma at the Cambridge Institute and has recently been awarded an honorary Doctorate in Education by the University of Greenwich and an honorary Doctorate in Letters by the University of Leicester. During his career as a teacher he worked in Kent, Hertfordshire, Newham and Greenwich, with thirty years of headship in the last three.
In the recent past Bernard initiated meetings between Charles Clarke, then Secretary of State for Education and Skills, and authors Philip Pullman, Jamila Gavin and Chris Powling in efforts to bring enjoyment back into reading for children in schools. Otherwise, he is now writing full time. His first novel, The Trouble with Donovan Croft (recently re-issued by OUP as a Modern Classic)), was published in 1974 and won the 'Other' Award, an alternative to the Carnegie Medal (for which he has been shortlisted three times). Twenty further novels have followed, gaining him a reputation as a 'gritty' writer in sympathy with the under dog. In Margaret Meek's view he gets inside children's heads, who say that this is what it's like for them. His latest book is No Way to Go, ('A tautly written, tough-talking teenage crime story…' – Jacqueline Wilson) which is published on 3rd September 2009 (Orchard Books).
Of Tiger Without Teeth Philip Pullman wrote in The Guardian:
'A commonplace setting, an everyday situation, ordinary characters. Bernard Ashley's great gift is to turn what seems to be low-key realism into something much stronger and more resonant. It has something to do with empathy, compassion, an undimmed thirst for decency and justice. In a way, Ashley is doing what ‘Play for Today’ used to do when TV was a medium that connected honestly with its own time, and what so few artists do now: using realism in the service of moral concern.'
Johnnie's Blitz (Barn Owl), drew on his wartime experiences as a child in and around London; while Little Soldier (Orchard) sums up his writing: a pacy plot with an emotional turning point, a theme that concerns him, and characters that grip as real people.
Bernard very much enjoys doing the research for his books. For Little Soldier he went to Uganda – which also inspired the picture book The Bush; and for Down to the Wire he went to Ghana, which led also to Angel Boy, set in the slave fort town of Elmina.
Bernard’s picture book texts are Double the Love (Orchard), Growing Good (Bloomsbury), The Bush (Tamarind), Cleversticks, and A Present for Paul (Collins - also translated into four languages in South Africa and eight dual language versions in England by Mantra), and his popular stories for young readers include Dinner Ladies Don't Count (Puffin), Justin and the Demon Drop Kick (Happy Cat 2005), King Rat and Who Loves You, Billy? (both Collins).
Television work has included Running Scared (BBC, from which he wrote the novel), The Country Boy (BBC) and his adaptation of his own Dodgem (BBC) which won the Royal Television Society award as the best children's entertainment of its year. He created Three Seven Eleven (Granada), two ten-part series set in a primary school, and wrote much of it with his son Chris Ashley. Stage plays are The Old Woman Who Lived in A Cola Can (Edinburgh Festival and tour), The Secret of Theodore Brown (Unicorn Theatre), and the play of his own Little Soldier (Heinemann).
A strong family man, Bernard is married to Iris Ashley, until recently a London headteacher, and they have three sons. Their eldest, Chris, also a headteacher, is a writer, too, whose latest books Wasim One-Star and Wasim the Wanderer are published by Frances Lincoln. David is a London headteacher and an expert on children's reading; and Jonathan is an actor, writer and director whose writing for theatre includes Stiffs; and who was writer and voice director in Los Angeles and London on Primal and Ghosthunter for Playstation 2, and who worked on Tomb Raider .
Bernard and Iris have four grandchildren, Paul, Carl, Rosie and Luke.