Clive Spong was again a graduate of Leicester College of Art, like predecessors Dalby and Kenney before him. Although, unlike them, he was due to work for the son of the author on the reprised Railway Series books written by Christopher Awdry.
Kaye and Ward publishers chose Spong because he was able to incorporate the best bits of all three previous artists – from the eye catching colour that Dalby brought, to the technical accuracy that the Edwards couple and John T Kenney gave to the illustrations. This would prove a great selling point for the new titles and compliment the style of writing that Christopher was providing, which would be aimed at younger children on the same level as the early Railway Series books.
Previously, little had been disclosed in regards to the working relationship between Christopher and Clive, however, Christopher has commended his ‘superb’ work in The New Collection, an anthology of Christopher Awdry’s Railway Series books published in 2007.
It was because of this that Clive remained throughout the run of Christopher’s books, and was able to return in 2007 for Book 41 in 2007 illustrating more Railway Series work than any of his predecessors before him. The author also collaborated with him to an extent, as he tried to find new viewpoints and angles for Clive to draw from, as to avoid repetition in the pictures, always trying “to think visually and verbally.”
Also, unlike his predecessors, he had grown up with the Railway Series books, and held a childhood enthusiasm and appreciation for the characters. Spong went on to develop a style of his own, incorporating bold colour and strong illustration with ‘accuracy and consistency’, which the Rev. W. Awdry observed and complimented him upon as an artist.
The two worked together on The Reverend’s adaptation of the television story, Thomas’s Christmas Party, which was published prior to the episode’s airing in 1984 - it was also the first time that Tidmouth Sheds had been depicted to the Reverend’s own vision, and was carried over to the following Railway Series stories taking place there.
Clive was however the first illustrator to break Wilbert's golden rule about engines having no faces outside of Sodor.
This took place in book 35 - Thomas and the Great Railway Show - depicting National Collection engines such as Mallard, Duchess of Hamilton, Green Arrow and Iron Duke (complete with big whiskers!) with faces, however, this could be excused given the fact that the stories required Thomas to be able to converse with the others, which would have been all the more difficult had they not had that ability!
Illustrations by Spong never seemed to stay with one style for long, and seemed to evolve throughout the time he was doing them. Changing from solid and bold, to slightly more water-coloured, with engines having sand-coloured faces as opposed to their usual grey!
The latter books of the series saw a real move away form emulating the previous illustrators and more toward the development and incorporation of his own style into the Railway Series books, shown particularly in the final three that Christopher Awdry wrote before the enforced hiatus by Egmont Books.
In the years following 1996, when his services were not required for Railway Series books, Clive's work centered primarily around illustrating for educational books, and did little in the way of children's fiction, however, stated in an interview with Sodor Island in late 2006, that he would return to the Railway Series if the opportunity arose. And he was as good as his word too!
When the Railway Series returned to a full print run in 2007, Clive was given the opportunity to illustrate the latest addition to the series - No.41 Thomas and Victoria, the first new book to be released in over 11 years, picking up and building on from where he had left off previously all that time ago with some beautiful new artwork.
Clive also was involved in illustrating several TV Series / Railway Series tie-in books such as Thomas and The Evil Diesel, Thomas' Christmas Party, Thomas and The Missing Christmas Tree and a rewrite by the Reverend Awdry of Thomas Comes To Breakfast.
In addition to these, his own style was also emulated by illustrator, Stephen Lings, who was employed to work on two further tie-in books, Thomas and the Hurricane (Chris Awdry) and Thomas & Gordon Off The Rails (Rev. W. Awdry rewrite).