About Tom

Tom Yendell was born on 21st March 1962. Due to the drug Thalidomide he was born without arms or hands. He has learnt to do everyday tasks using his feet.Tom was artistic from an early age and in 1989 obtained an Honours Degree in Expressive Arts from Brighton University. He is married to Lucy and they have two children, Joseph and Holly. He became a Member of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists in 1996.


Tom Yendell was born in Winchester on 21st March 1962. Born without arms due to the drug Thalidomide, which was taken by his mother during pregnancy, he says that his life has been no different than any able-bodied counterparts; except that he has had to adapt to do every task with his mouth, feet or chin. Tom is the youngest of five childen in his family and as the youngest was both spoiled and bullied by his brother and sisters.

In the early sixties Mr. and Mrs. Yendell moved with their family to Leighton Buzzard where Tom’s father had a bakery. Tom started his formal education at Pulfords Primary School. He also at this time was fitted with his first pair of artificial gas powered arms which Tom says made him look like a cross between Metal Mickey and an American football player. They were not usefull and could not replace the complete dexterity of the human hand. His second arms were cosmetic and had to be moved manually. On the day that Tom got these new arms he asked his mother, who was bringing him back from picking them up, if he could go and show them to his friends at school. He was allowed and as he was walking down the road found that he could swing his arms backward and forwards eventually finding that they would go round in a 360 degree circle. He was walking through the park playing `helicopters’ with his arms, when the bolt holding his arm to his shoulder came loose and his arm left his sleeve at great speed and landed on the grass in fornt of a little old lady on the park bench, who nearly had a heart attack seeing the decapitated arm lying before her on the grass. Eventually when Tom was about 14 he saw that he no longer had any use for his artificial arms as he was accomplishing everything that he wanted to do in his own way.


The Yendell family move to Pevensey in Sussex when Tom was seven and he attended Pevensey and Westham School, unfortunately this is when Tom was struck down by laziness and he tried to `get away’ with as little work as he could. He was moved to an able-bodied prep. school at the age of nine where he was not challenged in any way and a year later he left to go to Lord Mayor Treloar College in Alton, which is the largest school and college for the disabled in the country. At Treloars he studied an `able-bodied’ syllabus and sat for his O-Levels and CSEs. He was encouraged to work and is now a great supporter of special education as he says that if it was not for the hard work that the staff at Treloars had put in to his education he would not have come out with any formal exam results. He admits that he has never been an acedemic but says that it is not necessary to be an Einstein to succeed in the `big bad world’! By the time Tom had finished at Treloars he had already come to the conclusion that he wanted to continue an artistic career. He got his place at Hastings College of Art & Technology on a foundation course to widen his artistic abilities.


He succeeded also in passing his driving test first time and was the proud owner of a new Mini Clubman. Being able to have mobility, says Tom, is one of the most important things that has happened to him. The independance that this has acheived has enabled him to travel throughout Europe


Living at home with his parents in Bexhill-on-Sea whilst on the foundation course Tom applied and succeeded in getting a place to do an Expressive Arts Degree at Brighton University. After his first year at Brighton he felt he had not seen any of the outside world and decided to take a year out from college work. He was already working voluntarily as a youth club leader for Ringmer Physically Hanicapped and Able-Bodied Cub (PHAB) and at an able-bodied youth club in Newick. He wanted to work in the Arts and took up a post of fund raiser for the newly formed charity Creative Young People Together (CRYPT). He arranged a sponsored run which raised £3500 for the charity which was the brainchild of a former member of staff at his former college Treloars. Having worked for CRYPT for six months he then returned to do a stint as an art room assistant at Treloars with his former art master Mr. Alan Wilde who Tom says had a great influence on him artistically and was the main reason for returning to Brighton to complete his Degree “to `come out’ and acknowledge his own attitudes to his handicap”.

“to `come out’ and acknowledge his own attitudes to his handicap”

As part of is final year at Brighton Tom took up photography, which he now looks back and says was the `easy option’, as most of the work was done for him by the technicians. All he had to do was point the camers and click the shutter. He also carried on with his acting during his degree, something that he had been interested in at Treloars. He can now see that it taught him a great deal about peoples attitudes towards disability and he was able to use his final drama presentation on his degree to confront these attitudes and to `come out’ and acknowledge his own attitudes to his handicap.

Whilst in Brighton Tom purchased his first home in Lewes and settled down to an independant life doing the cooking, cleaning and washing; things that had previously been done for him. In the last year of his degree he met Lucy who was in the process of her foundation course in art at Brighton.

Tom got the chance in the year he left Brighton to work in London for a company called Business in the Community, an organisation who developed the enterprise era. His job involved travelling around the country meeting people who had started their own small business.

This encouraged Tom to finish in London and start on his career as a self-employed Artist. He bought a house called “Hunter’s Moon” in Seaford which was in need of total renovation, it was in an idylic setting in the South Downs. It benefitted, as was the reason for purchase, from having a purpose built artists studio at the end of the garden. Tom spent many months painting here but eventually found that the total isolation which he had to cope with did not help him work. He had been contacted whilst doing his foundation course at Hastings by the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists who said they would like him join their association and in March 1986 he became a student artist with the association.

Married Life

Lucy had by this time finished here Graphics and Illustration degree at Bath and on 8.8.88 they tied the knot and became Mr. & Mrs. Yendell. Tom found time also whilst renovating Hunter’s Moon to carry on with his charity and voluntary work.

It was for helping others that he was chosen as one of The Men of The Year in the November of 1986 which entailed travelling to the London Savoy to receive his citation with such well known figures as Frank Bruno, Bob Monkhouse and Richard Branson.

Two years later they were on the move again this time back to Alton and Treloar College. Tom’s former headmaster had seen the need to have disabled members of staff at the college and asked Tom to return and take the post of Activities Coordinator. He worked back at the college for three years. On 7.1.91 Lucy and Tom’s first child was born Joseph Oliver Yendell.

In 1995 Holly Elizabeth Yendell was born in Petersfield. The following year Tom was made a full member of the MFPA which means he now is financially independant as a freelance artist. He and Lucy were invited to the 40th anniversary of the world wide MFPA in Vienna. Since then the couple have travelled to Sydney, Madrid and Lisbon and Tom has overseen the erection of exhibitions in Finland, Denmark and Spain.

Tom continues being conected with Treloar College as he only lives a short distance from the campus. He was chairman of the college’s Former Pupils Association, stepping down in 2002, and visits the college regularly.

One part of his life that Tom really enjoys and gets great satisfaction from is visiting different groups, such as the Women’s Institutes, schools, Church groups and youth clubs, talking to them about his life, his disability and the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists and their work.

If you or anyone you know would like more information about the MFPA or would like one of our artists to come and talk to a group you are connected with please contact Tom Yendell.

If you would like to read more about Tom his biography written by Marc Alexander will be available at the beginning of 2012. Like to know more about the book “Here for a purpose”.

Here for a purpose book