Monday, August 6, 2012

British Cartoonists Album: Part 5 and Last

Everything is (British) Politics

The early 1960s was a tumultuous time. I know: I was there. Kennedy was in the Presidency, Castro was in Cuba, Mao was in China, The Wall was in Berlin, Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister, and Khrushchev ran the USSR. All these things found their way into the British Cartoonists Album, along with local events that I, as an ignorant Yank, don't understand. Today we wind up our stroll through this 1962 collection with a brace of political cartoons.

There are two kinds of political cartoons. Some present a joke based upon a current event, with the joke being the main thing; the others present a commentary about a current event with the joke playing backup. Both kinds are represented in this spread from the Album.
The British Cartoon Archive has a lengthy biography of Osbert Lancaster, whose eventful younger life included studying to be a lawyer. He joined the Daily Express in 1939 and by the time he retired in 1981 he'd drawn some 10,000 cartoons. In the second cartoon Selwyn Lloyd was Great Britain's Conservative Foreign Secretary (1955-1960) and Chancellor of the Exchequer (1960-1962).

Norman Mansbridge began drawing for Punch in 1937. He started political cartooning there, and later switched over to newspapers like the Daily Sketch. Mansbridge was a man of many talents, exhibiting paintings at the Royal Academy, teaching art, and doing advertising work. When he retired from the Sketch he took up drawing for comics for IPC and Fleetway. Mansbridge apparently had no particular interest in politics. He was quoted as saying, "An editorial committee works out the idea [for a cartoon] at lunch, then I go off and do it." I don't know who the African leader in the third cartoon is--or the two guys sawing down the Platform in the fourth. "Polaris" was an American submarine-based nuclear missile that caused a fair amount of controversy in those days.

Next are two damned fine caricatures from Sallon. I don't know who "General Slim" is, but I'd recognize him if I ever ran into him. What a great drawing! Sallon also captures the essence of mid-life Orson Welles beautifully. Ralph David Sallon (born Rachmiel David Zelon) had a truly remarkable life, described in this article in the BCA. He started cartooning after WWI, when he was living in South Africa. He freelanced cartoons to all the major papers and drew propoganda illustrations throughout the Second World War. He joined the Daily Mirror in 1948. He retired in 1991 and died eight years later at age 99.

Emmwood's two cartoons are of the joke-first variety. His line is impressive and he does great character faces. John Bertram Musgrave-Wood started his career drawing the passengers on a cruise ship on which he was a steward. In 1956 he joined the Daily Mail as one of three alternating political cartoonists.

David Low was a cartoonist of enormous stature. His cartoons chronicling the rise of Fascism in the 1930s brought him international renown. Wikipedia has an overview of his career. By the time the Album appeared Low was at the end of both his career and his life: he passed away in 1963.

Nikita Khrushchev was God's gift to Western political cartoonists. Fat, ugly, and boorish, he filled all the requirements of the Number One Bad Guy. I'm not sure who the couple at upper left are. Don't know anything about these cartoonists either. The BCA doesn't list Marwood and when I Google him I keep getting William, the famous hangman who invented the Long Drop.

The Ban-the-Bomb movement began in England about this time. The Bomb was on everyone's mind. You'll never understand if you weren't there: while we were constantly reminded that the world teetered on the brink of nuclear annihilation, the major powers constantly upped the ante in their game of pushing us closer to that brink. I grew up with a phobia about sirens (the old fire sirens they don't have anymore) that lasted until I was pushing thirty. Any time I heard a siren my heart would pound and I'd obsessively count the rises and falls to make sure this wasn't the Yellow Alert.

These two Bomb cartoons were drawn by Leslie Illingworth, who enjoyed a long career with Punch and the Daily Mail. Here's his BCA bio. (Have you noticed how much easier it is to find biographies of political cartoonists than of comics and gag artists?) I'm not sure of the point of the second cartoon. It seems to refer to Khrushchev's replacing Stalin...Stalin out, super-bomb in? The 50-Megaton Bomb represented a major increase in the power of nuclear weapons. Illingworth, by the way, was more into the cartoon than the political, and preferred developing cartoon ideas "in committee."

Here's a spread of cartoons by Lee, one of whose cartoons I showed earlier. He seems to have liked panoramic views full of detail. I have finally discovered he was Joseph (Joe) Lee, and when he retired in 1966 he was the "longest running daily cartoonist in history." His first job was in 1920 at age 19. Here's the link to the BCA essay, which describes Lee's unusual working arrangement.

Jensen illustrates two of the hot-button issues of the late fifties and early sixties. First, Berlin, which in those days was a city split into Western- and Soviet-dominated halves...and sitting smack in the middle of East (Soviet-controlled) Germany. The world was just as crazy back then as it is now. The second cartoon shows Fidel Castro swacking someone with his cliched cigar. I don't know who the spankee is. Obviously the cartoon's point is that Castro and his victim are proxies for Khrushchev and Kennedy. John Jensen was born in Australia and moved to England in 1950. He worked for Punch and numerous papers, and was active in the Cartoon Art Trust. Here's his page at the wonderful British Cartoon Archives.

President Kennedy got a more ambiguous reception overseas than he did at home. Many cartoons played up his youth and inexperience. This one is by Vicky, the pen name of Victor Weisz. Weisz was the opposite of the gag-first political cartoonist. He was a passionate and driven man who wanted to use his cartoons to change the world. His left-leaning politics clashed with the editor of the News Chronicle in 1947, sending him first to the Daily Mirror and then the Evening Standard. After a long fight with severe depression Weisz committed suicide in 1966. He was 53. Here's the whole story at the BCA.

I'll conclude this chapter, and my look at the British Cartoonists Album, with a cartoon by Peter Maddocks that sums up the spirit of that bygone age. I think it was intended to be less grim than it seems in retrospect. But I can't look at it without remembering a day in October, 1962, when I heard about the first moves in what became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was 13. For some reason I'd stayed late at school, listening to radio news reports that the US had proof Soviet-supplied ballistic missiles were based in Cuba, and we had told the USSR to remove them--or else. I sat at a typewriter and condensed all I'd heard into a page of newspaper-style headlines. At the end I wrote, "We will post more details when we receive them." Then I tacked the page to the bulletin board and went home. That night I went to bed wondering if the world would still be there tomorrow when--if--I woke up.

That, gentlemen, was the Sixties.

I would like one more time to express my thanks to and delight with the British Cartoon Archive at the University of Kent. Their site contains a wealth of material...not only biographies, but also hundreds of original drawings by the cartoonists being discussed. It's an Internet treasure!

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