Cartoon Characters

Pic 1
Until the early 1980s, Sundays in Britain were always in black and white.

Tim Koch writes:

My first exposure to the art of caricature came when, as a teenager in the early 1970s, I read my father’s copy of the mainstream but somewhat right-wing Conservative Sunday Express newspaper every week. This is a slightly embarrassing confession for someone who likes to think that they benefited from a subsequent liberal education so I should give some context. It is difficult to imagine now, but, up until the Thatcher reforms of the early 1980s, nothing happened in Britain on a Sunday. Almost all shops and places of entertainment were closed, pubs shut at 2pm and the three television channels offered few attractions. The problem of filling the time before a lunch of roast beef and an afternoon spent watching a 20-year-old British war film on television was solved by thumbing through the Express. One thing that always struck me in particular was the political cartoon by ‘Cummings’. Among the many things that cartoonist Michael Cummings did not like were trade unions, the Labour Party, lefties, liberals, students, intellectuals and foreigners (though apartheid South African and Smith’s Rhodesia were much admired). While Cummings’s prejudices and humour may have been crude, he did produce more than just ‘cartoons’, he drew quite simple but very effective ‘caricatures’ and his work was my introduction to this art form.

Pic 2
W.D. Kinnear, 1912 Olympic Sculling Champion, three times winner of the Wingfield Sculls and twice winner of the Diamond Sculls, caricatured by ‘Mel’ in 1931.

The online Free Dictionary defines a caricature as A representation, especially pictorial or literary, in which the subject’s distinctive features or peculiarities are deliberately exaggerated to produce a comic or grotesque effect’. Pictorial caricatures were once very common in all sorts of publications but now they seem to be out of fashion.

Pic 3
Caricaturist and cartoonist Thomas Rowlandson’s 1812 work from a series entitled the Miseries of London. The caption reads: ‘Entering upon any of the bridges of London, or any of the passages leading to the Thames, being assailed by a group of watermen, holding up their hands and bawling out Oars, Sculls, Sculls, Oars, Oars.’

Caricatures are commonly used in political criticism but they can also be used affectionately and up until the 1960s many rowing and other sporting publications routinely featured drawings gently exaggerating the features of the athletes of the time. Perhaps the most famous series of drawings of rowers were those included in the so called ‘Spy’ prints produced for Vanity Fair magazine between 1868 and 1914. However, Spy and others did not attempt to stress the subject’s notable features so perhaps their work should be called ‘cartoons’ and not ‘caricatures’.

Pic 4 Pic 5
On the left is Tim Koch and his homage to Vanity Fair’s 1910 depiction of R.H. Forster, on the right. These are both more ‘cartoons’ than ‘caricatures’ (though the size of Tim’s head may be exaggerated).

Here are some random examples of rowing cartoon and caricatures that I have acquired over time.

Pic 6
‘Men of Mind and Muscle Fraternising’, The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 14 Nov 1931. This copy is from WD Kinnear’s personal archive, courtesy of his son, Donald. As with most HTBS pictures, click once to enlarge and click again to show full resolution.

The above caricatures from a 1931 Christmas dinner apparently for long retired sportsmen include (in the bottom left) four of the greatest rowers of the early twentieth century. Ernie Barry was five times World Professional Sculling Champion, Jack Beresford, Jnr., won three gold and two silver medals in five Olympic Games, Harry Blackstaffe and Wally ‘Jock’ Kinnear won Olympic Sculls in 1908 and 1912 respectively. The artist ‘Mel’ adds the information that ‘Jock had his leg pulled for being the only one in dress clothes. Now we do know he’s got some’.

Pic 7
The society magazine The Tatler reported on the fiftieth anniversary dinner held by Hammersmith’s ‘West End Amateur Rowing Association’ (WEARA) in March 1930 and Fred May, who drew for the magazine from 1917 until 1976, caricatured many of those present.

I presume that Messrs Baggs, Preston, Fowler and Blundell were prominent members of the WEARA but there is no doubt who the others captured by May were. Colonel J.H. Gibbon stroked the winning Cambridge crew in the 1899 and 1900 Boat Race and at different times coached both Light and Dark Blues. Harcourt Gold won three Henley Ladies Plate races and then three University Boat Races in successive years and was later knighted for his work for rowing administration. Guy Nickalls and the already mentioned Jack Beresford, Jnr., were two of Britain’s greatest rowers, the former winning 22 events at Henley and also the 1908 Olympic Eight.

Pic 8
The Tatler’s view of Henley, 1930.

Three notable rowers were depicted by Fred May at Henley in 1930. Lord Ampthill (Oliver Russell, 2nd Baron Ampthill) was a winner of three University Boat Races and three Henley medals and was briefly Viceroy of India. Allegedly ‘the greatest oar ever produced by Cambridge’, Stanley Duff Muttlebury won four University Boat Races and five Henley medals. Arthur Stanley Garton won both the Boat Race and Henley’s Grand Challenge Cup three times and was in the winning Olympic Eight in 1912. With the Great War just twelve years past, there is perhaps a reasonably tolerate deception of ‘the challenger for the Diamonds from the Vaterland, Herr Boetzelen….. with some of his supporters’.

Pic 9
The Bystander Magazine of April 1924 captured these impressions of the Oxford Crew, complete with the then fashionable trousers known as ‘Oxford Bags’ or ‘Blanket Bags’. Oxford lost the 1924 Boat Race and did not win another one until 1937.
Pic 10
Drawings from the official Oxford – Cambridge Boat Race programme of 1956. These charming cartoons (as opposed to caricatures) were a feature of the programme for many years, certainly throughout the 1950s. Depicted in the bottom right is rowing historian John Hall-Craggs, notably the author of two volumes of the History of The Lady Margaret Boat Club. It would be nice if the PR company that now produces the slick, modern Boat Race programme revived the custom of commissioning such charming artwork.

It is a great pity that caricatures are not as popular as they once were, particularly as this type of art has a long and noble history. Notable British exponents include George Cruikshank (1792 – 1878) and David Low (1891 – 1963). Cruickshank was so effective that he was given a bribe of £100 by George IV to not lampoon him and Low’s pen was so mighty that Hitler put him on the death list. Sadly, it seems that people can still be killed for drawing cartoons.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.