Tim Koch writes:
I have long observed that the size of an individual’s collection of rowing memorabilia is often in inverse proportion to their success as a rower. This cartoon is from a 1948 issue of the British humorous magazine Punch and is by Fougasse, the pen-name of the cartoonist and commercial artist, Cyril Bird (1887–1965). His most famous works were for the British propaganda effort in the 1939–1945 War, notably the ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’ posters which showed Hitler and Göring listening to everyday domestic conversations. They stressed the need for secrecy at a time when even seemingly innocuous pieces of information could be of use to the enemy.
During the 1914–1918 War, Bird had been a lieutenant in the Royal Engineers and was so badly wounded at Gallipoli that he was not expected to live. While convalescing, he submitted cartoons to Punch magazine and from 1916 was a regular contributor. He used the name Fougasse after an unstable French landmine whose ‘effectiveness was not always reliable and its aim was uncertain.’ Bird’s work was notable for its ‘pronounced linear simplicity’, his drawings evolving to ‘an innovative, spare, style that was both unique and popular.’
Before the Second World War, Bird was best known for his commercial work for London Transport in particular, his witty observational humour producing eye-catching and memorable posters. He later became the only cartoonist to ever edit Punch, which he did from 1949 to 1953, previously serving as its art editor from 1937. Harry Mount of the Daily Telegraph has noted that ‘Punch has now become a byword for old, tired jokes, but in the late 40s it was razor-sharp, and responsible for hoovering up all the best young talent.’
In 1935, Advertisers Weekly called Bird ‘one of the most subtle interpreters of the British idiom that we have ever known’. He certainly captured an idiosyncrasy of some readers of Hear The Boat Sing. You know who you are.
A very pertinent issue in today’s political climate, Tim.
Bird also illustrated the booklet, “Why The Whistle Went” which explained the laws of Rugby Union; whimsical but right to the point.