I have long been an admirer of the excellent satirical magazine Punch, and am lucky enough to own a few Victorian editions which I regularly thumb with mirth and glee, but when it came to writing a short history of the comical publication I found myself stuck, at a loss, and unable to do it any real justice.
For a good year or so I’ve been jotting things down, writing post titles and making notes on what to include in my article about Punch, but always with the same result – I’ll come back to it later. The sheer volume of history, writers and illustrators were so vast that I thought it best left to a book (preferably written by someone else) until it struck me that in my midst on Twitter I had long been following Punch (under the handle @PunchCartoons) and if I asked nicely enough perhaps they would tell their story for this humble blog.
Luckily, Andre at Punch was only too happy to oblige, and has provided a fantastic history of the great Punch magazine, thus fulfilling a glaring gap in the contents of this blog.
Whether you’re a fan of Punch or have never heard of it, please enjoy reading about the life of
greatest – and funniest – magazine: London
Why was Punch magazine 'great'? Historians, politicians, writers and readers have over the many cascading decades since it started in 1841 called it legendary, influential, iconic, an institution. Just flicking through its pages the first thing you notice are the bold, confident illustrations, 'cartoons' which brilliantly satirize the political figures of the day and national symbols fighting it out on the world stage, by which time in the 1840s and 50s, Britain was the most powerful nation and largest empire in history.
But it is also a joy to open a volume of Punch– a window into another point in time- and to see how different things were (fashion, political in-correctness, extreme poverty, London Fog), how some things were surprisingly the same (class pretension, speech, snowball fights) and how the future was being imagined a hundred years from their own time with inventions some of which are only just becoming a reality. The writing and wonderful images are alive – perfect snapshots of the spirit of a
long gone. And just like the Curate's Egg cartoon, if it was to begin with at
least, a serious political satirical magazine, then it certainly had many funny
social parts. Great Britain
The Cartoon, a term which Punch invented as a socially barbed critique of Parliament's exhibition of preparatory sketches for its own artworks during a time of social poverty and injustice, were in Punch's early years drawn by John Leech and suggested by Henry Mayhew. These talents exemplified Punch's strengths and character: witty social commentary and lovingly crafted illustrations within a particularly English type of humour. Leech's 'social cuts' were hugely popular – spawning separately published collections from Punch – and people would wait eagerly to see his latest work each week.
But there were many layers to Punch's success, beyond an enthusiasm and confidence in its pages that reflected a great Age of Empire, national identity and progress. Now in full swing, the Industrial Revolution's consumer boom was also accompanied by one in print culture, fuelling demand not only in china teacups, but books, newspapers and magazines.
The common practice in magazines of the time of 'anonymous' un-credited articles gave Punch an advantage: its brand association with the European tradition of Punchinello, and in particular, Mr. Punch. This set it apart from the competition and gave its articles and cartoons a greater weight, a singular unified voice transmitted as the musings of Mr. Punch himself. Starting with Henry Mayhew and Douglas Jerrold's radical writing, then John Tenniel's iconic imperial cartoons and Shirley Brooks' Toryism, Punch came to be viewed as the official point of view of the English, at home and around the world.
Of course Punch magazine's strength lay in its contributors, particularly those of the well paid Punch Table editorial staff like Shirley Brooks and even editor Mark Lemon, who wrote for other magazines on the understanding with the owners they would supply only their best work to Punch in exchange for a generous salary. The Punch Table itself was an exclusive English gentleman's club where intelligent middle aged men would congregate every Wednesday evening, tell jokes, share the week's gossip and finally, after dinner, puff on cigars and discuss the treatment for the next issue's 'Cartoon', often directly based on The Times newspaper's leading headline. Henry Mayhew's ideas mostly made the 'Big Cut' political cartoon through his role as 'Suggestive Editor'; a process involving at times heated debate, all regulated by Mark Lemon's balance and sense of gentlemanly conduct. After Mayhew left the magazine Shirley Brooks' strength of personality and wit dominated the table and brought a new Conservative tone to the output.
Another reason for Punch magazine's popularity was being part of a clear shift away from the gutter press to a more respectful way of doing things, hence achieving respectability that many rivals couldn't attain, either through failing – several magazines failed within a few months – or by their readership being sapped by other satirical papers during a time of mass consumerism and demand for literature and printed material.
Serialized fiction in magazines was hugely in demand since Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers – his new publishers since 1844, Bradbury and Evans had recently bought Punch in December 1842 from its cash strapped collaborators: journalist Henry Mayhew, engraver Ebenezer Landells and Mark Lemon – humourist, dramatist, and pub landlord of The Shakespeare's Head frequented by Dickens, dramatist Douglas Jerrold (dubbed Little Shakespeare due to his vast knowledge of the bard's works), the Bohemian set and several literary types. The popularity of 'The Snobs of England' by William Makepeace Thackeray in 1846 was one of several Punch in-house series that were later published in book form, as was 'Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures' by Jerrold (1846) and The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith in 1888.
Equally important as individual talent on the magazine was the bond of friendship at the Punch Table, reciprocated with owners Bradbury and Evans who attended the weekly meeting. Crucially the owners supported the editorial staff's decisions. Beyond vocal support, Bradbury and Evans had the most efficient printing press in
which enabled a transition
from individual cottage industry printing to large scale, speedy operations,
accurately incorporating text and illustration in a weekly publication. These
printer-proprietors were an important factor in the success of Punch: as well
as initially taking the plunge investing in a loss making venture and
continuing to protect it with savvy business decisions, they frequently even
lent money to editor Mark Lemon and Shirley Brooks during their personal
financial troubles, all the while supporting their editorial decisions. Britain
One such decision which helped Punch on its way was in accepting Thomas Hood's Song of the Shirt in December 1843 after having been turned down by several magazines. The poem had a great impact on the Victorian middle classes in highlighting the state of the impoverished and exemplifies, together with such cartoons as ‘Needle Money’ (1849), ‘A Court for King Cholera’ (1852) and ‘The Stable’ (1861) how Punch championed the cause of the poor and of improvements to working conditions, sanitation, housing and education. Punch also raised much money in appeals for charitable causes, especially during the two World Wars – the high points of its popularity – such as Mr. Punch's Hospital Comforts Fund, to purchase fabric for soldiers' clothes in WW2.
|A Thackeray Cartoon|
William Makepeace Thackeray, on the Punch editorial staff, made a huge impression on the literary world, first with his 'The Snobs of
(1846), popularising the word 'snob' in the English lexicon and
contributing many pieces and some cartoons. After his success with Vanity Fair
(1847) and Pendennis (1848) he became a literary heavyweight
overtaking even Douglas Jerrold. Thus his 'coat
of humour', Punch, had become too small a fit (satirical magazines were considered a lower form of printed media)
and though leaving the magazine he still continued to attend the weekly
editorial dinners. Through Thackeray's fame and association with Dickens – by
being contrasted to him, in having the same publishers, and being members of
the literary epicentre The Garrick Club – the Punch staff were in great company
and in that close-knit Victorian literary world this brought respect to the
magazine. Dickens had already been friends with Douglas Jerrold; and Mark
Lemon, John Leech, and Shirley Brooks were all close friends of Dickens from
1847 – his son Charlie Dickens married Thackeray's daughter and contributed to
In the 1860s and 70s the great George du Maurier and Edward Linley Sambourne came onto the staff and cemented Punch's already legendary status, both adding to the visual recognition of the magazine: du Maurier's highly detailed society cartoons of perfectly observed Victorian middle class pretensions, modes and art movements and in Sambourne's cartoons of fashion, the female form and politics in a new graphic style.
|du Maurier Cartoon on 'beautymania'|
From Partridge's epic World War 1 propaganda to Sherriff's film stars, to 'The British Character' by Pont, the world which 'browsed' Punch was given a real treat every week over the course of a hundred and fifty years to the best of British by
best. Many of the writers and cartoonists gracing its pages were legends in
their own right, having acclaim and several successes outside the magazine, but
these special ingredients all came to be distilled together for each issue of
Punch. In looking at the latest news, fashions, technology, films, books and
social preoccupations, it has become a treasure trove of English culture. Britain
Without doubt it was the framework of that talent, high editorial standards, networking and support, good fortune, balance and timing from the outset which gave Punch its stature and ensured that it was envied, copied, parodied, feared and respected in equal measure. Just as all the best cartoonists wanted to have their work printed in Punch, so too all the politicians would have discovered their political culture, history and eventual public perception – as the young Winston Churchill did – from its pages. The politicians may have cringed at their caricatured depictions, but they would have relished it all the same.
By being a mirror to English society, repeating and commenting on what its writers and cartoonists saw, heard and experienced in the news and fresh gossip at ground level, by urging social change and trumpeting its own national cause, it became a beacon for the British Empire and stands as a unique monument in British and world history. If, (from the Punch sub-title) Charivari means a loud mocking clamour of noise, then Punch certainly made everyone sit up and notice.
· Charles Dickens, Garibaldi and Mark Twain all dined at the Punch Table.
was given its name
by Punch, in 1851, for the Great Exhibition. Crystal
· Punch was responsible for starting the Scottish stereotype of frugality with the 'Bang went saxpence!!!' cartoon by Charles Keene.
|The Charles Keene 'Bang Went Saxpence' Cartoon|
· Winston Churchill – In his 'Thoughts and Adventures' (1932), Churchill dedicates a chapter to Cartoons and Cartoonists, stating that he learnt history from the few volumes of Punch at school in the 1880s, and that they serve as 'food for grown-up children'. He refers to several Punch classics such as Dropping the Pilot (1890), The British Lion's Vengeance on the Bengal Tiger (1857) and Britannia Sympathises with Columbia (1865). Punch would later offend Churchill in 1954 under the editorship of Malcolm Muggeridge with a cartoon by Leslie Illingworth showing a frail Prime Minister above the caption "Man goeth forth unto his work".
· Kaiser Wilhelm II – Punch and the Kaiser had a long relationship; unsurprisingly Queen
grandson was often offended. An avid reader of Punch he tried to understand the
English and impress them, with ever decreasing results. While banning Punch
from his palaces and his yacht for a few months, he wrote to Queen Victoria and
asked her to stop its production, unsuccessfully, after The Modern Alexander's Feast (1892)
by Tenniel to which Sambourne followed up with Wilful Wilhelm a few issues later, showing him in a tantrum with
broken framed Punch cartoon Dropping the
Pilot, a knocked over globe of the world and holding up issues of Punch in
outrage. Wilhelm would admit during WWI that Punch magazine's propaganda
cartoons were having a de-moralising effect on the German nation. Victoria
· Felix Mendelssohn – Punch reviewed Mendelsohhn's 'Antigone' at
Garden in January 1845 to which he wrote to his sister: "See if you cannot find Punch for Jan. 18. It
contains an account of Antigone at Covent Garden,
with illustrations, - especially a view of the Chorus which has made me laugh
for three days."
· Adolph Menzel – German artist Menzel subscribed to Punch weekly just to see the latest Charles Keene social cartoon.
was highly revered internationally and being an admirer of Menzel is regarded
as bringing in a modern, German style of illustration to . Menzel
"collected great piles of the
· HRH Prince Charles, the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Margaret were all invited and carved their initials on the Punch Table; Princess Anne also wrote an article for Punch.
· Margaret Thatcher attended the Punch Table in 1975.
· Mark Twain – When the novelist came to visit and was invited to carve his initials onto the Punch Table he kindly refused, saying that two of the three initials carved by William Makepeace Thackeray would suffice.
MARK TWAIN HUMOR APPROVED BY PUNCH.
A Big Cartoon Dedicated to Him and the Staff Will Dine Him.
GUEST OF THE PILGRIMS. Notable Luncheon Given, to Which 1,000 Notable Vainly Ask to be Bidden.
Special Cablegram. Copyright, 1907, by THE NEW YORK TIMES CO.
"Sir, I honour myself by drinking to your health. Long life to you and happiness and perpetual youth."
Mark Twain expects to have a grand time at a dinner which The Punch people will give to him. They asked him which he would rather do, "Go to a hotel and have something decent to eat," or dine at the famous Long Table in Punch's office. He voted unanimously for the Long Table."
- The New York Times, June 26, 1907.
Some Notable Contributors
Sir John Betjamin,
Geoffrey Willans (Molesworth),
P.G. Wodehouse (Our Man in
D.B. Wyndham Lewis,
Francis Burnand (F.C. Burnand) – Dramatist, humourist, writer of burlesques and Punch Editor from 1880. Wrote more than 200 works outside of Punch; one of the most prolific dramatic writers of his time. His play "The Colonel" was the first royal command performance attended by Queen
in twenty years, was hugely successful and based on Punch regular cartoonist
George du Maurier's series featuring "the
Colonel" character. Started writing for Punch in 1863. The
Colonel-type character remained popular in Punch and could be argued as a main
influence for cartoonist David Low's Colonel Blimp in the 1930s. Victoria
Tom Taylor – Playwright of 'Our American Cousin' which was the wildly successful play on both sides of the
from 1858 until the end of the Victorian era and was attended by President
Abraham Lincoln at his assassination in 1865. Tom Taylor later became Punch
Editor in 1874.
A.A. Milne – When We Were Very Young, first published in Punch, introduced Winnie the Pooh, or Edward Bear as he was then known in 1924.
Eric Keown – His 'Sir Tristram Goes West' first appeared for Punch in 1932 and was made into a highly successful
film 'The Ghost Goes West' (1936) starring Robert Donat and Elsa
A.P. Herbert – A trained barrister, M.P., novelist, law reformer and thoroughly clever chap who, through his humorous 'Misleading Cases' series in Punch highlighted the archaic laws and judgements of English jurisprudence and managed through a private members bill to reform divorce in his Matrimonial Causes Act (1937), making it possible to divorce for the first time without proof of adultery. His 'Cases' were made into three BBC series in the late 1960s.
Major John McCrae – 'In Flanders Fields' was first published in Punch in 1915 and composed at the 2nd Battle of Ypres after McCrae's friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer was killed and McCrae, a Brigade Doctor, had to conduct the burial service.
Patrick Barrington – Famous around the world for his 'I had a hippopotamus' as well as the 'Songs of a Sub-Man' poems in the 1930s.
Alan Coren – Excellent humourist and Punch editor. Prolific contributor to Punch amongst which the 'Idi Amin' letters in the 1970s were hugely popular.
Miles Kington – A broadcaster, journalist, humourist and jazz musician. Together with Alan Coren the mainstay of Punch's written work from the 1960s, to the 80s and laugh-out-loud funny such as Kington's 'Let's Parler Francais' series.
Arthur Reginald Buller – 'There was a young lady named Bright / Who could travel far faster than light / She set off one day / In a relative way / And returned on the previous night.' His famous limerick first appeared in Punch in 1923.
Harold Frank Hoare – Known as "Acanthus" when cartoonist for Punch, as an architect won the competition to design the first Gatwick terminal in 1935 at the age of 25, a circular design dubbed "The Beehive" which still exists. Many of his cartoons include architectural themes such as stately homes and new modern buildings but he was an excellent documenter of the Home Front during WW2.
John Michael Ward Bingham, 7th Baron Clanmorris – Wrote some articles and verse for Punch in the 1930s and 40s and was a thriller writer. However, he was also employed by MI5 in the counter-intelligence section, "M", and was the model for John le Carre's leading man George Smiley. Michael Jago's new biography "The Man Who Was George Smiley - The Life of John Bingham" illuminates his secret life as spy during WW2 and the Cold War and his influence on le Carre. Punch readers would not have known his humourous short story "Telephone Conversation, 1943" was based on his actual work.
Celebrity Guest writers
Sir Hugh Greene,
Paul McCartney (interviewed in Nov 1966 and contributed a piece in 1973),
Michael Palin, J
John Tenniel – Illustrator of '
in Wonderland' and 'Through The
Looking Glass'. Lewis Carroll specifically chose Tenniel because of his
allegorical, grown-up fantasy 'Big Cut'
political cartoons from Punch – another layer of meaning to his readers already
familiar with Tenniel through Punch. Alice
Bernard Partidge – A worthy successor to Tenniel as the chief cartoonist, the political protagonists in his Big Cuts were theatrical send-ups brilliantly observed, but always focussed on the real message with a bold urgency. If in Tenniel's cartoons the message could be obscured by the fine detail, Partridge brought it to the fore with at times startling effect, and his work is one of the best examples of British propaganda in media.
Fougasse – Kenneth Bird discovered the name Fougasse while on active service in WWI (a landmine) and used it to differentiate between W. Bird (Jack Butler Yeates). Famous for government posters such as 'Careless Talk Costs Lives'.
David Langdon – Popular during WW2 for his public information posters 'Billy Brown of
'. Contributed to Punch for over
60 years. London Town
George Adamson – Illustrator of Ted Hughes' books and winner of the P.G. Wodehouse Centenary Illustration Award, he drew hundreds of cartoons and many front covers over 50 years from 1939.
Norman Thelwell – Many published book collections including 'Angels on Horseback' and specialising in cartoons of girls on ponies and the countryside.
Trog (Wally Fawkes) – A renowned jazz musician and collaborator with Humphrey Lyttleton's band he drew beautifully realised, almost photorealistic colour caricatures of celebrities and politicians as well as front covers, which took over from the Big Cut political cartoon, in the 1970s.
Rowland Emett – Inventor of kinetic sculptures and designer for the machines in film 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang'. His Punch 'Far Tottering' railway cartoons came to life at the Festival of Britain and at The Globe stage production 'Between The Lines' in 1951.
Alfred Bestall – Creator of Rupert the Bear and many great social cartoons in Punch. Drew the prototype for Winnie the Pooh in Punch for A.A. Milne before he decided on E.H. Shepard's version.
Caran d'Ache (Emmanuel Poire) – The pioneer of the first ever comic strip cartoons which later inspired Bateman and Fougasse, he drew one or two cartoons for Punch in the 1890s.
H.M. Bateman – Master of the strip cartoon that with bold and rounded line work brought his characters to life. Brilliant series of 'The Man Who' along with hundreds of laugh out loud sporting and leisure cartoons.
Yeats – Irish Modernist
Expressionist artist. Drew several cartoons for Punch as W. Bird. Butler
George du Maurier – Author of Trilby and Punch society cartoonist par excellence. Wonderful cartoon visionary of future inventions. Captured the absurdities of the Victorian middles classes.
Linley Sambourne – Great graphic cartoonist influenced by photography and a pioneering street photographer, or 'street blogger' of un-posed Edwardian women and their fashion with the use of a special periscope. Drew the political Big Cuts following John Tenniel's reign as Chief Cartoonist.
Leslie Illingworth – One of the best cartoonists and illustrators of the 20th century, with some truly epic backdrops for the Punch Big Cuts and savagely biting satire during WW2 and into the 1950s. Although ultimately an editorial decision by Malcolm Muggeridge, it was his 1954 cartoon that offended Winston Churchill, showing him at his desk with drooping mouth and fat hands.
Harry Rountree – A fine illustrator of children's books by Enid Blyton, and H.G. Wells. Also illustrated an edition of
Wonderland and Aesop's Fables. Alice
Arthur Rackham – One of the greatest fairytale illustrators of all time, his richly detailed cartoons for Punch convey his skills brilliantly. He illustrated editions of Aesop's Fables,
Adventures in Wonderland, Gulliver's Travels, Peer Gynt by Ibsen, The Valkyrie
by Wagner, Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Anderson, and The Wind In The Willows
by Kenneth Grahame. Alice
Quentin Blake – Knighted in 2012 and illustrator for several Roald Dahl books. Drew several excellent Punch covers.
Ralph Steadman – Won several awards for illustration and worked with Ted Hughes, Hunter S. Thompson and Will Self. Produced some very interesting colour cartoons and front covers for Punch in the 1960s.
Gerald Scarfe – Influenced by Ronald Searle, Scarfe illustrated for Punch in the 1960s and went on to work with Pink Floyd for their 'The Wall' album, film and tour as well as the 'Yes Minister' TV series.
Ronald Searle – Possibly the greatest and most celebrated cartoonist of the 20th century, creator of 'St Trinians' and collaborator with Geoffrey Willans for the Molesworth series of books. Drew some truly magnificent illustrations and cartoons for Punch such as the double spreads 'Heroes of Our Time' (1956-1957) featuring Sir Malcolm Sargent, Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh, Bertrand Russell, Princess Margaret etc and the savagely funny 'How To Kill A Man In Six Efforts'.
Andre Francois (Andre Farkas) – A unique talent and a painterly cartoonist he produced some of the best looking colour work and front covers for Punch, and designed theatre sets for Gene Kelly and Peter Hall.
Michael ffolkes – (Brian Davis). Wonderfully funny modern burlesque cartoons of naked ladies running about and surreal situations covering art, literature, business, leisure, the aristocracy and film reviews. A cartoon legend who contributed to Punch for five decades, from the 1940s until his death in 1988 and whose work is always fresh with the youthful vigour of life.
Mike Williams – A modern master of the cartoon with lovely line work including colour washes and off-kilter humour. His work is among the best examples of cartooning in Punch from the 1970s and 1980s.
Anne Harriet Fish - Very popular female cartoonist from 1920s, working for Vanity Fair and Vogue magazines and illustrating adverts. Her illustrations for the 'Eve' series of books were turned into silent films and her drawings about the middle classes in the 1920s are a good pre-cursor to Pont's British Character series of the 1930s. She was not the only female artist in Punch and not the earliest: Georgina Bowers was an excellent cartoonist from the 1860s and 1870s, and we find other great contributors continuing into the 20th century such as Antonia Yeoman (Anton), Sally Artz and Riana Duncan.
Famous guests interviewed in 'Passing Through':
Zsa Zsa Gaboor,
Joe Louis, T
Sir Oswald Mosley,
Arthur C. Clarke,
· Thanks in the main to the excellent book 'The Punch Brotherhood' by Patrick Leary. The British Library (2010).
· 'Thoughts and Adventures' by Winston Churchill (orig. 1932; edited James W. Muller, ISI books 2009).
· 'A History of Punch' by R.G.G. Price. Collins (1957).
· Thanks to http://publishing.monash.edu for quoting 'Drawing the Line - Using Cartoons as Historical Evidence' Edited by Richard Scully and Marian Quartly (2009)
· Thanks also to http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper quoting 'Sophocles: The Plays and Fragments', with critical notes, commentary, and translation in English prose. Part III: The Antigone. Sir Richard C. Jebb.
Press. 1900. Cambridge University
· Adolph Menzel - 1815-1905: Between Romanticism and
(1996) Impressionism Yale University
· Chris Beetles Gallery
My huge thanks once again to Andre of Punch (www.punch.co.uk) for the brilliant article above.
Lastly, if I may urge you all to go forth into your local antique bookshop or eBay and seek out an old edition of Punch I know it will be worth your while! For quite little money you can pick up a century-old piece of work full of great humour and magnificent drawings!