Its getting to that time of year again when the sun becomes but a fleeting acquaintance and a chill draws itself upon us during the stark days, making home a snug and contended place to spend ones time.
Around this time of year I enjoy a Sunday evening with old books, be they novels or periodicals – or even Victorian newspapers – to bask in the warmth of their pages as our ancestors did in the days before electricity, when home entertainment on a dark autumn evening came in the form of a few hours spent with the a Tennyson or Dickens, or, for a bit of fun-poking and scathing wit, Punch.
I’m lucky enough, as I’ve boasted upon these pages in the past, to own a few Punch’s myself, and I never tire of thumbing the pages of them and marvelling not only at the incredible sketches and cartoons, but the marvellously clever humour that simply isn’t available in today’s society.
Just over eighteen months ago I was lucky enough to have Andre Gailani write a superb history of Punch (which you can read here), and I’m delighted to say that he has furnished me with a second installment, this time exploring the magazine’s development and evolution coming out of the Victorian era and into the twentieth century, where it continued to mock and satirize the establishment.
A Victorian Institution in the Twentieth Century.
Part 1: A Brave New CenturyIt wasn't All Change in 1900 for PUNCH magazine, but steady-as-she-goes. For one, the editorial staff, writers and cartoonists were all Victorians: Editor Francis Burnand had contributed since 1863, Linley Sambourne since 1867, and its greatest asset Sir John Tenniel who would retire a year later, drew his first Punch illustration in 1850. A few of them continued into the mid Twentieth Century: Lewis Baumer, George Stampa, Leonard Raven-Hill and Bernard Partridge worked into the Thirties, Forties and Fifties while a new generation of writers and artists such as PG Wodehouse, AP Herbert, EV Lucas, George Morrow and EH Shepard began their long associations with the magazine at the start of the century. The weekly issues from 1900 saw a wide range of content and cartoon styles that celebrated the new century and exported English-British culture on the back of its Responsibilities of Empire while Mr Punch’s Extra Pages had guest authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Somerset Maugham contributing one-off stories. But as change and progress at home and abroad were being pushed through by powerful undercurrents of organised labour, voting equality and rising nationalist independence, PUNCH was firmly anchored in its own Victorian imperial glory. That year the PUNCH offices moved from 85 Fleet Street a few hundred yards south to 10 Bouverie Street where their printer-owners Bradbury and Agnew had already published (as Bradbury and Evans) the Daily News, Thackeray and Dickens.
|Responsibilities of Empire
PUNCH didn't just have its finger on the pulse of English culture, it was the pulse. Its cartoonists illustrated for the top authors, adverts and information posters. Its writers were respected authors and librettists, playwrights and poets, journalists and critics witnessing first-hand the politics, arts and social developments recorded in Sketches of Parliament, At the Play and the many ‘social cut’ cartoons. A handful were knighted: John Tenniel, Francis Burnand, Bernard Partridge, AP Herbert; Owen Seaman's 1914 knighthood was upgraded to a Baronet upon retiring as PUNCH editor. William Haselden was offered a knighthood, and long standing contributors PG Wodehouse and John Betjeman given the honour late in life. Many regular contributors and staff were trained barristers, journalists, teachers, designers, university dons (Owen Seaman), MPs (AP Herbert, Christopher Hollis, Clement Freud, Giles Brandreth, Roy Hattersley), a publisher (EV Lucas, chairman of Methuen) an architect (Acanthus designed Gatwick Airport’s Beehive lounge), jazz musicians (Trog, Humph, Benny Green, Miles Kington, George Melly), actors (Bernard Partridge, Joyce Grenfell), artists (Jack Butler Yeats) an inventor (Rowland Emett), sportsmen (RC Lehmann, Bernard Hollowood), engineers (Fougasse, Sambourne), novelists (George du Maurier: Trilby; Anthony Powell: Dance to the Music of Time; Patrick Ryan: How I Won The War; Ernest Bramah: Kai Lung; Keith Waterhouse: Billy Liar; Alan Hackney: Private's Progress; Margaret Drabble, Elspeth Huxley, Peter Dickinson, C.S. Lewis) poets (John Betjeman, Virginia Graham), military intelligence (AA Milne, Malcolm Muggeridge), War Propaganda Bureau (Thomas Derrick was its Art Editor) broadcasters (Michael Parkinson, Frank Muir, Joan Bakewell, Ann Leslie) and several served in either of the World Wars including in WW2 Ronald Searle, David Langdon, Alfred Bestall (WW1 and WW2), and Basil Boothroyd.
"Fougasse", Kenneth Bird's nom-de-plume (French for an unreliable WW1 landmine), was a product of the frontline: his first contribution sent into PUNCH was from a war hospital bed in 1916 where he was critically injured. The series of articles Our Man in America in the 1950's were written by the iconic PG Wodehouse who had been a regular contributor to PUNCH from 1902-1914. In the 1970's the staff tried to get his signature on the Punch Table but couldn't overcome the problem of him being in
Jan Struther (who's PUNCH work was noticed by The Times and went on to write
Mrs Miniver) wrote several stories and poems illustrated by Anne Harriet Fish
and EH Shepard. And PUNCH theatre critic Eric Keown's short story Sir Tristram
Goes West was turned into the successful America Hollywood
film The Ghost Goes West (1936) starring Robert Donat.
Various high profile regulars and guest writers, historians and thinkers crop up such as John Steinbeck, Graham Greene, JB Priestley, Margaret Drabble, Alan Bullock, and TV personalities David Frost, Clive James, Michael Parkinson, Frank Muir and Harry Secombe. The cartoonists Partridge, Illingworth, Fougasse and Langdon all produced public information posters for government ministries, the most celebrated of which were the Careless Talk Costs Lives campaign for the Ministry of Information by Fougasse in 1940. Fougasse was awarded a CBE in 1946 in recognition of this contribution.
PUNCH is a record of massive cultural change in
during a century and a half. It also charts the continuity and struggle of
British identity, or more accurately, Englishness as produced for and consumed
by the middle classes at home and abroad in the imperial/colonial Empire. Britain
Our modern preoccupations with celebrity, crime, fashion, science and technology, the arts, film and leisure are delivered in Victorian and Edwardian cartoons with the freshness of a new diary entry often lacking in posed and lifeless contemporary photos. It was at the forefront of describing and re-imagining a new world of exciting discoveries, scientific breakthroughs, New Art and New Politics and shows how these layers enhance or challenge the normal man or woman on the street. When a new form of self-defence called Jujitsu becomes popularised in Western media, we see it applied to politics with The Suffragette that knew Jiu-jitsu. The Arrest: one woman, sleeves rolled up, and police casualties impaled on the railings.
When a new dance called the Tango arrives we see a policeman arresting a Suffragette using his latest dance move. The Spread of Tango:
Politicians naturally, were fair game. Gladstone, Disraeli and Lloyd George were praised and pilloried, but respected in equal measure. Members of Parliament, Prime Ministers and Totalitarian leaders all went through the mill of satire, from Asquith to Eden, Atlee to Wilson, Macmillan to Thatcher, Louis Napoleon, Tsar Nicholas I, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Stalin and Hitler. The young Churchill grew up reading PUNCH seeing his father Randolph mercilessly ridiculed, and learnt about history and the world through its full page political cartoons. These often depicted Britannia, the British Lion, John Bull, the German Eagle, Russian Bear, French Poodle or Cockerel, Indian Tiger or Afghan Cat. Early on, PUNCH's staunch anti-Irish/Nationalist/Catholic stance depicted Irish Monkeys, Frankensteins and sub-human Fenians.
A recurring Imperialist tone of saving various peoples (and by extension, taking control) such as the Irish damsel Eire from a separatist dragon, Africans in the Congo from the snake-like Belgian rubber coils, or Indians from Famine, all echoed Britain's burden of responsibility to tame nature and Civilise the world.
'Little Jonathan', a rowdy upstart that a paternal John Bull had trouble
guiding. By the time the Great War ended, that relationship had turned upside
down along with the old orders: Europe, the America British Empire,
Class, Gender, Culture itself. The once successful pattern of Britannia or the
British Lion meting out vengeance on rebel Sepoys in India
or arguing the moral case against Belgium
in Africa was over. But just as the sun began
setting on Empire, the shoots of a 'brighter' London and the Bright Young
Things appeared in the 1920s, the term ignited by reports of scientific
discoveries such as Einstein's Relativity theory in 1919 and the requirement
for a new way of looking at the world and living in it. Readers were consumers:
gadgets, inventions and popular science fed this need for a new society that
was at once broken and breaking away from the devastation of WW1.
The age of the consumer coincided with the Golden Ages of illustration, mass journalism, advertising, radio and cinema, and PUNCH through its anti-hero Mr Punch rode these horses simultaneously like a circus entertainer. But at its inception the magazine was not a commercial venture: it was a labour of love started by a few talented humourists, became a magazine, later a Club, and, adopted by an eager public, a “National Institution”. Early on in December 1842 editor Mark Lemon agreed to be bought-out by printer-proprietors Bradbury & Evans (from 1872 Bradbury and Agnew) essentially saving a struggling but popular publication in what was at the time in publishing a highly vulnerable venture. They used a new, fast, accurate press to distribute the magazine efficiently and give it the edge over rivals; less than a hundred years later PUNCH had to increase its editorial pages because its advertising pages had grown significantly and it made more money through advertising revenue than circulation. In 1918 PUNCH had 16 pages of editorial content. By 1925 it had to increase them to 28 pages in order not to be swamped by the adverts.
While new forms of expression such as Modernism and Art Deco took off and Futurism and Dada were appropriated by Fascism and Soviet neo-realism, the New Woman too was constantly evolving and pushing the limits of what was permissible in dress, vocation and behaviour. Fashions changed with the practicalities of physical movement in leisure and employment such as cycling, dancing, ice-skating or factory work. If mid-Nineteenth century daring would be to visit the criminal courts un-chaperoned with a male friend or cycling in the fin-de-siècle, then in the first half of the Twentieth century it was Votes for Women and female aviators. PUNCH was at hand to take note of these structural and cultural shifts in society. The Victorian New Woman from the 1860s onwards: usually a university graduate or doctor, had, by the turn of the century become a cycling, smoking, card-playing and altogether more confident, physical, intrepid, politicised and sexualized creature. Women started to match men's leisure activities and professions, and it was a natural progression to demand the right to vote.
The New Woman was reinvented every decade from Actress in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, munitions worker in WW1, the Flapper/Bright Young Thing in the Twenties, female aviator and business owner in the Thirties, Land Girl and WAAF transport pilots in the Forties, sophisticated Mary Poppins type in the Fifties with the New Look; sexually liberated and objectified in the Sixties, Feminist in the Seventies; social climber, power dresser, politician and Prime Minister in the Eighties. The expedient gender equality of WW1 and WW2 which included work at operations desks, as Bletchley code breakers, Make Do and Mend, and Dig for Victory developed further in the post-war austerity period with rising aspiration, travel, mass consumerism, Rock & Roll, the Pill and Feminism.
Fast-forward to 1967 and future PUNCH editor William Davis wrote a congratulatory open letter to Minister for Transport Barbara Castle in the series Letters to Our Masters. A few years later he invited her to be PUNCH editor for one issue replacing the editorial staff with women and sub-titling it Judy.
Sexism and chauvinism however hadn’t changed; female suffrage and greater control of women’s lives (choosing whether or not to have sex/babies/careers) in an increasingly sexualized culture only increased these tensions, and the cartoons reflected this. The corporate world was still male dominated. PUNCH’s largely male middle class readers would have simply acknowledged the message in the cartoons confirming a misogynistic status quo rather than being made to ask questions or prompt social change. Gone was the moral guidance of Mr Punch (some might say thankfully) regularly popping-up to tell off Strikers and Socialists, or venting off about Suffragette vandalism, while balancing it with cartoons such as The Dignity of the Franchise. By the 1960s Mr Punch's job was redundant: the cartoon preaching more to the dyed-in-the-wool type than to the New Man. The joke cartoon, social cut, political full page (Big or Large Cut) and later the Front Cover took over in revealing the surreal and the cynical. Just as these cartoons dealt with racial issues in the 60s and 70s with 'token blacks' now it was the irony of ‘token women’ in corporate boardrooms
or exclusively male committees on female equality. Later however, the dynamics of this
Mass travel, motoring and cheap flights in a new Jet Age from the 1950s enhanced a global economy: cartoons on regional dialects or cultural differences, holidays, corporate settings and immigration appear in the 60s acknowledging a re-evaluation of
status within Europe and the World. The Come
to Europe and Come to Britain cartoons of 1960 developed into questions of the English North-South divide; while Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech, economic
recession, unemployment, De-valuation, strikes and neo-fascism by 1970 are counterpointed
by anti-British immigration cartoons from an Australian perspective.
And a spine-chilling 1977 front cover cartoon by Jensen If We Had A Fascist Britain highlights how far the country had gone, could go and in so doing, how it had to retreat. By being extreme or surreal, cartoons infuse important issues with humour and like the best comedy, question and re-balance a country's morals. This was PUNCH's strength: it showed you the abyss in advance. It was an early warning alert, a satnav for the cultural psyche. On many occasions the Big Cut political cartoon was a cautionary tale of what could happen: The Awful Warning by EH Shepard, still pertinent in today's international affairs, was superbly cynical in its anti-appeasement stance when British and European opinion at the time was largely pro-appeasement. We also see Neville Chamberlain building a sand castle as Mussolini splashes with him in the rising tide; or as a hesitant firefighter as buildings burn, a foretaste of the Blitz and WW2.
|If We Had a Fascist Britain
|The Awful Warning
But the nature of ‘detail’ changed: from du Maurier’s fascinating Society cartoons of the 1860s-1890s rendering every crease and crumple of a lady's dress (including theatrical instruction in the caption), to Phil May's simplified Art Nouveau lines of street life in the early 20th Century, to Fougasse’s distanced view of crowds as detailed squiggles, to the fine-art illustrative colour detail of Frank Reynolds and Leslie Illingworth; the graphic style starting from Linley Sambourne and running through to Norman Thelwell, Mike Williams and Quentin Blake, to the gradually changing facial expressions in HM Bateman's panel cartoons; Pont's backgrounds and genteel familiarity, Rowland Emett's surreal fantasies, Michael ffolkes’ delicate, comical rococo line, Ronald Searle and Ralph Steadman’s sharp scrawls, David Myers’ childlike simplicity and Andre Francois' cartoons where readers deciphered the joke by making connections within the details. These were all masters of their art.
In ‘cartoon reality’ people go about their daily business conversing with neighbours, going to the office, boating, buying houses, holidaying, driving, playing tennis or parlour games, dining and entertaining; and tripping over metaphorical objects, concepts or speech. In so doing they distil the dreams and harsh truths of ‘our reality’. And we also see the imagined but likely, private conversations of politicians and royalty in their offices and chambers. Bernard Partridge places you directly inside the room where Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin addresses Edward VIII over the abdication crisis in The Choice.
It is this privileged 'fly on the wall history' that PUNCH invites us into that is most exciting. Another cartoon parodying the Concert of Europe shows foreign powers waiting to dance with a partner; one chooses an unsatisfactory partner to John Bull’s consternation. The real-life Ping-Pong Diplomacy of 1971 between the
was borrowed from PUNCH in 1901. China
Frequently cartoons dared to go even further than what was possible in an age of optimism and discovery. One could hardly imagine a plasma TV with two-way communication in the 1870s but PUNCH ‘made it real’ in one of George du Maurier's visionary cartoons, the Telephonoscope. Another by Charles Harrison in 1901 shows a flying policeman stopping speeding cars in the sky. As soon as a new invention appeared, PUNCH re-invented it with its attendant quirks. This was the cutting edge of PUNCH’s Brave New World: humans combining with technology and creating confusion.
This contrasts with Tenniel's political cartoon fifty years earlier of The Lady of Threadneedle Street bailing out the banks - represented as naughty boys, heads bowed in shame. Corporate and institutional capitalism of the previous century had given rise to personal capitalism in the Thirties just as the European nations were beginning to settle their Great War debts.
In 1951 the Festival of Britain renewed the legacy of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and PUNCH had its own Festival of Punch. In this special edition sub-titled The New Elizabethan Age the modest yet proud, quirky yet sure-footed English are examined through cartoons and humorous articles. Kenneth Bird, whose non-de-plume "Fougasse" was famous for his wartime Careless Talk Costs Lives posters resurrected his own type of Mass Observation, The Changing Face Of Britain from WW2: a series of spot-the-difference cartoons showing London crowd behaviour before and after war.
The Charivari pages at the start of each issue were the equivalent to today's Twitter: short snippets of news, trivia, jokes and gossip from the previous week and sparked off a dialogue with its readers. In the Victorian era the magazine was postage-stamped so one could re-post the magazine- this media sharing was as high technology as you could get in the 1860s. For every 1 magazine of PUNCH sold 9 other people would have held that copy as it was passed around, re-posted or left on coffee tables to enjoy. In a circulation of around 125,000 in 1973 this equated to more than 1 million readers, or ‘followers’ in today's currency. But it wasn't a one-way dialogue. Starting in 1958 PUNCH started a weekly Toby Competition setting readers challenges: to write a fictional review on a well-known work of art, or a poem in the style of Homer; the top prize being a cartoon original. In 1965 PUNCH published reader letters for the first time and held a cartoon competition for children (a teenage cartoonist Ken Pyne was discovered) and in 1969 started the long-running Caption Competition, really a cartoon 'remix' by readers. Winners received a cash prize of five pounds (later rising to ten pounds). These important features of the magazine made PUNCH a companion in the livingroom or a home from home for Colonials abroad, a small A4-ish sized corner of
remote outpost of Empire. England
The Fancy Portraits series in the 1870s of Victorian celebrities, politicians, authors, do-gooders, innovators and icons re-emerged in the 20th century with Punch Personalities and Heroes of Our Time. In one portrait Arthur Conan Doyle is dramatically chained by an evil Sherlock Holmes in Bernard Partridge's excellent full page cartoon.
In the 1950s PUNCH made brilliant use of Ronald Searle's talents to produce double-page colour posters of Princess Margaret, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, Bertrand Russell and Sir Malcolm Sergeant among others, while William Hewison added Sporting Heroes and Artist's Corner. His As They Might Have Been re-cast celebrities such as Graham Greene, Richard Dimbleby and Joe Orton in different occupations.
Later the portrait became an illustrated interview in Passing Through. The actors Roger Moore, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Telly Savalas and many legends from film, music and the arts were interviewed by David Taylor and sketched by the inimitable ffolkes. Michael Parkinson, Melvyn Bragg, Clement Freud, Humphrey Lyttelton and Harry Secombe were regular contributors and occasional pieces appear by Michael Palin, Terry Jones and John Cleese, Joanna Lumley and even Paul McCartney. PUNCH had not just absorbed a readership of the 'silent majority' but the glitterati.
Several lightbulb moments go off: the future poet laureate John Betjeman regularly contributed to PUNCH and was an editorial member of the Punch Table; Alfred Lord Tennyson in the 1840s submitted two poems (and was accepted, unsurprisingly). Caran D'Ache in the 1890s drew one of the first captionless panel cartoons in PUNCH (though there is evidence of a Charles Keene panel cartoon in the 1860s), PG Wodehouse was a regular since 1902, Graham Greene wrote once or twice a year, and the inspiration for the John le Carré spy ‘George Smiley’, John Bingham, wrote poetry and prose on occasion: his “Telephone Conversation, 1943” of a supposed cross-wired eavesdropped exchange is a revelation. Readers at the time would not have known his day-job was an MI5 intelligence officer. Charles Dickens, Garibaldi and Mark Twain visited the Punch Table. Winnie the Pooh first appeared in PUNCH as Edward Bear with the prototype drawing by Alfred Bestall not EH Shepard; and the illustration of a girl which later became Alice in Wonderland had already been created by Tenniel in a PUNCH Title Page of 1864, a year-and-a-half before her official ‘debut’.
Although largely male oriented in content and readership, PUNCH did attract women readers with its “For Women” section written by women (though edited by novelist Peter Dickinson), and was later renamed “Judy”. The poets and writers Margaret Drabble, Joan Bakewell, Angela Milne, EM Delafield, Mary Dunn, Elspeth Huxley and Joyce Grenfell wrote regularly for the magazine; Virginia Graham's poems are wonderfully evocative of the struggles that Londoners endured during WW2. Great women cartoonists included Georgina Bowers in the 19th and Fish, Anton, Merrily Harpur, Sally Artz and Riana Duncan in the 20th Century. In 1972 with MP Barbara Castle guest-editing the magazine, an all-female editorial staff included Joan Bakewell, Molly Parkin and Irma Kurtz.
Some great comic characters were created in the Twentieth Century, (just as the Grossmith's Diary of a Nobody had with Charles Pooter in the 1880s or the Mr Briggs series of cartoons by Leech in the 1840s-60s), and all first appeared in PUNCH before being published in book form. In 1924 Winnie the Pooh (as Teddy Bear) in the When We Were Very Young series of illustrated poems- was a creative merger of two masters: journalist AA Milne and cartoonist EH Shepard. Geoffrey Willans' Nigel Molesworth first appeared in 1939, HF Ellis' The Diary of AJ Wentworth (1938) and Max the hamster by Giovannetti (1952). Another hugely successful series was ex-barrister AP Herbert's Misleading Cases (1924) which parodied the absurdities of British law using hypothetical cases. These were collected in book form and made into a BBC series in the 1960s. During WW2 and the immediate post-war era Mary Dunn’s Lady Addle’s Domestic Front and The Memoirs of Mipsie series were also hugely popular. In the 1970s and 80s it was Alan Coren's Correspondences of Idi Amin, turning him into a first-person fan-fiction comedy character, Miles Kington's Let's Parlez Francais, Merrily Harpur’s The Nightmares of Dream Topping and Michael Bywater’s Bargepole column.
It is often said that cartoons in PUNCH are great social commentary; while many are snapshots of time that describe the way people lived and thought, one often overlooks the writing. Even greater analysis can be found in Bernard Hollowood's serious articles on the state of the international, political and economic landscape, Elspeth Huxley on how immigration was changing society in the early 60s and how society was treating immigrants; William Hardcastle on Britain's crisis of identity, William Davis on strikes and a New Europe, Francis Williams on the media. And reading Joan Bakewell you can gather what it was like for a woman living in a changing society: the sexual freedoms and expression in the 60s hadn't translated to equality in the 70s where sexism and misogyny still reigned. As a whole, PUNCH is a barometer for measuring
status in the world, measuring class struggle, measuring sexual and racial
equality; measuring its own medium against the media. The magazine absorbed,
magnified, parodied and re-imagined reality in its own parallel universe
threaded with a needle of home truths that were particularly English. This
interplay of the Arts, Science, Politics, Fashion, Technology and Class in the
form of a cartoon, poem, comment or story makes for a fun, engaging experience.
In the end, PUNCH remains the chronicle of English culture from its minutest foibles to its grandest achievements. In terms of years served, three cartoonists: John Tenniel, Bernard Partridge and David Langdon span 142 years from 1850-1992, overlapping and working for more than 50 years each to continue the line from the Victorian Age to the Modern Era. Just as the East India Company boldly forged its own destiny and that of the
British Empire in the 19th Century, PUNCH had done so in
the media, achieving world coverage. But just as the East India Company had
been absorbed by the Empire, PUNCH belonged to a certain greatness, to a period
of time, to History. No longer an institution, but a monument. Like Father
Time, Mr Punch could never be wrong: he was merely an observer; an actor on the
finest stage reciting lines that we the public, through the satirists, had
All images copyright Punch Ltd.