Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Britain is still a country for and says "Happy Birthday" to an old political cartoonist called Ralph Steadman

Ralph, who is renowned for his political and social caricatures, cartoons and picture books, is 77 years old today.

What you possibly didn't know about Ralph, that he :
* was born in Wallasey, Cheshire, the son of a father who was a commercial traveller selling women's clothes.
* was educated at Abergele Grammar School, but left in 1952 aged sixteen, unable to bear the strict authority of the headmaster, who gave him "fear and hatred of authority" and where he "couldn't take it any longer" and "just had to get out".
* got a job with the aircraft company, De Havilland, but finding factory life unbearable, got a job at Woolworth's as a trainee manager then at the age of 18 in 1954 worked in an advertising agency in Colwyn Bay, where he recalled that "I learned to make trademarks and tea."
* between 1954 and 1956, did National Service in the Royal Air Force while continuing to take 'Percy V. Bradshaw's Correspondence Course in Cartooning', which his parents had paid for. 
* from 1955 sent a drawing to 'Punch' magazine every week and had his first cartoon in print in 1956 dealing with Nasser and the Suez crisis in the Manchester Evening Chronicle in 1956 and later said that his work "was a Giles in all but name."
* joined the Kemsley Newspaper Group and worked as a cartoonist from 1959 to 1961, producing editorial cartoons and a weekly panel about a teenage girl named 'Teeny' and at that time met Gerald Scarfe at a meeting of the Cartoonists' Club of Great Britain.

* spent time with Gerald in the Victoria and Albert Museum, sketching statues and suits of armour and  hours pacing the streets long into the night, talking about art and the future and discussing ways of putting the world right.

* started to freelance in 1961 selling cartoons to 'Punch', the 'Daily Sketch', and the 'Daily Telegraph' and later recalled : "I got involved firstly with Punch, but they weren't really interested in social comment, they wanted jokes."
* in 1962, decided to submit a drawing entitled 'Plastic People' 'to the newly-launched magazine, 'Private Eye', for which Richard Ingrams sent him £5 and a note saying 'More power to your elbow' and published it with a double page spread in issue number 11.
* In 1967 became 'Artist-in-Residence' at Sussex University where at the time I was a second year undergraduate student and have a dim recollection of some of his cartoons in frames on the walls of the JCR.
* in 1970, made a short visit to the USA and later said : "For me, art had to be about freedom. England at the end of the 1960s was parochial. I started drawing Nixon and I wanted to work in America" and teamed him up with Hunter S. Thompson in what became a lasting partnership and illustrated his book, 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'.
* in June 1970, returned to London to cover the forthcoming General Election for 'The Times', as the second political cartoonist the paper had ever employed, worked for 6 months before he was told that the editor, William Rees-Mogg, had begun to "feel your cartoons are a little seditious and I don't think we need them in the pages of the Times, so I'll have to ask you to leave." 

* was now changing his style and recalled that : “I developed this approach to drawing which became far more visceral, It was a kind of anger, really. I mean, it was partly induced by Hunter, but also the screaming lifestyle of America.” 

* from 1976 to 1980 drew political cartoons for the 'New Statesman', and contributed to 'Rolling Stone', 'Radio Times', 'Black Dwarf', 'New York Times', 'Times Higher Education Supplement', 'New Scientist', 'Independent', 'Guardian', 'Observer' and 'Sunday Times'. 

* was filmed working in 1979 on the 'Innes Book of Records' :

* in 1987, dismayed by the success of ITV's 'Spitting Image', which seemed to turn political caricature into entertainment, stopped drawing politicians, "leaving them to their latex lookalikes which rendered their latex antics a cosy entertainment in every living room throughout the land. You will never see a politician's face in my drawings again" but later relented to the extent of drawing politicians' legs, particularly in a series of 'Election '97' drawings for 'New Statesman'.

* in 1985, designed a set of four British postage stamps to commemorate the appearance of Halley's Comet and from 1987, catalogues for the wine merchant Oddbins, which inspired Hunter S. Thompson to write to him that 'politics was below you, so you stooped to worship grapes.'

* in 1989 said : “Somehow in people’s minds you associate a cartoonist with someone who either does it in his spare time or didn’t get a very good education and therefore scribbles and does a few gags. I think newspapers...prefer it that way; keep the newspaper cartoonist under wraps. They use them to sell newspapers, but they...don’t give them that kind of dignified importance that they might give to their lead political writers.” 

* retained the power to offend and in 1992 London Transport banned a poster he had designed for a cartoon exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery, a photomontage with guns and a headless man spattered with blood because, as a spokesman explained, "they said it was a poster which showed blood and that the white areas around it would invite graffiti. They also said the guns could incite violence."
* in 2002 said : "Political satire is so boring now. Why the hell would I want to draw Tony Blair? The only politicians I've ever liked were Dennis Healey, Michael Foot and Tony Benn. Really nice people, good folk. The rest of them, I mean this whole crowd, this spun crowd of degenerate politicians are just not worth drawing."

* reacted badly to Hunter S Thompson's suicide in 2005 :

* once told an interviewer : "When I began I thought I could change the world. It's much worse now than when I started, so I haven't done much of a job,"

My earlier post about Ralph's local pub in Kent :

Friday, 28 May 2010

Britain is a country with old villages in rude health and old pubs with rude landlords

and my farewell to Ralph's erstwhile friend, Ronald Searle :

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to its greatest cartoonist called Ronald Searle

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