Sunday, 30 March 2014

Britain is no longer a country for and said "Goodbye" to an old left-wing political cartoonist and champion of the rights of working men called Phil Evans

Phil, who has died aged 68, produced a prolific, funny, concise and uncompromising body of work on the side of the exploited and the oppressed in Britain of the 1970s and 80s. He worked mostly for the Socialist Workers Party, but his skills were recognised by the wider labour movement. His passing, however, has attracted much less attention than that of the left-wingers, politician,Tony Benn and union leader, Bob Crow. This was probably because for the last twenty years of his life he had not really been engaged with the Political Left and had slipped out of view so much so that my search for Phil has produced not a single image of him, hence the silhouette.

What you possibly didn't know about Phil, that he :

* was born in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire a year after the end of the Second World War, the son of an art teacher mother and Professor of English Literature father, whose career took the family to London, Goldsmith's College, Uganda, Makerere College, then to Aberdeen  in 1955 when Phil was 9 years old.

* became politicised in his teens when he joined Aberdeen's 'Youth Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament' and Labour Party's 'Young Socialists' and educated at its Grammar School (right), where Robin Cook, the future Foreign Secretary in the Tony Blair Labour Government in the late 1990s was his age and in his year.

* left at school at the age of 16 in 1963, attended Sunderland Art College, then spent three years studying graphic art at Leeds College of Art
and at some point developed a love of  the work of 18th century artist Hogarth (left) and German Dadaist George Grotz who worked in the 20th century.

*  drew his first political cartoons in opposition to the American War in Vietnam and the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia when he was 22 in 1968 and produced the magazine of the 'Vietnam Solidarity Campaign' in 1967-68.

* later wrote : 'When I was younger I wanted to be an oil painter, a portraitist.  More recently I realised that to be a cartoonist is just as difficult - more difficult perhaps - because you have to get your hands dirty in the political fight.  I have always been interested in propaganda - I've always felt that if you're good at something then why not try to make a point with it?  A little pamphlet, with cartoons, on the struggle of a tiny group of ordinary seamen against their right-wing union leaders, or textile workers against a sweatshop employer, is more important than the cracks on the face of an important diplomat or princess.'

* in the 1970s produced a weekly strip, 'Our Norman', featuring the adventures of a young factory hand learning his politics on the shop floor who probably left school at 15 and worked as a metalworker but was part of rebellious wave of younger workers full of untapped potential.

* made it clear that young though he was Norman was  old enough to be haunted by the question of what the future holds: Is a busted clock the best he can look forward to ?  

* in 1982, had a collection of his drawings, 'The Joke Works', published with an introduction by the socialist writer David Widgery (left) with its invitation for readers to use and reuse his cartoons in their workplace and a cartoon on the back cover entitled 'How to Use This Book' with cut-out and reproduction instructions and like much of his work, deliberately unprotected by copyright, they were used over and over in trade union bulletins, leaflets and magazines.

* by the early 1980s, was uncomfortable with the political direction of the Socialist Workers Party and found work as a subeditor in magazines and collaborated with Tariq Ali to produce 'Trotsky for Beginners ', followed by 'Marx's Kapital for Beginners' with David Smith  in 1982 and 'Ireland for Beginners' with the Irish actor Eileen Pollock (left) in 1983.

* lived in Spain for a short time, then returned to Britain and in 1989 contributed to a book on a subject as near to his heart as socialism : 'Best Pubs in London: A Camra Guide' 1989, having once vowed that "after the revolution" he would devote himself to drinking, arguing and playing pool.

* in the 1990s produced a fortnightly strip for the leftwing Labour paper, 'Tribune' and was frequently commissioned by the Labour Research Department, an independent body sponsored by unions and co-ops and provided trade union publications and the 'Radio Times Letters Page' with humour.

*  had moved to Hastings to be nearer his mother, whose death in 2000 was a profound blow and in the same year that his marriage came to an end and suffered additional grief with the premature death of his daughter, Esmé, in 2008 and did only occasional work after that.

* was appreciated by Kent Worcester in the 'Comics Journal' in 2009-10 :

No comments:

Post a Comment