Thursday 2 November 2023

Britain says "Goodbye" to cartoonist, Tony Husband, best remembered for his loving portrayal of his Dad's dementia in 'Take Care Son'

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Tony, who has died at the age of seventy-three, was born in the seaside town of Blackpool in the the Autumn of 1950, the eldest son of Vera and Ron, a managing executive of Great Universal Stores in Manchester. He was, however, raised in the family home in Lancashire countryside, in the village of Gee Cross near Hyde, Greater Manchester. 

In his early years Tony went to the local Holy Trinity Primary School, then, when he failed in his 11+ exam in 1960, to get a place at grammar school, he joined Greenfield Street Secondary School For Boys in Hyde, which is where he discovered his talent for art. His father must had much to do with this, since he himself enjoyed drawing cartoons and painting in watercolour. 

Tony left school at the age of sixteen in 1966 and said : “I’d always loved drawing at school and when I left, my first job was in an advertising agency in Manchester, Wilson’s, on Dale Street. They had Punch magazine in reception and I used to read it every week. I loved the cartoons and from then on all I wanted was to be a cartoonist". "I just had a natural flair and I thought, yes, this is what I want to do for a living, so I started sending cartoons out". 
In this he was influenced by the work of Mike Williams in particular, illustrated here, for example, with his "So much for Plan A".

Tony went on to enjoy a successful career as a cartoonist and was mainly known for his work in Private Eye magazine with his work also appearing in The Times, the Daily Mail and the Sunday Express as well as magazines, including Playboy and The Spectator. In later life Tony's father, Ron, suffered from Alzheimer’s and his gradual loss of memory and move into a care home inspired Tony to draw a few illustrations of an imagined conversation between the two of them. The result became 'Take Care, Son The Story of My Dad and His Dementia', which was published when Tony himself was sixty-four in 2014.

From that point on, Tony himself became an active campaigner for dementia and also went on to tackle other challenging subjects. His, 'From a Dark Place', in 2016, was about his son Paul’s heroin addiction and he illustrated Libby Moore’s, 'After… The Impact of Child Abuse' in 2019.

Tony said : "I’ve had more than sixty books published, but one of them took me in a completely new direction. My Dad had been diagnosed with dementia, and, initially as a family, we cared for him in his cottage at the back of Werneth Low, Hyde, Cheshire. Then, when that became hard and risky, he moved to Hatton Grange Care Home in Hyde, where he passed away in 2011". 

"Months later I was sat in my studio late one night after a busy deadline day, with a bottle of Rioja. I asked my Dad (for some reason) if he could remember what it was like to have dementia ? His voice came back, mockingly : "I had dementia, and you’re asking me to remember!" I was having a conversation with my deceased Dad. Just then, I started to draw the conversation on three A4 pages. Whether it was my dad, my imagination, the Rioja, or all three, I have no idea, but I had drawn three pages that would change my life". He drew those first panels as a way of coming to terms with his loss rather than with a book in mind.

He recalled : “I took the three A4 pages to my club in London, Groucho’s and they encouraged me to take it forward. I rang my friend, Stephen Fry, to ask if he’d give me his opinion, he said : "Of course". He rang me back minutes later saying he was in tears and could he ‘tweet’ my pages and "could my system take up to fifteen million hits?" We laughed and he tweeted". In fact it went viral and : "Next a publisher emailed me saying that there was a fantastic book to be made out of this, and “Take Care, Son”, the last words Dad said to me, was born”.

Tony continued : Take Care, Son, has led me into the dementia world and my book touched people. Those with dementia and their carers, professionals in care homes, universities, and businesses. I’ve done a PowerPoint presentation on the book to Admiral Nurses, Doctors and Psychiatrists, at corporate events, and dementia conferences. I’ve worked with Exeter, Nottingham, Liverpool, Sterling, and Manchester universities on their dementia projects creating hundreds dementia awareness of cartoons. A number of care homes have murals I have done about the many activities you can still do living with dementia". He also wrote a short film on the subject called 'Joe’s Journey', starring Sir Tony Robinson. (link) He also illustrated stories about dementia written by Monty Python’s Terry Jones.

When asked : "Why do you think dementia is such a misunderstood condition?" Tony replied : "I think as with all illnesses of the mind, people struggle to understand or deliberately avoid understanding because it’s what they fear the most. That’s why I’m so proud of my book and the fact it’s helping raise awareness of dementia".

In 2017 Tony teamed up with photographer Ian Beesley, poet Ian McMillan and dementia groups around the country, to create ‘marching banners’ like those of the miner’s and suffragette’s used to highlight inequalities in the past and now used to campaign for a better understanding and representation of people living with dementia.‘The Right to a Grand Day Out’ targeted issues preventing those living with dementia from travelling on public transport.(link) Tony supplied the cartoons at the corners of the banners and sometimes the centre. 

Professor Linda Clare from the University of Exeter said : "Both the artists and the people affected by dementia have done an incredible job in coming together to create content that challenges the public perception of dementia as a downward spiral from diagnosis. We hope people will see the banners and ask themselves whether they can understand the needs of people with dementia better, and support them in their needs”.

Tony said he had two favourite drawings in the book about his Dad : "The sad one, where dad is looking out of the window down the valley realising things were changing in his mind and nothing would be the same again".

"And the one with Sylvia his girlfriend in the home, where they are walking together along a hallway. He told me : “We go everywhere together”. l’d watch them walk hand in hand around the corridors of the care home, looking in rooms together seeing what ever they saw, their world reduced to that.. After one of my talks in Hebden Bridge, a lady come up to me and said “Sylvia was my Mum and she loved your Dad”. We hugged and cried ".

Professor Alistair Burns, the National Clinical Lead for Dementia, showed his support for dementia research by wearing a t-shirt with the study cartoon drawn by Tony who, working with a research team in Lancaster University, used his sketches to help dementia patients.

This is the first study where researchers, led here by Dr Siobhan Reilly from the University’s Division of Health Research, worked with people living with dementia to what, they say, are the most important areas of life and apply these to health and social care research. She met with Tony to see if there was a way of incorporating his artistic talents to document the study, which aimed to identify what matters most to people living with dementia. She said : “Back in 2014 we didn’t know what the results of the study would be, but we knew that bringing Tony on board to bring the study alive for the public would be a great idea – little did we know how integral his cartoons would become to the study! The response has been amazing”.
When Tony was invited to sketch attendees at a study event on the university campus, the BBC were there to film. He said : “I’m happy to do anything I can to raise awareness of dementia and also to show how carers are often overlooked. If I can raise a smile at the same time, that’s even better”. The event provided an opportunity for people living with dementia to discuss the areas of daily life that are most important to them. Tony listened attentively to the discussions and drew many pictures of their daily lives and aspects vital to living a fulfilled life.

It was agreed that Tony had successfully used all his skill as a cartoonist to :

· capture the essence of what people with dementia were saying

· express views in simple accessible images

· help to open up a conversation on a difficult subject using humour

· enable people with dementia to shape the research narrative

· communicate the purpose and outcomes of the research to a wider audience.

Tony said : "When I said something and I showed them the drawing, they said : "Oh that's just like it" and that's a really nice feeling. It's just a fascinating journey we've been on together. It's a vital project as well, because understanding people and what they want and then to put those out into the wider world has been brilliant. It's been lovely".
Tony once said of all his work :

"My inspiration is life and people, people in all situations : relationships between men and women, families, pets, work , hobbies. That’s a very rich field to plough. I lie on my thinking couch with a blank piece of paper and fill it with ideas. l love the process".

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Tony's son Paul, was keen for Tony's wife, Carole, to be credited for her role in his work and said that she : 'Is still with us and was a big part of my Dad's story through her organisation of things behind the scenes'.

He has also said on facebook : 'My Dad was extremely passionate about supporting vulnerable people. He cared deeply about people in addiction/recovery, people struggling through mental health issues, children, animal, homeless people. He cared about everyone'. 

In terms of the charities Tony worked with, he put forward two in particular :

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Podcaster Pippa Kelly has devoted the most recent episode on 'Well I Know Now ....', to Tony. It includes contributions from his friend, the poet Ian McMillan, Gina Awad, the founder of Exeter Dementia Alliance and Tony's son, Paul. :

What you said about my post : 

Paul Husband Thanks so much for your time and care with this. It's a lovely tribute. 

Alison Cotton : That’s a wonderful tribute.

deAn cartoons : Brilliant and lovely article John, thank you for sharing.

Catharine Arnold : I loved that. Gone too so -

Ronnie Neilson : Thanks John, my mum had dementia in the last year of her life. That’s a lovely tribute!

Stonehenge Alliance : Very moving.

Helsbels : Thanks, that's a really lovely tribute.  

Samuel West Thank you. That was a very proper tribute.

Murmuration : It’s lovely.  Shared with my wife who’s going through this with her dad right now.

Margaret Bennett : That’s wonderful. Thank you. My cartoon was bought by a friend who was the country park ranger at Werneth Low and he used to know Tony. His work for dementia was incredible.

John's Campaign : Do read John Cooper's tribute to Tony Husband. I was on the boat at the Private Eye party which Tony just didn't reach. John eloquently describes the person we will all collectively miss.
Thank you John

James Berriman  : Thanks John. A very moving tribute.

Bridiebreen : John you have done Tony proud. He ploughed himself into spreading awareness about brain changes in Dementia. I passed his beautifully crafted book to groups I knew would use it well. Tony's legacy is a rich one. He won't be forgotten. Thank you.

Ian McMillan : That’s lovely.

Katy : Thank you, my Mother has dementia and I would like to buy this book.

Susan Wabuda : John, how beautiful and moving is your tribute to Tony Husband. Thank you for sharing:  he had a remarkable talent as a cartoonist.  His devotion to his father Ron, and to the cause of the relief of dementia, has defined his legacy. Thank you. Such a moving piece. Something to return to again and again. Thank you.

Pippa Kelly : Wonderful, thoughtful piece by John Cooper on the late cartoonist Tony Husband who used to "lie on his thinking couch with a blank piece of paper and fill it with ideas".  Well worth a read.

Helen Barrett : That’s really interesting, thank you. Especially his point about people deliberately avoiding understanding.

ManUtdMrs : I have his extremely moving book and actually knew his dad very well. 
Tony was a good friend. He will be very greatly missed by all who knew him. A sad loss as a cartoonist and more importantly as a man. RIP, pal 

Neil Chadborn : Thanks for sharing key insights into Tony's life & campaign work for improving awareness of dementia

Arts in Care Homes : So beautiful - thanks very much!

Jump : Thanks for sharing - very moving.

MarshallNotFunny : Excellent John, very comprehensive. Looks like you've got some other great biogs on there too. Will give the Terence Davies one a read later too.

Stanley Chow : This is lovely. Thanks

Judy Jarvis : This is beautiful. Tony was one of the cleverest people I have known, and I miss his being in the world terribly. I love that you’ve included a link to the great little film we made to raise awareness of his pet cause, dementia.

Glen Pierce : Great piece John matey.

Maps : A really kind and thoughtful tribute. I never knew he did so much for dementia awareness.

Tom Shakespeare : Lovely! Thank you.