Political cartoonists at the Evening Standard
When it comes to political cartoonists, the Evening Standard has, over nine decades, employed the very best of them. After a hiatus of 13 years, George Osborne has had the foresight to continue that great tradition by reintroducing the political cartoon with the recruitment of the award-winning cartoonist Christian Adams. Exactly 90 years ago, a man who was to become the greatest political cartoonist of all time, Sir David Low, was the first to be employed on the Evening Standard by the then proprietor, Lord Beaverbrook. The Tory Peer also owned the Daily Express, which in the 1930s and 40s had the largest circulation in the world for a national newspaper. He always made it his mission to employ the very best cartoonists, and in so doing made them the highest paid men in Fleet Street. Strube, the Daily Express cartoonist from 1912-1948, was earning £10,000 a year in 1931, a colossal amount considering one could buy a house in Central London for under £1,000. Beaverbrook had been unsuccessful in luring the left-leaning Low for many years, mainly due to the latter's reluctance to work on a Tory-supporting newspaper. Low was then on a rival evening newspaper, The Star, owned by the Cadbury family and supportive of the Liberal Party.
Eventually, in 1927, Beaverbrook got his man, but had to accept Low's terms, which were for a half-page cartoon, unprecedented then and unheard of today in British journalism. Strube later claimed it was Low who had won for the cartoonist what they had always wanted - space. Low also gained a unique contract that allowed him "complete freedom in the selection and treatment of his cartoons". Before Low joined the Evening Standard, all political cartoonists were expected to support the editorial line of the paper that employed them. Low was not the only left-winger employed by Beaverbrook; he knew that offering opposing views made a newspaper more lively and interesting to its readers. Under these conditions, Low was to produce the best work of his career, and his reputation grew as he railed against both the rise of the dictators and Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasing them. Low's ridiculing of Hitler and Mussolini even led to the Evening Standard being banned in Italy and Germany. In 1937, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels told the British Foreign Secretary that Low's cartoons of the Fuhrer were damaging Anglo-German relations. Consequently, the Nazis added Low's name to a hit list of those to be executed should they invade Britain. Low's radical views often enraged readers and their letters were regularly published as a feature in the paper. "You are so low", said one disgruntled reader, "You will go to hell in a balloon!" Low even got under the skin of senior Conservative politicians. Lord Birkenhead referred to him as "a filthy little socialist who continually portrays me as a corpulent and crapulent fool", while Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin stated that, "Low is a genius, but he is evil and malicious. I cannot bear Low!" Winston Churchill called him "a Communist of the Trotskyite variety", despite having earlier referred to him as "a great master of black and white; he is the Charlie Chaplin of caricature and tragedy and comedy are the same to him."
The Evening Standard employed the very best cartoonists and also published the most famous political cartoon of all time. Osborne claimed last week that he thought it was Low's Very well, alone! cartoon published in June 1940 featuring a British soldier, standing on the cliffs of Dover, waving his defiant fist at the oncoming Luftwaffe (see cartoon above). George may have seen the original of this cartoon at the exhibition I organised on David Low in Westminster Hall in 2002. The original cartoon was actually signed by Prime Minister Winston Churchill before being appropriately given to Sir John Slessor, the Air Chief Marshall responsible for coastal command. This is indeed one of Low's most famous cartoons, but his greatest one, without doubt, is Rendezvous, which appeared in the Evening Standard on 20 September 1939 on the subject of the Nazi-Soviet division of Poland. It has become the most republished cartoon of all time. Low later wrote about it saying "In gloomy wrath at missed opportunity and human stupidity I drew the bitterest cartoon of my life."
Feeling stale, Low left the Evening Standard in 1950 to join the Labour-controlled Daily Herald, a decision he later regretted. Surprisingly, Low was not replaced for seven years, although that was not for want of trying. Beaverbrook first offered the job to the eminent New Zealand cartoonist Gordon Minhinnick, but he turned it down. In 1954, Beaverbrook tried to lure the emotionally radical Victor Weisz 'Vicky', but he also turned it down, refusing then to work for "a Tory paper". In 1957, Beaverbrook finally found his man, giving the former Daily Worker cartoonist, Jimmy Friell, the onerous job of replacing Low. Friell, who drew in a similar style to Low, had just resigned from the Communist paper the year before, having had a cartoon rejected that criticised the Soviet invasion of Hungary. Friell stated, “I couldn’t conceive of carrying on cartooning about the evils of capitalism,” he wrote, “And ignore the acknowledged evils of Russian communism.” Like Low, Friell was given complete political freedom, despite the fact that there were a number of Beaverbrook's top executives who were concerned about Friell’s ‘extreme’ left-wing views. However, it soon became apparent that Friell was not able to rise to the challenge, and so Vicky was approached once again. This time he accepted, but insisted that Friell was not sacked. As a result, Friell drew a cartoon for the paper on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Michael Foot, who had been editor of the Evening Standard during the war, called Vicky "the best cartoonist in the world" and he certainly lived up to that billing.
His depiction of the then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan as 'Supermac' confirmed Vicky as one of the most influential political cartoonists of the time. However, Vicky's parody of Macmillan backfired when it seemed to enhance the Prime Minister's standing with the public. Vicky was so conscientious that he would often redraw a cartoon for later editions of the paper. Vicky took his politics very seriously; probably too seriously. On 23 February 1966, suffering from depression, exhaustion and disillusionment with Harold Wilson's incoming Labour Government, Vicky committed suicide.
Raymond Jackson 'Jak', who had been working atthe Evening Standard as an illustrator since 1952, immediately filled the void left by Vicky. Jak was a very different type of cartoonist, who produced, topical gags to make readers laugh rather than make a political comment. Unlike his predecessors, Jak leaned firmly to the right politically. One cartoon in 1970 nearly led to the Evening Standard being closed down due to industrial action. It portrayed power workers, then on strike for improved conditions, as stupid, greedy and deaf to reason. Controversially, Jak also often included product placement in his cartoons in the hope that the company featured would buy his original cartoon. Knight Frank & Rutley and Mcalpine were frequent purchasers. When Jak died suddenly of a heart attack in July 1997, he was replaced by Patrick Blower, who stayed until September 2003. He was replaced by the first female cartoonist in Fleet Street, Marsha Richler 'Marf'. This caused a collective raised eyebrow at the Evening Standard’s Kensington newsroom, because she was, one, not up to the job, and, secondly, Private Eye claimed she only got the job because she was the God-daughter of the new editor. Under the editorship of the worst editor in the history of the Evening Standard, Veronica Wadley, Marf's cartoon offered light-weight social observation. When in June 2004 her cartoon was reduced to a pocket cartoon, and the space used for additional celebrity photographs, there were many complaints from readers. At the end of 2004, Marf left the Evening Standard, and to the dismay of staff, Wadley dropped the editorial cartoon completely.
Unlike Low, Vicky and Jak, Adams describes himself as apolitical, which is surprising for a political cartoonist. He says he enjoys a "plague on all your houses" approach, believing that following one political line makes you "boring and repetitive". Michael Foot once said, "There is nothing to touch the glory of the great cartoonists." So with Adams's cartoons, the Evening Standard can indeed look forward to a glorious future.