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Winston Churchill in Political Cartoons

Sir Winston Churchill was the most caricatured politician in history. His unrivalled career spanned a remarkable sixty plus years from entering Parliament in 1900 through to his retirement from Westminster in 1964. During this period, cartoonists reacted to the vicissitudes of his political fortunes. Up until the Second World War, Churchill was regularly ridiculed for his misjudgements and follies such as the Gallipoli debacle, demanding British intervention in the Russian Civil War and his alienation from the Tory leadership due to his opposition to Indian self-rule. His misguided support for Edward VIII during the abdication crisis seemed to be the final nail in his political coffin. Cartoonists who had previously depicted him as a warmonger and an arch-reactionary, now ignored him, thinking of him as irrelevant. Lord Beaverbrook, the proprietor of the Daily Express, implied Churchill was finished and referred to him as a “busted flush”. Then with his chances of high office all but over, he rose like a phoenix to become Britain’s national saviour. His Finest Hour would coincide with that of our cartoonists too. By visually documenting his war leadership, Churchill was literally drawn to greatness by them. That is why this anthology focusses on his exploits during both world wars as well as his years in the political wilderness in the 1930s.

13 Aug 1938.jpgWinston Churchill by George Whitelaw

Churchill’s early appearances at Westminster did not go unnoticed by cartoonists, primarily because he was the son of the late Lord Randolph Churchill; a former Chancellor of the Exchequer. Like so many young men of his age, he did not yet have any discernible physical features. This was well before he had donned his famous bull-dog expression which cartoonists would later associate him with, and would not develop until, as Harold Nicholson had noted, ‘defeats, misrepresentations and power had come to steel his pugnacity and fortify his will.’ Writing in August 1904, Francis Carruthers Gould, Britains first ever full-time political cartoonist to work for a national newspaper, felt that Churchill did not then have ‘the features which lent themselves to easily recognisable conventional treatment as readily as his father’s.’ Otherwise, Gould believed, he may have been more prominent in cartoons from the start of his parliamentary career. However, he did think, somewhat prophetically, that Churchill was still worth watching with interest: ‘for the reason that he may one day have to be prominent on the pictorial stage.’ Gould felt that because there was ‘absolutely no resemblance in likeness’ between him and his father that, as far as caricature was concerned, young Winston was rather a disappointment:

‘Winston Churchill's face is, from the caricalurist's point of view, what I call an elusive one, by which I mean that the more you try to get it the more you lose it, and the likeness which appears with only a few strokes of the pen disappears with elaboration. The conclusion of the matter, from the political caricaturist's point of view, is that if a politician has ambition it is important that he should accentuate his personality so that he may be chosen as being easy to represent rather than avoided being difficult.’

David Low also noted that the young Winston did not offer much in the way of caricature. That in the flesh, according to Low, he belonged 'to that sandy type which cannot be rendered properly in black lines. His eyes, blue, bulbous and heavy lidded, would be impossible. At this time all the political cartoonists were using the approximation worked out by E.T. Reed, the Punch caricaturist who was feeling a bit disgruntled about the plagiarism. 'That fellow.' Reed complained to me about a colleague, 'he's a thief. He stole my Winston's eye."' Another problem according to Daily Express cartoonist, Sidney Strube, was that Churchill's speeches were too subtle at the time to be of any use to the cartoonist. This would be very different during the Second World War, where as we see in this anthology, his speeches were often laden with rich metaphorical pickings.

Like Gould before him, Low further explained why Churchill needed to enhance his own image so as to encourage cartoonists to draw him: 'Statesmen must advertise. Indeed it is vital to the working of our modern democracy that the persons of political leaders be readily identifiable. Cartoonists and caricaturists have their use in creating or embellishing tags of identity, a fact which is not lost on astute politicians... I always try to find Winston Churchill out in something cartoonable mainly because he is so plump and because he likes it and encourages one.’ Churchill made the conscious decision to start wearing a variety of hats, all of which were too small for his head. He claimed this started in 1910, when in front of photographers, he donned a felt cap several sizes too small. Percy Fearon ‘Poy’ cartoonist for the Evening News cast doubt on this version of events: “I had noticed the smallness of his hats long before 1910, but at that time the salient feature of my caricatures was the curl on the top of his head. It was only when this vanished prematurely that I turned to the hat, and made it the new hallmark.” Churchill was thrilled with the attention his hats caused. His son Randolph remarked, “My father never met a hat he didn’t like” and consequently collected and wore them throughout his life. Churchill confessed his preference for small hats a few years later when addressing the Worshipful Company of Feltmakers (hatmakers). Punch reported: ‘Mr. Winston Churchill said that none of the speakers had mentioned the most essential desideratum of a hat, and that was that it should be too small.  Whether it began by being too small, or became in time too small depended on the wearer; but there was something smug and cowardly about a hat that fitted. It suggested failure.’ The undersized hat as a tag of identity had succeeded in bringing Churchill to the full attention of the cartoonists and then by association the wider public. By 1913, The Tatler, for one, now recognised his cartooning potential:

‘Winston Churchill is a boon and a blessing to the cartoonist, not only because the heavy overhanging brows, short pugnacious nose, full lips, and Napoleonic chin and jaw are easy to portray, but as he really is also because his head and body gear are as distinctive as the man himself. A hat-maker ‘might forgive the broad turned collars or the legging trousers, but the hat, which in shape is what one might call a "tweenie," between a topper and a bowler, is hard to pardon, while the little Alpine hat which perches perkily on the top of that massive brow is more reminiscent of a George Robey than a First Lord.’

Australian cartoonist, Thomas Challen ‘Tac’, who later worked for the Sunday Pictorial, believed that Churchill’s attempts at self-promotion had proved a triumph: “Mr Winston Churchill is the most striking and drawable person in British public life, probably because, from his earliest political days, he has studied his own caricatures, and endeavoured to live up, to them. After all, Low said, no one forced him to buy so many of his own hats.”

At the start of the Second World War, it is interesting to note that although Churchill was not yet Prime Minister, he was, according to the Daily Herald, Joseph Goebbels’s number one hate figure.  As a consequence, the diminutive propaganda minister directed German cartoonists to make the First Lord of the Admiralty their main target of ridicule rather than the actual Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain:

‘Goebbels is not losing any opportunity of hitting at Winston Churchill on paper. Numerous cartoons appearing in the German Press leave no doubt about Mr Churchill being Britain's best-hated man. A remarkable series of these cartoons reproduced in this week's “Illustrated” gives the British public the opportunity of seeing for themselves something of Goebbels’ methods.’

Once Prime Minister, Churchill ironically became the personification of evil as far as Goebbels was concerned. In July 1940, Goebbels ordered cartoonists “to attack only Churchill and his clique of plutocrats but never the British nation as such. Churchill has burnt all bridges behind him so that there can be no question of any arrangement with Britain so long as he is at the helm.” As Britain’s war leader, Churchill now consciously added what became his two most famous tags of identity; the cigar and the V-sign. Despite having smoked cigars since travelling to Cuba in 1895, Churchill began the habit of always carrying an outsize cigar in public in order to cultivate an image for both cartoonists and photographers alike. The cigar was, in fact, very much a prop as Low had noticed that the cigars he carried in public were never actually smoked more than about one inch. In July 1941, Churchill began to use the two fingered V for Victory sign for the first time. However in doing so, he did the sign with his palm facing towards him, which gave the victory sign a ruder meaning. Churchill had a mischievous sense of humour, but we will never know if this was deliberate. His private secretary, John Colville, wrote at the time in his private diaries: "The PM will give the V-sign with two fingers in spite of representations repeatedly made to him that this gesture has quite another significance."

Of course, Churchill got even more satisfaction at the thought that such tags of identity irritated the German hierarchy. This was probably the whole point behind his version of the V-sign as well as his deliberate mispronunciation of “Nazi” as “Narzee”.  He also liked the contrast between himself and Hitler, knowing that the Fuehrer was not only a non-smoker but also forbade smoking in his company. Following Hitler’s lead, the Nazis saw smoking cigars as decadent and self-indulgent and went to great lengths to stamp the habit out. The Nazis even invented the term passive smoking. Hitler, unlike Churchill, was also tee-total and so German  cartoonists  regularly made much of the latter’s penchant for alcohol. So successful was Churchill in promoting himself during the war that Low felt it unfair the Prime Minister took all the credit. For it was the cartoonist's portrayal of him that successfully lodged in the public mind. Low was even bold enough to claim that Churchill's image as war leader was in some way created by the cartoonists: 'Don't imagine', Low said, 'that the familiar wartime idea of Churchill with his V sign and cigar was all his own invention'.

Churchill developed a lifetime passion for political cartooning. It started in his early boarding schooldays when on Sundays he was allowed to study volumes of Punch. He described them “a very good way of learning history” although not a very sophisticated way of studying politics. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, he regularly cut out cartoons of himself from the newspapers and stuck them into annual scrapbooks. By the 1930s, he could no longer do so because cartoonists were now rarely including him in their cartoons. This he obviously regretted noting:

‘Just as eels are supposed to get used to skinning, so politicians get used to being caricatured. In fact, by a strange trait in human nature they even get to like it. If we must confess it, they are quite offended and downcast when the cartoons stop. They wonder what has gone wrong, they wonder what they have done amiss… they fear old age and obsolescence are creeping upon them. They murmur: “We are not mauled and maltreated as we used to be. The great days are ended.”’

In June 1931, Churchill wrote a well received and thoughtful essay on the subject of political cartoons and cartoonists for The Strand Magazine. Low had already noticed that ‘Winston is very interested in caricature and will yarn for hours on the technical side of art… he had a genuine appreciation of quality in caricatural draughtsmanship.’  It was therefore no surprise that he also became an avid collector of original cartoons that featured him. Again according to Low, ‘Churchill hung all my most vicious works around the Treasury Office.' This is interesting because it backs up what his daughter, Mary Soames told me in 2006; that whilst she was growing up at Chartwell she was ‘mystified’ by what she deemed to be cruel and callous cartoons of her father hanging up around the house. Although she thought that he would be hurt by them, she was surprised by how much he actually seemed to enjoy and appreciate them.

Churchill, on occasions, corresponded directly with cartoonists. In March 1933, he wrote to the famous First World War cartoonist, Louis Raemaekers, thanking him for sending him cartoons on Hitler, and promised to try to find him a publisher for them in Britain. One night he got his secretary, Miss Moir, out of bed in the middle of the night to take a letter to David Low, complaining that: ‘You make Lord Hallsham and me look exactly alike in your cartoons.’ He was not afraid to complain to newspaper proprietors and their editors if he felt cartoons were inappropriate or unfair. This was particularly the case during the war, which in itself showed the influence cartoons then had in mass circulation newspapers. In December 1940, Churchill was furious about a Low cartoon that had made fun of a Cabinet Minister. In a letter to Beaverbrook, he wrote: 'The cartoon in today's Evening Standard against Greenwood will certainly make your path and mine more stony. I know the difficulty with Low, but others do not, and cartoons in your papers showing your colleagues in ridiculous guise will cause fierce resentment.' In fact, Arthur Greenwood found little offence in the cartoon: "I have no personal feeling against Low." Churchill, however, still remonstrated with Beaverbrook in his belief that such attacks would cause: 'all those ministers conceiving themselves threatened to bank up against you and your projects, and owing to my friendship with you they will think that I am condoning the attacks made upon them. He does you and your work disservice by these cartoons, and he is too well aware of what he does.' On such occasions Beaverbrook always denied control over Low, stating that it was: 'a matter of real grief" that he should be the occasion of such attacks upon 'my Prime Minister. I do not know how to deal with the situation. I do not agree with Low. I have rarely done so. I do not interfere with Low. I have never done so.' Beaverbrook would complain: 'I had two artists on my hands. One at night-time - that was the Prime Minister complaining about Low. The other in the morning - that was Low complaining about Churchill.'

By 1942, Churchill had become increasingly frustrated with left-wing cartoonists whom he felt were continuing to criticise his Government's running of the war. Philip Zec was severely reprimanded for a cartoon published in the Daily Mirror on 6 March 1942 which Churchill saw as a direct attack on his Government. At around this time he also wrote to Lord Layton proprietor of the News Chronicle in regard to a Vicky cartoon: ‘I chanced to see the enclosed cartoon, and thought it quite outside ordinary limits. I was astonished that a newspaper you control should harbour it.’ In a subsequent attack on the press, which was specifically aimed at the tabloids and cartoonists such as Low, Zec, Whitelaw and Vicky, Churchill declared that 'our affairs are not conducted entirely by simpletons and dunderheads as the comic papers try to depict'. Along with the left-wing press, Punch was not immune from such attacks from the Prime Minister, who as a regular reader had not forgiven the magazine for its stance over Appeasement and particularly the Munich Agreement before the war. In a letter to the Editor in April 1943, Churchill wrote:

‘I must say that I think "Punch", in the cartoon this week, pays the Eighth Army a very back-handed compliment by representing it as a squirming little ferret. Considering that the intention was to do them honour, the shot was a very poor one… As a constant reader of "Punch" over so many years, I think I must tell you that this is the biggest flop since the cartoon of John Bull waking from his wartime nightmare on the very day the Germans marched on Prague. I am sure your colleagues will welcome criticism from their readers.

Churchill obviously preferred right-wing cartoonists to those on the left. He had no originals in his collection from those with socialist sympathies apart from Low who he greatly admired but had something of a love-hate relationship with. Having praised 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,' Churchill also, on other occasions, bitterly attacked Low as a ‘scoundrel’, whom he said, 'never drew a single line in praise of England'. There were even times in 1940, when Churchill, under enormous pressure due to Britain's precarious position, believed Low was even a dangerous subversive, doing great harm to the morale of the country. He is believed to have even called Low a: 'Communist of the Trotsky variety'. Churchill much preferred cartoonists who worked for the Conservative supporting press such as the Daily Mail, Evening News and the Daily Express. He was a great fan of Sidney Strube, who was for many years the most popular cartoonist in Britain. A letter Strube received from Lord Beaverbrook during the war read, 'Last evening I talked with the Prime Minister, who spoke warms words of praise of your cartoon appearing in the Daily Express on Friday.' When Churchill later learnt that Strube had left the paper, his reply was: "I am sorry to hear it. In my opinion Strube is one of the greatest cartoonists the newspapers have had in this country for many, many years." It did not go unnoticed that Strube admired the Prime Minister telling his editor that: 'If Churchill had retired at 50 we would probably have already lost the war". Surprisingly, Churchill was not keen on Carl Giles, for according to the editor of the Daily Express, Arthur Christiansen, he had a dislike of the way Giles caricatured the human race. The feeling was mutual. Giles would later write: ‘Not being a Churchill fan I protest at being made to appear a disciple of the dangerous old sod.’ He often praised Poy and Leslie Illingworth in the Mail and became a great fan of Michael Cummings in the Daily Express after the war. In fact, Churchill saved Cummings’s job at the paper. He was coming to the end of his three month trial and Arthur Christiansen had decided not to extend his employment. A turning point came when Churchill told Lord Beaverbrook how much he admired Cumming’s daily attacks on the Labour Party. According to the cartoonist: “Winston Churchill saved my job as he liked my politics. Lord Beaverbrook told me I had become his favourite cartoonist.’ Later that year, Churchill wrote that ‘Cummings may well become one of the greatest cartoonists of our time’. The cartoonist was even invited to dinner to meet him and according to Cummings, ‘Churchill gave me a searching interrogation on how I did my job. As he was so keen on painting, I wondered if he’d be tempted to try his hand at caricature.’

After the war, Churchill, as Leader of the Opposition, once again saw the Soviet Union as a military threat to the West. Many cartoonists depicted him as a warmonger who encouraged war with the Soviets just as he had done after the First World War. When in March 1946, he gave his Iron Curtain speech at Fulton, Missouri, Stalin accused Churchill of being an “arsonist” and likened him to Hitler and his underlings. Boris Efimov drew a cartoon for Pravda mirroring Stalin’s comments, but felt conflicted in doing so as: “I was often impressed by Churchill, by his will, by his wonderful oratory talent, his jokes. I really liked him. And then it was announced that he was our enemy, and we had to draw cartoons about him… when I drew him looking in the mirror and seeing a reflection of Hitler, that was, for me, not convincing and not pleasant. I realized that Hitler was a real Fascist enemy, and that Churchill was a political giant.”

-ou-s25c.jpegA 70th Birthday cartoon in tribute to Churchill by Victor Weisz 'Vicky' in the News Chronicle.

Churchill took office again in 1951 at the age of 77. In February 1954, Illingworth drew a cartoon for Punch of the Prime Minister, listless at his desk, the face registering unmistakable effects of a partial paralysis he had suffered as the result of a stroke the preceding summer, the bookcase of his writings full, and closed. The caption was taken from Psalm 114: Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening. Churchill was bitterly hurt by the cartoon: "Yes, there’s malice in it. Look at my hands - I have beautiful hands… Punch goes everywhere. I shall have to retire if this sort of thing goes on.’ Churchill’s doctor, Lord Moran, was also shocked by what he considered a vicious caricature of the Prime Minister: "There was something un-English in this savage attack on his failing powers. The eyes were dull and lifeless. There was no tone in the flaccid muscles; the jowl sagged. It was the expressionless mask of extreme old age.” Churchill finally retired as Prime Minister in April the following year, ironically during a newspaper strike so there were no cartoons seen of him leaving Downing Street. Many cartoonists were saddened by his leaving and the Prime Ministers that followed never quite matched the visual greatness that he had for so long offered. One could say, looking through this anthology, that never in the field of political caricature have so many cartoonists owed so much to so true a cartoon icon.

Eu_J7Chk.jpegWinston Churchill in a war-time pose by Sidney 'George' Strube