Sunday, 9 November 2008

FAMILY MATTERS

This last week I renewed my acquaintance with two of Britain's most prolific and gifted cartoonists and two much-loved families.

One of these clans is the Littlehamptons - notably William (8th Earl of Littlehampton, formerly Viscount Draynflete) and his wife Maudie - created by Osbert Lancaster for the 'Pocket Cartoon' on the front page of the Daily Express...


Willie and Maudie shared stardom with a supporting cast of upper-class toffs, Tory types and such politically-incorrect personages as Canon Fontwater, Father O'Bubblegum and Mrs Rajagojollibarmi.


The other tribe are the salt-of-the-earth, working-class Giles family (Grandma, Father, Mother, George, Vera, Ann, Carol, Bridget, Ernie, George Junior and the Twins, Lawrence and Ralph) created by Carl Giles for, once again, the Daily (and also the Sunday) Express.

It's quicker by rail...


The former are currently having an 'at home' in the suitably aristocratic surroundings of The Wallace Collection where they are participating in an exhibition entitled Cartoons and Coronets; while the later have moved in (together with their extended family of dogs, cats, parrots, goldfish and a school-full of unruly youngsters and their cadaverous master, Chalky) to The Cartoon Museum where they've taken over an exhibition called Giles - One of the Family.


At first blush, these two families and their creators would seem to have little or anything in common, but on closer examination one realises that the Littlehamptons and the Gileses are two extremes of social archetypes that have always been popular with our national sense of humour. We smile at Maudie Littlehampton stoically coping with opening her stately home to paying visitors or the accident prone Giles family on an ill-fated day out with the kids at the zoo or the seaside because - being British - we like nothing better than to indulge in a good old self-deprecating laugh at ourselves.

And, in prompting us to laughter, both Lancaster and Giles did so with a total absence of even a shred of maliciousness or vindictiveness. They laughed with us, not at us...

Whilst socially and educationally worlds apart, Osbert Lancaster (Charterhouse and Lincoln College, Oxford) and Carl Giles share many qualities as draughtsmen, notably their architectural skills.

This is ably demonstrated in Lancaster's books such as Pillar to Post - English Architecture without Tears and Here, of all Places - The Pocket lamp of Architecture in which he explored the way we've lived across the centuries is captured with unerring line and a sharp wit...


Whilst Giles (who left school at 14) never wrote any architectural works, buildings and landscapes feature in thousands of his pictures and the composition of his cartoons repeatedly set his cast of comic characters against rural, domestic or industrial backdrops that add verisimilitude to his jokes and show him to be an unquestioned master of his craft...



I always enjoyed Osbert Lancaster's Pocket Cartoons - especially Maudie Littlehampton with her fried-egg eyes...

'Let it ring! Ten-to-one it's just another
leaking Cabinet minister'


...and every year my Dad's Christmas presents always included a Giles annual that I would pore over again and again and always, somehow, managed to hoard despite my mother's constant urging to unload earlier editions to the church jumble sale!

As a Lewis Carroll enthusiast, my all-time favourite annual cover is this one from 1972 in which the Giles family are having a picnic while Grandma seems to have wandered off into Wonderland where she is sharing a pint (as opposed to a cuppa) with the March Hare, the Hatter and the Dormouse...



Cartoons and Coronets continues at The Wallace Collection until 11 January 2009; Giles - One of the Family is on show at The Cartoon Museum until 15 February 2009.

Both exhibitions have excellent accompanying catalogues, but a word to the wise: when visiting these exhibition it is inadvisable to switch your gaze too quickly from the artworks to your fellow visitors or you are likely to get a tad confused... For example, I noticed several not-too-distant cousins of William Littlehampton peering at their relatives on the walls the Wallace Collection exhibition and someone whom I take to have been Vera's sister was scrutinising one or two of Giles drawings in the Cartoon Museum with a particular intensity!



Images: Osbert Lancaster drawings © Anne Lancaster; Giles cartoons © British Cartoon Archive & Express Syndication

7 comments:

Boll Weavil said...

I fear my memories of Giles is far more negative. As children we used to see the cartoons in the 'Daily Express' and read them avidly.Later, there was always an interminable pile of annuals to plough through during the interminable wait for the short back and sides in the barbers. Alas, I never found a single one that I understood or found humorous.

Brian Sibley said...

Oh, dear... Well many of Giles' cartoons were topical...

All I can say is that on the opening night of the exhibition, people (and a lot of them) were laughing out loud -- but then, of course, that may have been down to the free booze...

Andy in Greece said...

I agree with boll weavil. My childhood memories of Giles cartoons were always related to the pile of annuals which were on the occasional table in the dentists waiting room. Love the cartoons but cannot look at them without hearing that high pitched whine of the dentists drill next door.

Matt J said...

Great report Brian-regrettably I can't make it to London to see these shows but your post gives me an inkling of their content. Did you see the British Cartoon Archive has gone online?
Thousands of Giles, hundreds of Lancaster, Scarfe, Steadman etc. but only 1 Searle!

http://www.cartoons.ac.uk/

Brian Sibley said...

Thanks, Matt. The Giles material on show at The Cartoon Museum is all drawn from the British Cartoon Archive and, as you say, their on-line site is a perfect time-waster for cartoon fans!

Phil said...

I was rather astonished to see that 1972 Giles cover on your blog - I used to own that book, but probably haven't seen it since 1973. I had that amazing shock of a memory I didn't know I had! (Probably a sign of age...)

Brian Sibley said...

Glad I could help unearth that memory, Phil! I do think that cartoons - and all kinds of other ephemeral material (advertising for instance) - often prove to be remarkable memory triggers...