Classic Cartoons: Martin Plimmer on Captain Bruce Bairnsfather

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The Independent Culture
WHILE ENDURING First World War bombs, Captain Bruce Bairnsfather possessed hand and resolve steady enough to send cartoons home to Bystander magazine.

These "Fragments from France" are darkly ironic, but not bitter. Bairnsfather drew bombs like fat, levitating lipsticks, pausing in midair just long enough for their victims to utter a punch-line, an act of grace not normally associated with munitions. There was nothing else cosmetic about them. Unlike today's missiles, designed to take out black spots, leaving beauty to flourish, they blasted everything.

Bairnsfather was criticised in Parliament for depicting British soldiers as grumpy, sad and cynical, but his work was eventually credited as a morale-booster.

"The war has become the normal business of every man's life" wrote a Bystander editor, introducing a 1916 Bairnsfather collection. "He has little to laugh at. But still he laughs."