Obituary: Emmwood

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
THE CARTOONIST, caricaturist and painter John Musgrave-Wood, better known as Emmwood, was one of the last of a classic generation of political cartoonists whose names came to prominence during the Second World War and its immediate aftermath, and whose number included Low, Vicky, Illingworth, Giles, Jon and Cummings.

He was born in Leeds in 1915, the son of Gerald Musgrave-Wood, a painter of landscapes and maritime scenes, and educated at Leeds Modern School. His parents intended him to be a businessman, but his artistic temperament soon became evident and, bored with administrative work in an advertising agency, he left to study at Leeds College of Art.

After only 18 months' study, he decided he wanted to sail round the world, signed up to serve on a cruise liner and set off to the Mediterranean, Ceylon, Australia and New Zealand. Discovering a talent for capturing a likeness, he supplemented his salary as chief fruit steward by selling sketches to the passengers for 30 shillings each.

Returning to London just before war broke out he taught art with one of his brothers in Whitechapel's Jewish youth clubs; his father meanwhile died and the family moved to Cornwall, where his mother set up an antiques business.

In September 1939 he enlisted as a PT instructor in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry and was later commissioned in the Sherwood Foresters. He was sent to India, where in 1941 he volunteered for General Orde Wingate's Special Force of long-range guerrillas - the Chindits - serving behind enemy lines in the jungles of Burma. He took part in both of Wingate's expeditions, rising to become second-in-command of a battalion of Karen tribesmen in the Burma Rifles, with the rank of major.

In 1944 he and a fellow Chindit, Major Patrick Boyle (later the 13th Earl of Cork and Orrery), produced a humorous account of their experiences, illustrated with cartoons, which was published two years later as Jungle, Jungle, Little Chindit (the title derives from a military version of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star"). These drawings he signed "Jon" but after the war he changed his pseudonym to "Emmwood" (from M-Wood) to differentiate himself from another Jon, W.J. Philpin Jones, creator of the famous Eighth Army Desert Rat "Two Types" characters.

After demobilisation in 1946 Musgrave-Wood returned to Cornwall and soon after met his wife, Joan Cook, on a blind date in London. She was a driver in the Motorised Transport Corps and, despite the long distances involved, the romance blossomed and they were married within three weeks.

In 1948 he returned to art school to study painting at Goldsmiths' College in London whilst contributing colour caricatures of celebrities and social types drawn as birds ("Emmwood's Aviary") to the weekly Tatler & Bystander. The same year the magazine's theatre caricaturist "Tom Titt" (Jan Rosciszewski) retired and he took over his job for the next six years. Other work included television review illustrations for Punch and (from 1953) show-business drawings for the Sunday Express.

He became Political Cartoonist on the London Evening Standard in 1955 (being succeeded two years later by Jimmy "Gabriel" Friell) and was later the Editor of the Junior Express. When the management wanted to turn the Junior Express into a children's comic he decided it was time to go and, in 1957, joined the Daily Mail as deputy to the paper's distinguished political cartoonist Leslie Illingworth. On Illingworth's retirement in 1969 he continued to draw political cartoons for the paper, alternating his work at first with that of Trog (Wally Fawkes) and then - when the paper merged with the Daily Sketch in 1971 and turned tabloid - with Mac (Stan McMurtry). He retired in 1975 and moved to France, where he concentrated on painting.

Emmwood always saw himself as a people's cartoonist and frequently travelled by train, bus and Tube as he thought many artists as well as many journalists often lose touch with the public. Interviewed in the 1960s he said: "I try and do a cartoon people understand. Editors tend to write for other journalists. Simplicity is the thing. I cut down on the characters in a cartoon - but I like to put a bit of fun in."

His drawings were characterised by a clean line - usually in brush and Indian ink on board - and a dry sense of humour. Though his political stance was generally right of centre he was even-handed in his treatment of public figures but couldn't abide what he saw as hypocrisy. His drawings had a sharp wit but were never malicious; he delighted in lampooning the Labour prime minister Harold Wilson, whom he held was more of a radical Tory than a socialist.

Drawings by Emmwood were among those chosen for the 1970 National Portrait Gallery exhibition "Drawn & Quartered: the world of the British newspaper cartoon 1720-1970", and he also contributed to an exhibition of royal cartoons at the Press Club for the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977.

Though he lived largely in Kent before his retirement, Emmwood was a familiar figure around Fleet Street, and was - along with Leslie Illingworth (its first President), Giles, Osbert Lancaster and others - a founder member of the British Cartoonists' Association when it was set up in 1966. A brisk, dapper figure usually wearing blazer and flannels, sporting a moustache (later a full naval beard) and smoking a pipe, he had a deceptively quiet manner. A lover of dogs (especially dachshunds, which frequently featured in his cartoons) and good wine, he was a keen gardener and sportsman who enjoyed cricket and tennis and was a much-respected President of the Princes Golf Club, Sandwich.

For the last 25 years of his life he lived in seclusion in the village of Vallabrix, near Uzes in Provence. The residents took quickly to the genial stranger in their midst - a familiar sight as he painted local scenes - and adopted him as their own, as the warm tribute by the Mayor of Vallabrix at his funeral bore witness. His wife Joan died in February.

John Bertram Musgrave-Wood, cartoonist and painter: born Leeds, Yorkshire 22 February 1915; married 1946 Joan Cook (died 1999); died Vallabrix, France 30 August 1999.

Comments