Obituray: Ralph Sallon

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The Independent Culture
RALPH SALLON was, in the words of Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone, speaking at a reception after Sallon had been appointed MBE in 1977, "the doyen of caricaturists today". He was also, by his remarkable longevity, the last link with the great cartoonists of the 19th century: Phil May, Sir John Tenniel, "Spy" (Sir Leslie Ward) and Max Beerbohm were all still alive at his birth, Queen Victoria was on the throne and, had he lived until the New Year, Sallon would have seen out three centuries as well as two world wars and 21 prime ministers.

Born Rachmiel David Zelon in 1899 in the village of Sheps, near Warsaw, in what was then Russian-controlled Poland, he was one of nine children and the eldest son of Isaac Meyer Zelon (or Zielun) - a tailor specialising in military uniforms and women's clothes. Fleeing Tsarist persecution, the family came to England in 1904 and settled amongst the Jewish community in Whitechapel in the East End of London.

When Ralph was about 11 years old, they moved to Hornsey where he attended Crouch End School and (briefly) Hornsey School of Art before working in a canning factory and then as a clerk in Gamages department store. Called up at the age of 18, he joined the Pioneer Corps during the First World War and served in France, remaining in the army until 1921.

In 1922 he moved to Durban, South Africa, where he worked for a relative and whilst there began contributing caricatures to the Natal Mercury in his spare time. Realising he had a talent for capturing a likeness, he decided to return to London and in 1925 enrolled to study fine art at St Martin's School of Art. However, he soon discovered that his real skills lay in caricature and left the same year to join Everybody's Weekly as a staff artist, remaining with the magazine for 20 years.

In 1930 he also became resident caricaturist on The Jewish Chronicle, beginning a relationship with the paper that would span more than six decades. Other freelance work during this period included illustrations for Tatler, Bystander, Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News, the Daily Mail, the Daily Sketch, Reader's Digest, The Observer and the Daily Express.

During the Second World War, he continued working for the press and also produced propaganda caricatures for aerial leaflets etc, and drew for Message (the newspaper of the free Belgian government in London). In 1943 he began contributing regularly to the Daily Herald, where he became a friend of Michael Foot (then a columnist for the paper). Two years later he met his wife, Anna Simon, a Welsh-born teacher of Lithuanian parents, whilst on a Jewish rambling club outing; they were married shortly afterwards and settled in Dollis Hill, north London.

In 1948 he was taken on as staff caricaturist on the Daily Mirror, working with the journalist Bill Connor (Cassandra) and the political cartoonists Zec, Vicky (from 1954), Franklin (from 1959), Keith Waite (from 1969) and later Trog (Wally Fawkes). Admired by his colleagues (Stanley Franklin called him "one of the greatest caricaturists of all time"), he continued to draw for the paper for more than 40 years, eventually retiring in 1991 after being involved in a road accident.

Though he often used photographs, Sallon preferred to work from life and drew in both colour and black-and-white with a pencil, pen and brush. As well as his newspaper contributions, he also worked in advertising for the GPO and others, produced anniversary books of caricatures of auto and motorcycle racing personalities for Shell-Mex/BP and two series of Vanity Fair-style full-colour caricature prints of eminent lawyers (1962) and Lord Chancellors (1989) for Butterworths.

In 1994 an exhibition of his work was held at the Cabinet War Rooms in London to coincide with publication of a collection of his drawings, Sallon's War. His caricatures are held in a number of public collections including the British Film Institute, the Imperial War Museum and the National Art Museum in Antwerp.

A familiar and well-loved figure in Fleet Street, Sallon was honoured with a dinner to mark the 50th anniversary of this membership of the Press Club in 1976, and since 1965 his drawings have decorated the walls of the Wig & Pen Club, of which he was a life member. A member of the British Cartoonists' Association, he was also made the first Master Cartoonist by the Cartoonists' Club of Great Britain in 1995.

An admirer of the work of the Vanity Fair caricaturist "Spy", and the cartoonists Caran d'Ache, Sir David Low and H.M. Bateman, Sallon once said that "a caricature should be an unprejudiced picture - irrespective of any personal, racial, religious or political viewpoints. It should be a fearless representation of that human being which sums up the personality. It should also be factual without being too aggressive - a comment without cruelty or unkindness".

Only five foot three inches tall, and white-haired from his twenties, Sallon was a sprightly man and wore thick spectacles from the age of six, following an attack of measles which left his eyesight badly impaired. Constantly active, he was a keen walker, dancer, cyclist and gardener and sang tenor in the Jewish Male Voice Choir until he was 92.

Ralph David Sallon, caricaturist: born Sheps, Poland 9 December 1899; married 1945 Anna Simon (died 1995; one son, three daughters); died Barnet, Hertfordshire 29 October 1999.