My greatest mistake

Matt Pritchett, The Daily Telegraph pocket cartoonist, Matt
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The Independent Online

I hadn't been at The Daily Telegraph for very long when I made one of my biggest mistakes. It was one Christmas in the early 1990s and there was a big ambulance strike on - there were none to be had anywhere. So I did a joke about it: I drew the Virgin Mary, on a donkey, saying to Joseph: "Couldn't you get me an ambulance?"

We were deluged with letters of complaint. An awful lot came to me, but I think I was slightly shielded from the more crazy ones - most of those went to the editor. I later found out that there had been 127 letters in total. Somebody in the letters department counted them and told me.

I now know that the two things you can't make fun of are religion and flooding. Religion for obvious reasons, and flooding because people's carpets get ruined and they think this is not something to joke about. So I have learnt to be much more careful. But, although it was probably an error of judgement, I still like the cartoon.

In terms of sheer bad timing, nothing beats the joke I did on the front page of the paper three years ago. For several days there had been lots of stories about Concorde being old and falling apart - tips of the wings falling off, and cracks in the wings. So I did a joke about Concorde being a bit decrepit and it went on the front page on 25 July. Concorde crashed at 2pm that day. I think people realised that it was just a very unlucky coincidence, as I didn't get any complaints. For a while afterwards everyone in the office was very keen to know if I was doing any jokes about train travel.

But I take total responsibility for one mistake. In a cartoon about the Navy, I drew a naval officer with a moustache. As every Telegraph reader knows, RAF officers can have moustaches, but in the Navy it's a beard or nothing. It would be hard to think of a cartoon more likely to infuriate our readers.

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