Stop all these savage cartoons? Fat chance

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Gordon Brown has complained that cartoonists make him look too fat – and the outrageous barbs of cartoonists have undermined more than one parliamentary reputation. Mark Hughes reports

He considers himself to be a political heavyweight, but it appears that Gordon Brown doesn't like being drawn as one. It has emerged this weekend that he has complained to newspaper cartoonists that they draw him on the rather large side – "fat" was the word the PM used.

Mr Brown is known to have brought the subject up with at least two national newspaper artists, including The Independent's Dave Brown, pulling them up on their portrayal of him and insisting: "I'm not that fat." A touch vain? Perhaps.

But, in complaining, he joins a host of image-conscious politicians who fret over the way in which they are parodied in the media.

The most famous victim was John Major, for whom satirists never ceased to find new metaphors for boring. The television puppet show Spitting Image portrayed the then-Prime Minister as a grey-skinned dullard who ate dinner with his wife in silence, while The Guardian's cartoonist Steve Bell notoriously depicted Major as a gormless superhero who wore his underpants on the outside of his trousers. Major is reported to have said: "It is designed to destabilise me, so I ignore it."

The former Home Secretary Kenneth Baker was likewise haunted by his image on Spitting Image: he appeared as a slimy giant slug. At the time, he claimed to be merely nonplussed, but later he described the show as cruel: "It kicked people, and figuratively cut off their arms and legs." David Steel, the former leader of the Liberal Party, blamed his portrayal on the show as a squeaky-voiced midget – literally in the pocket of his Social Democratic Party counterpart David Owen – for the failure of his party's alliance with the SDP. Steel later said he was "rather cruelly portrayed as being a little thing in David Owen's pocket, which was wonderfully inaccurate but very funny. When you came back to the House of Commons on a Monday after the Sunday evening show people would always refer to it." Owen has since said: "I think David was damaged by it."

And William Hague, another former Conservative leader, took issue with the fact that cartoonists would draw him as a tiny child in comparison to his political equivalent, Tony Blair, when in fact they were of similar stature.

Denis Healey, the former Labour chancellor, was one of the first politicians to fall victim to satirical parody, mercilessly taunted by the comedian Mike Yarwood to the point that the catchphrase "Silly Billy" was thought to have been a direct quote from the politician, when in reality he never said it. Mr Healey said yesterday: "Yarwood was absolutely brilliant and I thought his impression of me was very funny. In fact, it was so good that he once did it on a radio show and my daughter thought it was me.

"Things like that never bother me, maybe because most cartoons and things like that have always been quite nice about me."

Healey added: "I'd imagine the people who were portrayed quite harshly, like Mrs Thatcher for example, didn't like it, and understandably so. But people have to remember that it is just a caricature, an impression, and it's not real. John Major was made to appear very dull and boring, but I thought he was a nice chap."

Mr Brown, The Independent's cartoonist, echoes that thought: "It is never a personal attack on the politician or how they look. It is a comment on their politics and what they may be doing wrong professionally. If it is an attack it isan attack on what they stand for, never what they look like."

Nonetheless many politicians take their portrayal in cartoons very seriously – some buy offending cartoons from the artists in an attempt to show that it has not wounded them.

David Blunkett was reported to have a junior press officer phone him and describe how he had been portrayed in that morning's newspapers.

The former Conservative shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe – who is another politician often caricatured somewhat unflatteringly in press cartoons – says she has only ever been offended by one newspaper cartoon and it was one that attacked her policies rather than her looks or personality.

"It was in The Independent," she said yesterday. "I had suggested that we should have secure reception centres for immigrants. The cartoon was of a train driving immigrants into an Auschwitz-style concentration camp. It was the only time that I have ever been offended by anything like that.

"Sometimes you think the cartoons are a bit unfair, but mostly they are very funny, and I have a vast collection of various cartoonists' drawings of me. If Gordon Brown has felt the need to complain, then it is he who is lacking a full sense of proportion."

Stephen Pound, the Labour MP for Ealing North, added his name to the (long) list of politicians who claim to be utterly unaffected by the often unflattering portrayals.

"I've been drawn as a bald, chain-smoking thug but I couldn't care less, to be perfectly honest with you," he said, in riper language.

"To complain is a bit like sailors complaining about the sea. Criticism, as an MP, comes with the job. The public pay me so they can play with me as far as I'm concerned."

He added: "I knew from the day I was born that I was never going to be the Brad Pitt of Hanwell.

"But it can be quite a shock for my daughter to see cartoons of me looking menacing. She's spat her Coco Pops out in shock a few times."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Lead Systems Developer / Software Developer

COMPETITIVE + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Lead Systems Developer / Sof...

Recruitment Genius: Social Media & Engagement Manager - French or German Speaker

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: The world's leading financial services careers...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive - 6 Months Contract

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Digital Marketing Executive...

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Senior Account Manager

40-45K DOE + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Manager / Senior Account Manag...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future