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
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Urgent Requirement - Central Manchester

£20000 - £23000 per annum + 20 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Guru Careers: Social Media Executive / SEO Executive

£20 - 25K + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Social Media...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions