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
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

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A full-service agency based in ...

Recruitment Genius: Subscriptions and Marketing Assistant

£12500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A subscriptions and marketing a...

Recruitment Genius: Advertising / Media Sales Executive

£15000 - £22200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious candidate is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Sub-editor - Editorial - Publishing

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A sub-editor is required to joi...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy