Brian Bagnall

Cartoonist and illustrator of Private Eye's 'Dear Bill'

Although Brian Bagnall was nearly 60 before he decided to become a professional cartoonist and illustrator, his stylish, witty and usually captionless drawings quickly established his reputation as a humorous artist. For more than two decades his work appeared in a wide variety of publications - notable amongst these being the illustrations for
Private Eye's "Dear Bill" series lampooning the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis in the late 1980s.



Brian George Mary Bagnall, cartoonist and illustrator: born Manchester 22 April 1921; married 1950 Joanna Macgregor (one son, four daughters); died Shalford, Surrey 11 August 2004.



Although Brian Bagnall was nearly 60 before he decided to become a professional cartoonist and illustrator, his stylish, witty and usually captionless drawings quickly established his reputation as a humorous artist. For more than two decades his work appeared in a wide variety of publications - notable amongst these being the illustrations for Private Eye's "Dear Bill" series lampooning the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis in the late 1980s.

Brian Bagnall was born in Crumpsall, Manchester in 1921, the eldest of five children of Vincent Bagnall, a statistician working for the Fine Cotton Spinners and Doublers Association. His mother was Catherine Delahunty and his paternal uncle George, the first general manager of Rolls-Royce, is credited with inventing the automobile silencer. Coming from a strongly Catholic family (unusually for a boy, one of his Christian names was actually Mary), he studied at Xaverian College, Manchester (1933-38) and began drawing cartoons while at school.

During the Second World War, he served with the Duke of Lancaster's Own Yeomanry (1939-41) and the Royal Artillery (1941-46), achieving the rank of captain. In 1944 he was captured by the Germans near the Belgian border and was a prisoner of war (1944-45) in Oflag VIIB in Eichstätt, near Munich. While a POW, his first illustrations were due to be published in the camp magazine, Touchstone (edited by a fellow prisoner, Elliott Viney, of the printers Hazell, Watson and Viney), but they were destroyed by "friendly" fire when Allied planes bombed the printing works.

Bagnall decided to become an architect and, after being demobilised, he studied at Liverpool University's School of Architecture (1946-52), where he was also art editor of the student magazines Sphinx and Pantosphinx (1947-50) and won the Fulbright Award in 1950. He then worked as a professional architect in London for Hows & Jackman (1952-57) and later as a sales executive for Concrete Limited (1957-80) of which he became a director. During this period he also illustrated a cookery book for Odhams in 1954 and four books on architecture.

When Concrete Limited restructured in 1980, Bagnall decided to pursue a lifetime ambition and became a full-time cartoonist and illustrator. His first cartoon appeared in Private Eye in November 1982 and he also contributed to History Today, Boz, The Spectator, Punch, World Medicine, The Oldie, The Observer and other publications.

In addition, he illustrated a number of books, including Brian Ford's 101 Questions About Science (1983) and Another 101 Questions About Science (1984), Sonia Allison's I Can't Cook (1984), Private Eye's "Dear Bill" series (1985-90) - written by Richard Ingrams and John Wells - and various books on architecture and law for Blackwells and Penguin.

A great admirer of the work of Aubrey Beardsley, Nicolas Bentley and Ronald Searle, Bagnall usually drew in black and white using an Elysée pen on small pieces (A4 or A5) of Caslon paper but occasionally also used wash and watercolour.

As well as solo exhibitions at the Arts Club in London (1983) and Surrey University Arts Gallery (1984, 1986, 1989) his work also appeared in group shows at the Cartoon Gallery, London, and in exhibitions of British artists in Warsaw, Belgrade and elsewhere. In addition, his drawings were featured in Private Eye's 35th anniversary exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 1996.

In 1950 Brian Bagnall married Joanna Macgregor, an occupational therapist, and they had a son and four daughters. For more than 50 years (from 1952 until his death) he was also custodian of Shalford Mill, near Guildford, Surrey - a picturesque 18th-century watermill owned by the National Trust - and lived and worked on the premises. A member of the British Cartoonists' Association, he was also a member of the Arts Club and served as its Chairman from 1976 to 1982.

Of medium height (5ft 6in tall), clean-shaven with brown hair and grey-blue eyes, Brian Bagnall was very much a gentleman of the old school. Softly spoken, and always impeccably dressed, he was much liked and admired by his colleagues, young and old, and was never happier than in the company of friends with a pint of good beer and a cigar in his hand.

A talented poet - as those who received his humorous greetings cards can testify - he was a great lover of Welsh sheepdogs, and took considerable pride in his unusual Sinclair C5 three-wheeler car.

Mark Bryant

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