Harry Hargreaves

Animal cartoonist and creator of 'The Bird'
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The Independent Online

Although he also worked as an illustrator, animator, advertising artist, toy designer and writer, Harry Hargreaves will probably be best remembered as one of the most successful animal cartoonists of his day - in particular for his creation of the widely syndicated "The Bird" and "Hayseeds" features - and as a regular contributor to Punch for 17 years.

Harry Hargreaves, cartoonist and illustrator: born Manchester 9 February 1922; married 1948 Penny Vickery (two daughters); died Yeovil, Somerset 12 November 2004.

Although he also worked as an illustrator, animator, advertising artist, toy designer and writer, Harry Hargreaves will probably be best remembered as one of the most successful animal cartoonists of his day - in particular for his creation of the widely syndicated "The Bird" and "Hayseeds" features - and as a regular contributor to Punch for 17 years.

Harry Hargreaves was born in Manchester in 1922, the elder of two sons of Harry Hargreaves, a civil servant in the Ministry of Labour, and Eugenie "Ginny" Ince. Educated at Chorlton High School, Manchester, he was a also a choirboy at Manchester Cathedral (1930-33) and began contributing cartoons to the school magazine, The Arrow, in 1934 at the age of 12.

His first cartoon for the Manchester Evening News was published on 10 November 1936, when he was 14. After his parents split up, when Harry was aged 16, he left school and got a job working for Lorne & Howarth, a local interior design company, studying furniture design, architecture and mechanical drawing at Manchester School of Art in his spare time (1938). He was then employed as a trainee engineer, working for companies such as Rolls-Royce, Ford and Kestrel Engines (1938-39). Meanwhile, he continued to submit cartoons to magazines and by the time he was 17 was producing regular weekly comic strips for The Beano and The Dandy.

During the Second World War he served in RAFVR Signals in the UK (1940-41) and Far East (Persia, Ceylon and India, 1941-45), contributing to Blighty (1940) and various air force magazines and designing official Christmas cards for RAF Ceylon Postal Services (1942, 1943). After the war, he joined J. Arthur Rank's newly founded Gaumont British Animation studio in Cookham, near Maidenhead, Berkshire, as a cartoon animator (1946-50), where he met the script- writer and cartoonist Roy Davis who became a lifelong friend.

While at G.B. Animation, Hargreaves also met his future wife, Penny Vickery, who was working for the company as an inker and painter, and they were married in 1948. When the Gaumont Cartoon Unit disbanded in 1950 he turned freelance for three years, creating and developing strips (e.g. "Harold Hare") for Amalgamated Press comics such as Sun, Comet and Knockout and drawing for advertising.

In 1953 he joined the Toonder Film Studios in Amsterdam as a Master Cartoonist and while living in Holland produced a cartoon strip, "Little Panda", which was syndicated to 150 daily newspapers across Europe, including the London Evening News. Returning to the UK in 1954 he continued drawing "Little Panda" for eight years (until 1961) while freelancing for many national newspapers and publications such as Illustrated, Lilliput, Men Only, Punch, Tatler, Christian Science Monitor, Countryman, Air Safety, TV Comic, Animals Magazine and Stern. He was the first ever cartoonist to be published by The Cricketer and was also one of the few British artists to have drawn a cover for Life magazine (1967).

In 1961 Hargreaves was invited by Television Wales & the West (TWW) to create an animated character for a new pop-record programme to be called Discs-a-Gogo and presented by Kent Walton. The result was a fox called Gogo (and Bunny Girl), whose adventures made the programme such a success that it was syndicated throughout Europe for four years (1961-65).

Perhaps Hargreaves' most celebrated creation was "The Bird", a mischievous, scruffy, nondescript small bird variously claimed to be a British sparrow, Australian wren, American robin, etc, but Hargreaves himself was deliberately vague about its true species. It first appeared in Punch on 29 October 1958 and was later published worldwide, even featuring in colour (as "Early Bird", 1985-87) on TV-am. A number of books of the cartoons about the character appeared, including The Bird (1961), It's a Bird's Life (1965), Strictly for the Bird (1967) and Birds of a Feather (1969).

Another big success was his daily strip, "Hayseeds", containing British wildlife characters such as Toby the Badger and Ernie the Owl, which ran in the Evening News from 1968 until shortly before the paper closed down in October 1980, was syndicated internationally and gave rise to two books, Hayseeds (1971) and Hayseeds 2 (1972).

Other books by Hargreaves included three collections of cricket cartoons - How's That! (1959), Not Out! (1960) and Googlies (1971) - plus Canny Curlew (1988) and (with Ross Mallock) Botanic Verses (1993). He illustrated a number of works by other authors, notably a 1983 edition of Kenneth Grahame's classic The Wind in the Willows, and drew Michael Bond's Paddington Bear for BBC TV's Blue Peter annuals from 1969 to 1980. He also drew widely for advertising clients such as Rowntrees, Dunlop, Barclays Bank, Kelloggs, Guinness, Saxa Salt, the Coal Board, Walls and Post Office Telegrams, produced greetings cards for Sharpes (1987-88), and was involved in mechanical and soft-toy design.

Influenced by Disney, Rackham, Shepherd and Illingworth, he worked in pencil, pen and indian ink - as well as in watercolour and acrylic - on various kinds of board and watercolour/cartridge paper. His cartoons, often multiframe, were usually captionless and, in the words of William Hewison (art editor of Punch, 1960-84), he had an "outstanding skill at drawing movement . . . not merely technique, but a real knowledge of how animals move, fall, skid, collide, etc". And as another Punch colleague, Alexander Frater, wrote in 1966, "He is one of the few artists extant who can make a garden sparrow look thoroughly, rottenly drunk."

A long-standing member of the British Cartoonists' Association, he was elected MSIAD (member of the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers), and for his extensive illustration work on their publications was made an Honorary Member of the Army Air Corps Association and an Honorary Life Fellow of the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust.

Drawings by Hargreaves were included in the National Portrait Gallery exhibition "Drawn and Quartered: the world of the British newspaper cartoon, 1720-1970" and the London Press Club's show of royal cartoons, "Not by Appointment" held in 1977 to mark the Queen's Silver Jubilee and opened by the Prince of Wales. In addition, examples of his work are held in the collections of the Musée des Hommes, Montreal, and the Centre for the Study of Cartoons and Caricature at Kent University. Private owners include members of the royal family.

Six feet three inches tall and athletically built, Harry Hargreaves was clean-shaven, with dark blond hair and blue eyes. He usually smoked a pipe and was most comfortable wearing large thick pullovers and open-necked shirts. Modest and quietly spoken, he was a warm-hearted man who always saw the best in everyone.

A keen cricketer and a great lover of the English countryside, he took a keen interest in birdwatching, archaeology and anthropology, and was particularly concerned for the endangered habitat of wild gorillas. He was also very fond of dogs, especially Clumber spaniels and St Bernards, and was especially close to his final canine companion, James, a white West Highland terrier.

Mark Bryant



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