Keith Waite: Social and political cartoonist whose 50-year career took in newspapers including the ‘Daily Mirror’ and ‘The Times’

Keith Waite was one of the most successful social and political cartoonists of his day, with a career spanning nearly 50 years. He worked for the Daily Sketch, The Sun, Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror. He also drew joke cartoons for Punch and other publications, was business cartoonist on The Times for 10 years and illustrated books.

Keith Waite was born in New Plymouth, on the North Island of New Zealand, in 1927, the eldest of three sons of Albert Waite, the owner of a small coal mine, and Norah Henderson. He won a local newspaper cartoon competition aged nine, and three years later went to Sacred Heart College, a Roman Catholic boarding school on the South Island. His mother wished him to become a teacher, so he then attended Auckland’s Teacher Training College, while also studying art in the evenings at the Elam School of Fine Arts. He began contributing cartoons to the Taranaki Daily News, Auckland Weekly News and New Zealand Herald in 1949 before moving to the Otago Daily Times (1949-51) in Dunedin as a staff cartoonist.

Having married his first wife, Dallas (they later had four children), he sailed for London, arriving in 1951 to work for the Kemsley Newspapers group. One of his first jobs was to go to Sandringham in Norfolk to draw pictures of King George VI’s hearse leaving for London. His first cartoon for the company was published in the Sunday Times in April 1952. He was then transferred to Scotland to work on Kemsley’s Glasgow Daily Record and Scottish Daily News while also contributing to Punch (1952-60), Men Only and other magazines. In 1954 he moved to London to become editorial/political cartoonist on the Daily Sketch (1954-64); by 1962 he was drawing three cartoons a day for the paper.

Then came a period at the pre-Murdoch Sun (1964–69), followed by the Daily Mirror (1969–85) and Sunday Mirror (1970–80). He married his second wife, Zelma, an illustrator and wood engraver, in 1977 (she died in 1978).

Having left the Daily Mirror in 1985 after it was bought by Robert Maxwell, he took a two-year break, exploring Britain’s waterways with his third wife, Renee, office manager of a tree nursery. They had married in 1983 on his last boat, Lutra II, a 35-foot ketch, at Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. In 1987 he became single-column pocket cartoonist on the City Diary of The Times until he retired in 1997.

An admirer Sir David Low and Carl Giles, Waite would draw rough ideas on tracing paper then transfer the image chosen by the editor on to Bristol board, finishing it in ink. He usually signed his Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror drawings with a capital W. He said that “a cartoonist must be an entertainer... If people are not going to find your work at least mildly entertaining, they are not going to follow you.”

As well as two collections of his own work, Waite Up to Date: Cartoons from the Otago Daily Times (1951) and The Worlds of Waite: Cartoons from the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror (1981), he illustrated a number of books, including the children’s story The Adventures of Little Mookra (1977) by John Emlyn Edwards, Fiona Grafton’s Cooking Afloat on Sail and Power Boats (1979), Geoffrey Goodman’s Charter for Jobs ’87 (1987) and Sailing Past (1992) by his wife, Renee M Waite.

Some of his drawings were included in the major exhibition Drawn and Quartered: The World of the British Newspaper Cartoon, 1720-1970, at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 1970, opened by Princess Margaret. He also contributed to an exhibition of royal cartoons, Not By Appointment, opened by Prince Charles at the London Press Club in 1977. Examples of his work are held at the British Cartoon Archive at Kent University, the Imperial War Museum, the New Zealand Cartoon Archive Trust, the Alexander Turnbull Library (Wellington, New Zealand) and elsewhere.

Waite’s drawings were published widely, not only in New Zealand and the UK, but also in Japan, Israel and the Soviet Union, and he won a number of international awards. He was voted Cartoonist of the Year by the Cartoonists’ Club of Great Britain in 1963 and was one of the founder members of the British Cartoonists’ Association in 1966, and its first treasurer.

Well-liked and respected by his colleagues in Fleet Street, he spoke with a soft New Zealand accent and in later life wore spectacles when working. A talented amateur painter in various media, he also produced hand-printed woodcuts. As well as being fond of cars and motor-racing, he was a keen sailor, and various depictions of his Santander class yawl, Rumtub, occasionally appeared in the drawings of his friend and fellow cartoonist Carl Giles (who also lived near Ipswich). Indeed, he was so fond of the water that he left instructions that his ashes should be scattered on the River Orwell near his home at Pin Mill in Suffolk – but only if it was an ebb tide, “because I do not want to spend eternity in Ipswich”.

Keith Waite, cartoonist: born New Plymouth, New Zealand 19 March 1927; married firstly Dallas O’Donnell (two sons, one daughter, and one son deceased), 1977 Zelma Mackenzie, 1983 Renee Parrott (two stepdaughters); died Ipswich 10 April 2014.

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