Obituary: Michael Cummings

Arthur Stuart Michael Cummings, cartoonist: born Leeds 1 June 1919; OBE 1983; married (one step-son); died London 9 October 1997.

"The pen is mightier than the sword", a cliche old but true, was dusted off by the late columnist Jean Rook when she did an anniversary interview with her fellow Daily Express staffer, Michael Cummings. This was some years ago when Cummings was already on the way to establishing a record for a cartoonist's spell with a single newspaper. By the time he officially retired from Express Newspapers in 1990 he had worked there for over 40 years, and after several more years of freelancing for both the Daily and the Sunday Express, it was not far short of the half-century.

Michael Cummings was born in Leeds in 1919, in the aftermath of the Great War. His father was A.J. Cummings, a political columnist of the period who would achieve Fleet Street fame as the political editor of the old News Chronicle. Clearly the seriousness of the father was a major influence on the growing boy, who chanced to have an obvious instinct toward drawing.

The young Michael had a good education, starting with The Hall in Hampstead and moving on to Gresham's School in Norfolk. Then he went on to art school, studying at the Chelsea School of Art for three years before he was called up into the Royal Air Force. Able to make use of his artistic ability, the RAF made him a Draftsman and he was posted to the Air Ministry. Here he drew aeroplane parts for the duration, and on discharge promptly resumed his arts studies at Chelsea.

Cummings had been aiming at a career in political cartooning since his school days, and freelanced the odd sketches here and there. His first success came with the left-wing weekly Tribune in 1939, a paper that reflected his own political leanings. He returned to the Tribune after the war where the editor, Michael Foot, gave him steady work as an illustrator for the book review page. Now and then a political picture would get published, and it became increasingly obvious where Cummings's future lay.

In 1948 his father encouraged him to try for a cartooning job on the Daily Express, where he had heard there was a whisper that Giles, the country's leading cartoonist, was seeking some relief from the day-after- day drive of turning out the newspaper's regular editorial cartoon. Lord Beaverbrook, the paper's proprietor and a lifelong enthusiast for cartoons and cartoonists, spotted the young artist's potential and could see that Cummings' style, more serious and more life-like than that of Giles, would make an interesting contrast if the two cartoonists were alternated.

Unhappily for Cummings, his editor did not at first agree, and sacked the young man after a three month's trial. However, Beaverbrook intervened and insisted that the newcomer was given another chance. He was, and this time won through.

Cummings and Giles now drew three editorial cartoons a week each, with Cummings getting the extra one in the Sunday Express. The alternation of Giles' comical cartoon family up to their "Casey Court" capers in very realistic settings, with Cummings' hard-edged caricature of political personalities and parties in highly imaginative set-ups, worked brilliantly, and everyone was satisfied from editor and proprietor down to the reader in the bus.

Despite Cummings' caricatures of everyone from the Queen on down, he was appointed OBE in 1983, and by 1989 had published 5,000 cartoons. Many of these were republished in annual albums which ran from 1954. The first was entitled These Uproarious Years.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • 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 General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
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