Roy Ullyett

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The Independent Online

Royden Herbert Frederick Ullyett, cartoonist and caricaturist: born London 16 March 1914; OBE 1989; married 1945 Margaret Wright (died 2001; one daughter); died Southend, Essex 20 October 2001.

Roy Ullyett was the greatest sports cartoonist of his generation and one of the longest-serving British newspaper artists of any kind, with a professional career stretching almost 70 years. For nearly half a century his lively drawings brightened the back pages of the Daily Express and he was the last surviving member of the cartoonists that the paper's legendary editor Sir Arthur Christiansen called his "Four Musketeers" – the others being Sir Osbert Lancaster, Michael Cummings and Carl Giles.

He was born in Leytonstone, on the Essex border of east London, in 1914, the third son of Henry Ullyett, Secretary-Manager of Slazenger, the sports-equipment manufacturers, and Hilda Glover. His maternal great-grandfather was the Essex landscape painter John Glover, President of the Watercolour Society, while his paternal grandfather was a composer and conductor of choral music.

The family moved to Westcliff-on-Sea near Southend when Roy was quite young and he and his brothers went to Earls Colne Grammar School, in Halstead, Essex. When he was 13 his first published cartoon – satirising the Government's cuts to the regular Army – appeared in the school magazine, The Colonian. While still at school he also won a prize for a national advertising competition organised by British Fisheries.

In 1930 he left school to work briefly in the art department of a commercial printing company and then became a freelance cartoonist, selling his first drawing to the Southend Times in 1932. Regular commissions followed and he began to draw for Wireless Weekly, one of whose writers was his cousin Kenneth Ullyett. A friend of Roy's father then recommended him to the theatre magazine The Era, for which he drew caricatures of theatre and music-hall stars such as Will Hay, Max Miller, George Robey and the Crazy Gang.

In 1934 Roy Ullyett joined the London evening paper the Star as sports cartoonist (a rival applicant for the job having been Barry Appleby, who would later create "The Gambols" and became a close colleague on the Express). At the age of 20 Ullyett was earning nine guineas a week (more than double the national average wage) and drawing all the sports celebrities of his day – Fred Perry, Henry Cotton, Joe Davis, Len Hutton and Stanley Matthews.

As well as his work for the Star, where he shared an office with the cartoonist Leslie Grimes (creator of "All My Own Work") and the caricaturist Fred Joss, he also drew for the Sunday Pictorial, notably two weekly strips – "Humphrey" (about an ineffectual sportsman) and "Bob Standing" (about a know-all fan) – and a topical sports cartoon.

In 1938 he became one of the earliest broadcasters, appearing at Alexandra Palace on a live programme about his work. When the Second World War broke out he was at first declared exempt from military service and briefly drew a new topical strip for the Star called "Smith Carries On", but after the Blitz he received his call-up papers and joined the Queen's Royal Regiment, attaining the rank of Lieutenant.

A year later he transferred to the RAF Volunteer Reserve and was sent to the United States for pilot training. There he contributed guest sports cartoons to the Chicago Herald but in 1944 he returned to Britain, being, to his chagrin, posted to Scotland, where he flew uneventful patrols without seeing any action. The same year he was transferred to Harrogate, where he met his future wife, Margaret Wright, a fashion buyer from Bradford. They were married in 1945.

Soon after VE Day Ullyett was demobbed and returned to the Star. At the suggestion of the Sunday Pictorial's editor, Hugh Cudlipp, he began contributing a cartoon feature, "Sunday Newsreel" (a light-hearted look at the news), using the pseudonym "Berryman". After considering an offer from Cudlipp to draw for both the Mirror and the Sunday Pictorial (by then rechristened the Sunday Mirror), Ullyett joined the Daily Express in 1953 at an annual salary of £5,000 (more than double what he had been earning at the Star) plus a car. Over the next four decades, until he retired in 1997, he drew all the major sports celebrities as well as numerous show-business and entertainment personalities.

A self-taught artist, Ullyett was influenced at first by the work of Phil May. His early sports drawings owed much to the multi-subject, running-commentary panel style popularised by the Daily Mail's sports cartoonist Tom Webster, but he developed a distinctive style in which the power of simplicity was the key. He once said,

If there is a secret to cartooning it is to be simplistic. The cardinal sin for any cartoonist is to confuse the reader. Above all, be observant.

He worked at speed, sketching his cartoons first in pencil and completing them in pen or brush and indian ink, and often included a sparrow in his drawings to comment on the main action. Though he was a master of caricature, his cartoons were never unkind. His friend Norman Giller, former chief football writer on the Express, described him as "an amiable assassin, who pokes gentle fun at his 'victims' without ever crossing the fine line between humour and humiliation". He also painted in watercolours and oils.

Ullyett produced 19 annuals of his work between 1956 and 1974 as well as a collection of snooker jokes, Cue for a Laugh (1984) and (with Norman Giller) an autobiography, While There's Still Lead in My Pencil (1998). He also illustrated other titles such as Henry Cotton's instruction book on golf, Henry Cotton Says . . . (1962). In 1989 he was appointed OBE for his services to journalism and for his charity fund-raising – sales of his cartoons raised more than £1m for the Leukaemia Fund and other charities.

A man of charm and a ready wit, Roy Ullyett was a familar sight in the old Fleet Street haunts of El Vino, the Mucky Duck and the Cheshire Cheese. Over 6ft 2in tall, with a slightly hooked nose, he sported a huge ginger moustache (reputedly the largest in England in the 1940s) and an S-shaped Sherlock Holmes pipe (he had taken up pipe-smoking soon after leaving school). His military bearing, immaculate suits and slight eccentricity gave him an aristocratic air. When he was travelling in the US in the 1960s with the flamboyant sportswriter Desmond Hackett, Hackett would introduce them as "Lord Ullyett and his secretary, travelling incognito".

A keen tennis player, Ullyett was also a near professional-level golfer but, despite his coming from a musical family, the only instrument he could master was the ukelele.

Mark Bryant

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