PASSED/FAILED: Michael Heath

Interview: Michael Heath
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The Independent Online
Michael Heath draws the Partners strip in `The Independent'. Possibly Britain's most prolific cartoonist, he is Cartoon Editor of `The Spectator' and appears regularly in `The Mail on Sunday', `The Sunday Times' and `Private Eye' (`Great Bores of Today'). He is an occasional `News Quiz' panellist. `Heath's Nineties' is his latest collection of cartoons and, possibly, a forthcoming animated film.

Big Bang Theory? I was four and a half when war broke out and I was sent with my mother to live with my grandmother in Torcross, Devon. The village school didn't do lessons but we were sat down in a room and an old guy - all the young ones were away being shot at - gave us the comic sections of US newspapers. Then they bombed the poor old village so that was it; we were sent back to London.

A Blasted Heath? Now we are six. I'm sent to the school at the top of Hampstead Hill with a playground on the roof. We sat down and the sirens went. We were all supposed to go down to the basement, but when bombs are going off you think your house is flattened and your mother and father are killed ... I ran home through the shrapnel and incendiaries. Then we were sent back to Devon.

How Do You Spell Dyslexic? I go to other schools, equally odd. No one attempts to teach me anything. We are sent to the gym, the lights are put out and we see free films sent by the Ministry of Information, the Navy and Army: Gonorrhoea - Just Say No! During a film about the removal of a kneecap, I pass out. I am given American comic sections again; I ended up drawing, perhaps because I thought that drawing was writing.

11-Plus - or Minus? They sent me into an exam room but I couldn't do anything. By 12, keen to be able to read and write, I managed to get hold of the Collected Short Stories of H G Wells, which I pretended to read; my two-year-old does that now, making blah-blah sounds. My real education was courtesy of Lord Reith; on "Children's Hour" I picked up on all sorts of intelligent stuff: music, plays, Uncle Mac, Toytown and Norman & Henry Bones, Boy Detectives.

School of Hard Knocks? The war's over and my parents move to Brighton. Then school starts in earnest. I'm sent to a church school just off the sea front called St ... Something's. If you didn't learn, they hit you with straps, rulers, anything they could lay their hands on. At 14 I was sent to a secondary modern with 800 boys, where I was taught pretty seriously by men who hit you with a leather thong, apart from one of them, with a steel plate in his head, who threw chairs. I was always in the B or C streams. We did appalling things to the kind ones who didn't hit us, made them cry.

Back to the Drawing-Board? I must have failed School Certificate. I was thrown out of school. My father was George Heath, an illustrator of children's comics, and my mother did illustrations for Picturegoer and Woman's Own. I had a feeling I could do that. I must have been 17 when I was sent to Brighton College of Art. I was there for 18 months, then left because I was freelancing as a cartoonist. I have since discovered that an editor's hysterical laughter at a cartoon is caused more by the ludicrous spelling of the caption than by the joke itself. I sold my first drawing in 1954, a picture of the Thelonius Monk Trio, to Melody Maker for four guineas.

Top of the Class? I was What the Papers Say Cartoonist of the Year. They said, "Thank you, Giles," and I sat down ...