Comic postcard legend lies in unmarked grave

The man hailed by George Orwell as the nation's true folk artist, and whose work symbolises the kiss-me-quick seafronts where his cards were sold, lies under an unkempt piece of grass in Streatham Park cemetery in plot no 30508. Only a small piece of numbered wood marks the spot.

Yesterday, McGill fans and leading commentators queued up to condemn the neglect of arguably the most popular artist of the past 100 years. The film director Michael Winner, who has 200 of McGill's original works, said: "It's terrible. Terrible. He was the Thomas Rowlandson of his day. It's beyond belief that he died and then went into an unmarked grave." Winner even offered to pay for a headstone himself: "I would certainly pay to have that nicely done and put in properly. I will do that as a mark of respect."

Professor Robin Procter, McGill's grandson, said: "I am surprised and saddened that he is buried in an unmarked grave. My family was abroad in South Africa at the time. He was a fantastic chap."

Dr Nick Hiley, head of cartoon studies at the University of Kent, said: "I am surprised and puzzled McGill is buried in an unmarked grave. He deserves a memorial."

In life, Donald McGill was a bookish but twinkle-eyed man who lived all his life in the London suburbs of Blackheath and Streatham, and who resembled, in his quiet, dapper way, nothing so much as a small-town solicitor. He was not wealthy, was paid only a fee for each postcard, received no royalty for their stupendous sales, and, in his will, left only £735.

But between 1904 and his death in 1962, he dreamt up and drew an estimated 10,000 original cards, which became, as Orwell put it, a potent form of folk art. They sold in their scores of millions, not least because they evoked a music-hall world inhabited by McGill's own repertory company of comic stereotypes: henpecked husbands, jolly fat ladies, red-nosed boozers, thin-lipped clergymen, blousy barmaids, desperate spinsters, lascivious milkmen and tight-fisted Scots.

But in July 1954, McGill, then nearly 80, was hauled before Lincoln Quarter Sessions to face charges under the Obscene Publications Act. The offending items included: flighty girl to bookmaker at racecourse: "I want to back the favourite, please. My sweetheart gave me a pound to do it both ways"; and a cheery seaside chappy holding an outsize stick of seaside rock on his knees with the caption "A stick of rock, cock?". Advised to plead guilty, McGill did so on six counts, and was fined £50 with costs. Thus did the English law, not a lifetime ago, deem that six seaside postcards of undisguised jolliness would deprave and corrupt the population so much that they warranted burning.

Michael Winner said: "The charge of obscenity against him was beyond comprehension, even for the 1950s.There's no hint of obscenity in any of his stuff."

'Censored at the Seaside - The Postcards of Donald McGill' is on BBC4 on 22 October at 9.10pm

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • 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

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

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
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions