Miles Kington: Our cartoonists' days in the shadows are over

If ffolkes or Trog were starting out as cartoonists now, they would probably use their real names, as the quaint custom of using pseudonyms has died out
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The Independent Online

The other day, I was expressing my view that the late Sir Edward Heath was a joyless, self-centred shell of a man. It took me seven or eight hundred words to try to illustrate this. Since then, I have seen the same feelings expressed in a single moment. This was at the opening night party of the new Cartoon Museum at 35 Little Russell Street, where among other treasures on display there was a full-colour portrait of Heath by Trog (presumably for a Punch cover).

The picture shows a great beaming face of Heath. You can almost feel his shoulders shaking, with that fake mirth-quake he used to put on to indicate laughter. But the face is not a real face. It is a face on a stick, a mask. And this jolly mask on the stick is being held by the real Edward Heath, standing behind in its shadows, and the face of the real Heath is dark and scowling and utterly, utterly, joyless. In one drawing, Trog has brilliantly captured the image that Heath wanted to show the world and the reality behind it.

In fact, I was standing in front of this little gem at the opening night when I heard a cartoonist behind me (wish I could remember who) saying: "There was a time when I often had to draw Edward Heath, and when we finally met, Heath said to me: 'You always draw me as if I were a beached white whale!' and I said to him: 'Yes'. What else was there to say?"

We think that Rory Bremner studies people's little ways, but it is caricaturists I would trust to put their finger on people's essences. The great artist ffolkes knew more about this than almost anyone, because he drew the picture each week for the Punch film review, and could capture a star like a genius. I used to own a drawing by him of Jacques Tati, and you could actually see the way Tati walked in the drawing ...

Ffolkes told me once that he had been in a bar when a man wearing a hat and sunglasses and a scarf came in and ordered a drink, and sat down thinking that, as his face was nearly covered, nobody could possibly know who he was.

"But" (ffolkes speaking) "I said to him: 'You're Peter O'Toole, aren't you?' And he cursed and said: "I don't bloody believe it! I put on all the incognito I can think of to go out and have a drink unrecognised and you spot me immediately! How on earth did you know it was me?' And I said: 'Look - I have been trying to get your chin right for the last 10 years - I would recognise it anywhere by now'. And he laughed and bought me a drink and we had a great evening together after that ..."

If ffolkes or Trog were starting out as cartoonists now, they would probably use their real names, because that quaint custom of signing your drawings with a blunt pseudonym like Sprod or Larry has died out now.

Trog is Wally Fawkes in real life, and he was there last week at the opening, now 80 and not seeing well enough to keep drawing but playing well enough to still be one of the world's finest jazz clarinettists. I was at his elbow when he was approached by Chris Beetles, London's top dealer in drawings.

"Well, Wally," he said, "when are you going to change your mind and let me have some of your drawings?"

Wally ruminated, then said: "Well, Canterbury recently approached me and I've let them have a few."

A slight shadow passed over the Beetles features for a moment. I am not surprised. Down in Canterbury, the University of Kent has a flourishing cartoon study centre and archive. They must be greedy for originals. Chris Beetles is hungry for originals also. And so now is the Cartoon Museum. That's good. The more greed, the better, because the more chance there is of us getting to see some of this great stuff knocking around...

To put it in context, this year the National Portrait Gallery is celebrating its first 150 years in existence. This week, the Cartoon Museum is celebrating its first seven days. Give it a try. You won't regret it.