Obituary: Jak

Mark Bryant
Monday 28 July 1997 23:02 BST

Jak of the London Evening Standard and the Mail on Sunday was one of Britain's best-loved daily cartoonists.

He was, like Carl Giles before him, a cartoonist of everyday people - from the streets, the factories, the offices, the services - warts and all. He delighted in sending up all sections of society, from navvies and bimbos to clubmen and royalty. And when they were politically incorrect, so was he.

His views could cause upset. One cartoon, drawn in 1970 during the strikes which led to blackouts in hospitals, nearly resulted in the Evening Standard's closure through industrial action by power workers. Entitled "Homo-electrical- Sapiens Britannicus circa 1970", it depicted a cloth-capped man holding out a permanently open right hand, a hole where his heart should be, eyes green with envy, ears deaf to reason and a solid bone head. Another in 1982 showing a film poster advertising "The Ultimate In Psychopathic Horror - The Irish" caused Ken Livingstone, then leader of the GLC, to withdraw all advertising from the paper.

There were also rumblings of discontent in Fleet Street when it was alleged that Jak deliberately put company names in his cartoons to make sure that the originals were sold. Whether or not this was apocryphal, Jak never had any difficulty selling his drawings, which were keenly sought by politicians, businessmen, television and sports personalities, amongst others, as well as members of the public. They also appear in such public archives as those of the Victoria & Albert Museum and are even rumoured to have been collected by the Royal Family.

Born Raymond Allen Jackson in 1927 in the West End of London, the son of a tailor and an Irish mother, Jak attended Clipstone Road and Lyuph Stanley Central Schools and Willesden School of Art before spending three years in the Army. He joined as a driver and then transferred to the Education Corps where he taught conscripts to paint in the style of artists like Jackson Pollock: "We had a great time, riding over canvases with bicycles."

His first job was retouching pubic hair on photographs for the magazine Health & Efficiency, and he went on to work in an advertising agency and to be a regular contributor to magazines such as Punch, Lilliput and others, before joining the Evening Standard in 1952.

Here he was employed at first as an illustrator on the television page - he once thought it would be fun to illustrate the series The Invisible Man by leaving a square with nothing in it at all (the Editor didn't agree) - then as Political Cartoonist in 1965 (succeeding Vicky), while also drawing for the Daily Express (and later the Daily Mail) on Saturdays.

A particularly good example of his "clubmen" style was the drawing in December 1978 of a group of old buffers smoking cigars, some with monocles and moustaches, others holding glasses of brandy or port - all of them squat, balding and bulbous, and looking extremely dour as they have no newspapers to read. The unthinkable had happened: the Times had ceased publication. On the mantelpiece by the antique clock and on the coffee table in the foreground are signs saying "Sorry, no Times". In the centre of the picture the Secretary of the Club, the only one standing, addresses a man reading the newly published Daily Star, its cover a naked bimbo, with the words "Sir! You're a bounder!"

An admirer of Searle, Oliphant, Steadman and Giles, Jak drew the hands on his figures with three fingers in the style of Disney animators. His office at the Standard was known as "Jak's Cabin", and Jak himself would always wear a butcher's apron while working. He drew in ink on 17 x 211/2 in abraded board with a brush and mapping pen, signing his name in the familiar capitals with "blob" serifs in the bottom right or left corner.

His drawings, which were known to millions through the press, were also avidly collected each Christmas in the score or so annuals he produced since the first, The Nutty World of Jak, was published in 1966. The Queen's Elm pub in Chelsea was once famously decorated throughout with his cartoons and there can hardly be a hostelry in London or the Home Counties that doesn't have at least one original hanging on its wall.

He was founder member of the British Cartoonists' Association in 1965, and was greatly admired by his fellow artists. On hearing of his death, Peter Maddocks, a former colleague at the Evening Standard and himself Vice-President of the British Cartoonists' Association called him a "a true professional. He enjoyed good food, good wine, fast cars and lots of gossip - but above all he enjoyed his work. No matter which cartoonist replaces him there will always be a gap in the pages of the Evening Standard."

He was a judo blackbelt, and maintained that he enjoyed a good fight but never went looking for trouble, holding to Theodore Roosevelt's dictum "Speak softly and carry a big stick". Another personal motto was "Never Explain; Never Complain".

Jak himself once said "You've got to laugh, laughter is the best way out of trouble. I'll laugh all the way right up to the execution chamber."

Mark Bryant

Raymond Allen Jackson, cartoonist: born London 11 March 1927; married Claudie Grenier (one son, two daughters); died London 27 July 1997.

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