Echoes and Memories: Foreword to “Churchill in Punch” by Gary Stiles

Echoes and Memories: Foreword to “Churchill in Punch” by Gary Stiles

Churchill in Punch, by Gary L. Stiles (Lon­don: Uni­corn), 520 pp., $75 or £37.35 from Ama­zon USA or Ama­zon UK. In stock in Britain now; due in Octo­ber in USA; order now to avoid a like­ly ear­ly sell-out and reprint delays. 

PunchGary Stiles has pro­duced an ency­clo­pe­dic review of Sir Win­ston Churchill’s long career through the pages of Punch and its tal­ent­ed car­toon­ists. Every aspect of the long sto­ry is cov­ered, and no Punch car­toon or image of Churchill is missed.

Full dis­clo­sure: I assist­ed Dr. Stiles in vet­ting the man­u­script. The fol­low­ing is excerpt­ed from my Fore­word (omit­ting ref­er­ences to car­toons found only in the book, with links to car­toons on this web­site or that of the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project.)

The institution that was Punch

When the jour­nal­ist Hen­ry May­hew and the wood-engraver Ebenez­er Lan­dells found­ed Punch (The Lon­don Chari­vari) in 1841, they cre­at­ed a long-lived fea­ture of British life. A mag­a­zine of humour and satire, Punch was soon a “must-read” in polit­i­cal Lon­don. It appealed to visu­al as well as lit­er­ary sens­es. Accord­ing to Wikipedia, “it helped to coin the term ‘car­toon’ in its mod­ern sense as a humor­ous illustration.”

Punch reached its apogee a cen­tu­ry lat­er, when its cir­cu­la­tion soared to near­ly 200,000. Read­er­ship declined when it became rather staid in the late For­ties, and live­li­er peri­od­i­cals mul­ti­plied. The edi­tor­ship of Mal­colm Mug­geridge (1953-57) livened it up, but only for awhile. Punch ceased pub­li­ca­tion in 1992. It was revived in 1996, then closed for good in 2002.

Punch discovers Winston

Young Win­ston Churchill burst upon the UK scene in 1899, with his epic escape from a prison camp dur­ing the Sec­ond Anglo-Boer War. He rode his fame into Par­lia­ment, where his polit­i­cal impact cap­tured the atten­tion of Punch car­toon­ists. The young mav­er­ick was soon buck­ing his own Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty on var­i­ous issues. When he “crossed the floor” to the Lib­er­als in 1904, his noto­ri­ety was secure. Punch artists, though, did not have per­son­al con­trol over how he was por­trayed. “The sub­jects were decid­ed by com­mit­tee,” wrote Tim Ben­son of the Polit­i­cal Car­toon Soci­ety, “and not by the car­toon­ists themselves.”

Ear­ly on, Punch car­toons were detailed pen-and-ink draw­ings, typ­i­fied by those of chief car­toon­ist Bernard Par­tridge. They ably cap­tured the new MP’s polit­i­cal skills and unbri­dled ambi­tion. When a gen­er­al elec­tion loomed, Par­tridge had Churchill offer­ing his ser­vices as noth­ing less than prime min­is­ter (“Ready to Oblige,” Jan­u­ary 1905)—even though he and his men­tor, David Lloyd George, were rel­a­tive­ly junior Liberals.

After the sweep­ing Lib­er­al vic­to­ry of 1906, young Winston’s stock rose rapid­ly. When he was appoint­ed to the Privy Coun­cil, Punch artist Edward Ten­nyson Reed pic­tured him strid­ing for­ward, eyes still on the pre­mier­ship. At the same time, the Amer­i­can nov­el­ist Win­ston Churchill was also dab­bling in pol­i­tics. “I mean to be Prime Min­is­ter of Eng­land,” Eng­lish Win­ston wrote him. “It would be a great lark if you were Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States at the same time.”

The young MP everybody seemed to know

Punch’s ver­sa­tile artists were able to see the ironies and amuse­ments of the “young man in a hur­ry.” By 1906 Churchill was Under­sec­re­tary for the Colonies, a non-cab­i­net posi­tion ordi­nar­i­ly of lit­tle import. But his supe­ri­or, Lord Elgin, sat in the House of Lords, so Churchill at 32 became chief spokesman on colo­nial mat­ters. Par­tridge clev­er­ly por­trayed their rela­tion­ship in “An Elgin Mar­ble” (April 1906).

In those ear­ly years politi­cians were por­trayed less in car­i­ca­ture than in their actu­al appear­ance. Churchill came across as force­ful and brash, wear­ing a sar­don­ic grin and a shock of thin­ning hair. Drawn full length, his slim fig­ure often assumed a stooped pos­ture. Occa­sion­al­ly he was shown in fan­cy dress, refer­ring to some posi­tion he took on the issues. But he was always recognizable—one of the few in Par­lia­ment known gen­er­al­ly by his first name.

First World War

“I’m the sweet lit­tle Cherub that sits up aloft, To keep watch o’er the life of poor Jack.” Bernard Par­tridge, 1912 (from “Churchill in Punch”)

Phil May (1864-1903) is cred­it­ed with mov­ing the polit­i­cal car­toon from strait­laced Vic­to­ri­an draw­ings to humor­ous car­i­ca­tures. These began crop­ping up in Punch around 1911, when Churchill became First Lord of the Admi­ral­ty. Approach­ing mid­dle age he was bald­ing and gain­ing a few pounds. Par­tridge brings out these fea­tures in the exag­ger­at­ed, chub­by cherub on his won­der­ful “Admi­ral­ty Christ­mas Card” (Decem­ber 1912). Not mock­ery, the car­toon com­pli­ment­ed Churchill’s con­cern for the pay and well­be­ing of the Low­er Deck.

Polit­i­cal­ly in those years, Punch trend­ed Con­ser­v­a­tive, but was even­hand­ed toward the Lib­er­al gov­ern­ment head­ed by H.H. Asquith from 1908. Its Churchill car­toons com­ment­ed wry­ly on his polit­i­cal machi­na­tions and con­tin­ued promi­nence. Typ­i­cal was Leonard Raven-Hill’s “Under His Master’s Eye” (May 1913), when Asquith tells him there’s been no “home news” since they’ve been off cruis­ing on the Admi­ral­ty yacht. Churchill was now mod­ern­iz­ing the Roy­al Navy, super­vis­ing its con­ver­sion from coal- to oil-fired war­ships. This was pop­u­lar with both parties.

With the advent of war in 1914, Punch ran patri­ot­ic car­toons, avoid­ing bad news and the inevitable set­backs of con­flict. Townsend wel­comed the arrival of Admi­ral Jacky Fish­er as Churchill’s First Sea Lord (“The Pilot,” Novem­ber 1914). When WSC was sacked from the Admi­ral­ty over the Dar­d­anelles fias­co in 1915, Punch showed a flap­per sug­gest­ing that he enlist in the army. Churchill did just that, join­ing his reg­i­ment in Flan­ders in late 1915.

An easy study

After the Great War, more car­toon­ists moved to car­i­ca­ture, iden­ti­fy­ing their tar­gets by exag­ger­at­ed phys­i­cal fea­tures or dress, as they still do today. Churchill in mid­dle age was an artist’s delight: his cheru­bic coun­te­nance, reced­ing hair­line, over­size col­lars, cig­ars, bow ties and Astrakhan-col­lared great­coats were exag­ger­at­ed to max­i­mum effect. A wide­ly-cir­cu­lat­ed 1910 pho­to caught him wear­ing an absurd­ly small hat, which quick­ly became a trade­mark. Churchill’s hats fas­ci­nat­ed car­toon­ists, as he him­self wrote: “How many they are; how strange and queer; and how I am always chang­ing them, and what impor­tance I attach to them, and so on…. Well, if it is a help to these wor­thy gen­tle­men in their hard work, why should I com­plain?” After all, he explained, the worst fear of politi­cians is that car­toon­ists might stop notic­ing them.

A.W. Lloyd was Punch’s most adept car­i­ca­tur­ist, tak­ing humor­ous advan­tage of Churchill’s increas­ing­ly bulky fig­ure. He made, for exam­ple, a per­fect Twee­dle­dum: the round face and almost bald pate, short stature and improb­a­ble garb. Lloyd’s art dom­i­nat­ed Punch in the 1930s, with laugh­able sketch­es of the debates between Chan­cel­lors of the Exche­quer: Labour’s Philip Snow­den (anoth­er eas­i­ly car­i­ca­tured fig­ure) and Churchill, his pre­de­ces­sor. “Every­body said that I was the worst Chan­cel­lor of the Exche­quer that ever was,” WSC quipped. “And now I’m inclined to agree with them.”

Chief car­toon­ist Bernard Par­tridge (sev­er­al car­toons with no byline may also have been his) stuck to his patent­ed Edwar­dian sketch­es, but began now to cast sub­jects in imag­i­nary pos­es with cos­tumes rep­re­sent­ing their stance on the issues. Leonard Raven-Hill also pro­duced life­like images, almost always with improb­a­ble get-ups, from an organ-grinder to a prize-fighter .

Political wilderness

Begin­ning 1929, Churchill spent a decade in the polit­i­cal wilder­ness, spurned by his own par­ty as often as by the oppo­si­tion. Debate over the India Act found Punch sup­port­ing the new coali­tion gov­ern­ment, while impugn­ing its oppo­nents includ­ing WSC (“The Rival Screev­ers,” Novem­ber 1933). At first, Punch lam­pooned Churchill’s demands for rear­ma­ment in the face of Hitler (“A Streuth­say­er or Prophet of Doom,” Sep­tem­ber 1934). But peo­ple took him more seri­ous­ly as Ger­many armed. By the mid-Thir­ties Churchill’s warn­ings were not so eas­i­ly set aside.

After the Munich set­tle­ment cast Czecho­slo­va­kia to the aggres­sor, Hitler’s inten­tions began seri­ous­ly to alarm peo­ple. Punch reflect­ed their chang­ing opin­ion. In 1938, Churchill com­plet­ed his epic biog­ra­phy of his ances­tor the First Duke of Marl­bor­ough. Ernest Shep­herd pro­duced one of the most famous Punch car­toons of the day (“Fam­i­ly Vis­it,” Novem­ber 1938). Here the ghost of Marl­bor­ough appears over Churchill’s shoul­der, hop­ing his descen­dant will now also make history.

On the brink of war, Shep­herd cast WSC as Sir Fran­cis Drake, fin­ish­ing his game of bowls and wait­ing for a sum­mons to join the gov­ern­ment. Churchill became First Lord of the Admi­ral­ty again, and Punch was now all for him. Its first Churchill car­toon of the war depict­ed him as Gilbert and Sul­li­van’s Joseph Porter in “HMS Pinafore” (“Ruler of the King’s Navee,” Octo­ber 1939).

“Warden of the Empire”

Churchill polled in the high 80% range dur­ing the war, and Punch remained in his cor­ner through many revers­es and dis­ap­point­ments. Lloyd’s car­toons invoked his famil­iar cheru­bic face and bald pate, but his expres­sion was now seri­ous and deter­mined. Gone were the mock­eries of large col­lars and tiny hats, but the cig­ar and bow tie remained. The vis­age was stern yet cheerful—“grim and gay,” as Lon­don cock­neys put it in the Blitz: “What’s good enough for any­body is good enough for us.” Vis­it­ing the demor­al­ized the French a week before they sur­ren­dered to Hitler, Churchill wrote: “I dis­played the smil­ing coun­te­nance and con­fi­dent air which are thought suit­able when things are very bad.”

Lloyd’s Churchill image appeared often dur­ing the war, inter­spersed by the more real­is­tic draw­ings of Bernard Par­tridge.  In Sep­tem­ber 1940, Par­tridge doc­u­ment­ed the Atlantic meet­ing with Roo­sevelt, while E.T. Shep­herd turned the PM into an ocean wave lash­ing the Nazi invaders. The fight­ing prime min­is­ter might appear as a bull­dog, air raid war­den, Egypt­ian or Viking war­rior, Cana­di­an Moun­tie, omnibus con­duc­tor, even the clock dial on St. Stephen’s Tow­er. Always he remained a fig­ure to be admired.

Some­times a car­toon would show him in one his favorite uni­forms, like Elder Broth­er of Trin­i­ty House, Britain’s light­house author­i­ty (“Eleven-League Boots,” Octo­ber 1944). In the pre­vi­ous war a French offi­cer, puz­zled by this get-up, asked Churchill what it sig­ni­fied. “Je suis un Frère Aîné de la Trinité,” WSC replied. “Mon dieu!” gasped the French­man. “La Trinité!?” Yet there was no mis­tak­ing the wear­er: “War­den of the Empire,” as Shep­herd dubbed him in May 1945.

Eclipse and revival

After 35 years as Punch’s chief car­toon­ist, Bernard Par­tridge died in har­ness in August 1945, replaced by E.H. Shep­herd. On the staff now was a tal­ent­ed Welsh­man, Leslie Gilbert Illing­worth, des­tined to pro­duce some of the most famous (and infa­mous) post­war caricatures.

Punch now saw Churchill as more a states­man than a par­ty leader, though WSC was a scin­til­lat­ing Leader of the Oppo­si­tion. Shepherd’s draw­ings focused on his cam­paigns for Anglo-Amer­i­can alliance, Euro­pean rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, and his Sec­ond World War memoirs.

The 1945 Con­ser­v­a­tive defeat was almost reversed five years lat­er, when Labour lost 90 seats, bare­ly sur­viv­ing with a small major­i­ty. Labour’s slim lead forced Prime Min­is­ter Attlee to call anoth­er elec­tion in Octo­ber 1951, which put Churchill and the Con­ser­v­a­tives back in pow­er. Eisen­how­er was elect­ed Pres­i­dent in 1952, and car­toon­ists spec­u­lat­ed on Churchill’s efforts to arrange a “meet­ing at the sum­mit” with Ike and Stal­in.

In 1953 Punch appoint­ed as edi­tor Mal­colm Mug­geridge, who had once declared, “there is no occu­pa­tion more wretched than try­ing to make the Eng­lish laugh.” So Mugg made them cry, almost imme­di­ate­ly focus­ing on Churchill’s age and the need for a suc­ces­sor. The most like­ly can­di­dates were R.A. But­ler and Antho­ny Eden. Soon Illing­worth, Cum­mings and oth­er Punch car­toon­ists were draw­ing wrin­kled, aged images of Churchill—and the aging Attlee with him.

The long farewell

Unbe­known to the pub­lic, a stroke felled Churchill in June 1953, and while he was “rest­ing,” there was more talk of a suc­ces­sor. He made a fast recov­ery, though, and showed no sign of going—so Mug­geridge and his edi­tors decid­ed to give him a push.

Illingworth’s cru­el image of Feb­ru­ary 1954 was the most heart­less Punch car­toon ever. Enti­tled, “Man Goeth Forth unto his Work and to his labour until the evening,” it showed a list­less PM, hands swollen, jowls droop­ing. Churchill was bit­ter­ly affront­ed. “Yes, there’s mal­ice in it,” he told his doc­tor. “Look at my hands—I have beau­ti­ful hands. Punch goes every­where. I shall have to retire if this sort of thing goes on.”

In the event he held on, promi­nent in Punch dur­ing the debates over the Cold War, Britain’s nuclear deter­rent, and in its reg­u­lar fea­ture, “Impres­sions of Par­lia­ment.” In June 1954, Cum­mings cel­e­brat­ed Churchill’s appoint­ment as a Knight of the Garter. Six months lat­er Ronald Sear­le depict­ed Parliament’s birth­day present, a paint­ing by Gra­ham Suther­land which Sir Win­ston despised.

80 years on

The mag­a­zine devot­ed its 1 Decem­ber 1954 cov­er and 33 images to Churchill’s career. In the same issue Illing­worth made amends (“Hap­py Birth­day to You”). But WSC is in bed. The point­ed mes­sage was still there. Sir Win­ston was long past his “sell-by date.”

The PM memo­ri­al­ized his old leader, David Lloyd George, in his final speech in the House of Com­mons. He final­ly retired on 5 April 1955. The next day, Punch mocked-up the hat­ed Suther­land paint­ing, replac­ing Churchill’s head with that of his suc­ces­sor, Antho­ny Eden. (Eden now looked equal­ly decrepit.)

Punch con­tin­ued spo­rad­i­cal­ly to notice the man who had dom­i­nat­ed its pages and sold so many copies for six decades. In Moscow in 1956, Niki­ta Khrushchev denounced Stal­in; Ronald Sear­le showed an aging Churchill read­ing the news, won­der­ing if that might one day hap­pen to him. Con­sid­er­ing the arrant non­sense and bla­tant lies cir­cu­lat­ing about Churchill nowa­days, one is glad that process took so long.

“Echoes and Memories”

“Mem­ber for Wood­ford,” 30 Novem­ber 1949. As Churchill turned 75, still in the thick of pol­i­tics. Illing­worth craft­ed this elo­quent trib­ute. It remind­ed us of his youth, high office in both World Wars, pas­times of paint­ing, polo, brandy and cig­ars. Fif­teen years lat­er, he turned 90. His old school Har­row added a verse to the school song “Forty Years On”: “Bla­zoned with hon­our! For each gen­er­a­tion / You kin­dled courage to stand and to stay; / You led our fathers to fight for the nation, / Called ‘Fol­low up; and your­self showed the way. / We who were born in the calm after thun­der / Cher­ish our free­dom to think and to do; / If in our turn we for­get­ful­ly won­der, / Yet we’ll remem­ber we owe it to you.” (From “Churchill in Punch”)

As for Punch, the mag­a­zine was still remem­ber­ing him with appre­ci­a­tion on his 85th birth­day in 1959. Giv­en all the ink it had devot­ed to him over the years, it bare­ly noticed Churchill’s pass­ing in 1965 . There was vir­tu­al­ly noth­ing when he died, though a car­toon by Bernard Hol­lowood not­ed the mark he had left: A motorist ask­ing for direc­tions is told, “Keep left along Churchill Avenue, turn into Churchill Way past Churchill Air­port and Churchill Station—and Churchill House is smack in front of you.”


By then the ulti­mate car­toon acco­lade was long on record—and makes a wor­thy colophon to this book. That was “Mem­ber for Wood­ford” (Novem­ber 1949)—a warm and gen­er­ous por­tray­al of the Great Man and his unprece­dent­ed career.

Drawn by Leslie Illing­worth, it rep­re­sents Punch’s queru­lous, hilar­i­ous, wry yet respect­ful atti­tude toward Win­ston Leonard Spencer Churchill. Every time I see it, I am remind­ed of Prime Min­is­ter Harold Wil­son’s words to Par­lia­ment after WSC’s death:

“For now the noise of hooves thun­der­ing across the veldt; the clam­our of the hus­tings in a score of con­tests; the shots in Sid­ney Street, the angry guns of Gal­lipoli, Flan­ders, Coro­nel and the Falk­land Islands; the sullen feet of march­ing men in Tony­pandy; the urgent warn­ings of the Nazi threat; the whine of the sirens and the dawn bom­bard­ment of the Nor­mandy beaches—all these now are silent. There is a still­ness. And in that still­ness, echoes and mem­o­ries…. Each of us has his own mem­o­ry, for in the tumul­tuous dia­pa­son of a world’s trib­utes, all of us here at least know the epi­taph he would have cho­sen for him­self: ‘He was a good House of Com­mons man.'”

With Churchill in Punch, Gary Stiles and Punch’s artists renew those echoes and mem­o­ries for future generations.

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