“The Charlie Chaplin of Caricature”: Churchill on Low

“The Charlie Chaplin of Caricature”: Churchill on Low

“Churchill on Low” is excerpt­ed from “David Low” for the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project. Click here for the orig­i­nal text. To sub­scribe for reg­u­lar Hills­dale updates, click here, scroll to bot­tom and fill in your email.

“Master of invective”

“Low is the great­est of our mod­ern car­toon­ists,” wrote Win­ston Churchill in his delight­ful essay “Car­toons and Car­toon­ists.” He praised “the vivid­ness of his polit­i­cal con­cep­tions,” declar­ing Low a sin­gu­lar tal­ent: “He pos­sess­es what few car­toon­ists have—a grand tech­nique of draughts­man­ship. Low is a mas­ter of black and white. He is the Char­lie Chap­lin of car­i­ca­ture, and tragedy and com­e­dy are the same to him.”

New Zealan­der David Low worked most­ly for left-wing peri­od­i­cals like the Star and the New States­man. Such praise for some­one who con­sis­tent­ly poked fun at him is a fine exam­ple of Churchill’s col­le­gial­i­ty. He was nev­er a hater; he appre­ci­at­ed tal­ent on all sides of pol­i­tics. Of course, Churchill didn’t hes­i­tate to say what he thought of Low’s polit­i­cal attitude:

Here was the British Empire emerg­ing into con­scious exis­tence fanned by the qui­et loy­al­ty of hun­dreds of mil­lions of faith­ful peo­ple under every sky and cli­mate. To jeer at its fat­ted soul was the delight of the green-eyed young Antipodean radical.

A Low car­toon, Churchill went on, was a mas­ter­piece of invective:

There is not a fig­ure in it that is not instinct with mali­cious­ly-per­ceived truth…. . There he is, with his lit­tle tyke and his Joan Bull and her baby, derid­ing reg­u­lar­ly every­thing that is of impor­tance to our self-preservation.

Low – down payback

David Low gave as good as he got. “An uphold­er of Democ­ra­cy,” he described Churchill—

…yes, when he was lead­ing it. Impa­tient with it when he was not…. His def­i­n­i­tion of democ­ra­cy, I felt, would be some­thing like “gov­ern­ment of the peo­ple, for the peo­ple, by benev­o­lent and pater­nal rul­ing-class chaps like me…. I could nev­er accept him as a demo­c­rat in the Lin­coln­ian sense.

Mod­ern crit­ics still float that image of Churchill, how­ev­er wide of the mark. In Labour Par­ty cir­cles, the myth long per­vad­ed (and still does), that Churchill’s first reac­tion against strik­ing Welsh min­ers in 1911 was to send troops against them. This potent theme returned in the 1926 Gen­er­al Strike.

War and Reversal

“All behind you, Win­ston,” 1940. After Churchill became Prime Min­is­ter, Low became a backer. Inset: notably absent is a fig­ure who was not behind him: David Lloyd George. (Wiki­me­dia Com­mons, inset by Bar­bara Langworth)

Thus it went until the Sec­ond World War. Then, in May 1940, Churchill plunged in as Prime Min­is­ter. Just as sud­den­ly, Low’s car­toon cri­tiques became ram­pant boos­t­er­ism. Every­thing Low admired in Churchill came to the fore.

“Winston’s char­ac­ter­is­tics,” he wrote lat­er, “were con­fi­dence in him­self and love of his coun­try. At the time of our first meet­ing I wrote, ‘Churchill is one of the few men I have met who … give me the impres­sion of genius. Shaw is anoth­er. It is amus­ing to know that each thinks the oth­er is much overrated!”

From his old castigator

David Low’s great­est Churchill car­toon was cre­at­ed for the pic­to­r­i­al mag­a­zine Illus­trat­ed in 1954 to mark Sir Winston’s 80th Birth­day. Low gath­ered all the “Win­stons” of the great man’s life, toast­ing the old man. Here was the red-haired

Har­row school­boy upstart. The sub­al­tern in India. The First Lord of the Admi­ral­ty and Chan­cel­lor of the Exche­quer, the painter, the siren-suit­ed Prime Min­is­ter. Even the portraits—Marlborough and his Duchess—are rais­ing a glass. (For a large for­mat image click here.)Roberts

In this car­toon we sees all the mutu­al respect and affec­tion of two skill­ful prac­ti­tion­ers of the polit­i­cal arts. Entire­ly dif­fer­ent métiers, of course—but there it is. More impor­tant, how­ev­er, I think David Low was express­ing what the nation knew as a cer­ti­tude. Cer­tain­ly the whole nation knew it in 1954—but per­haps some need remind­ing today.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

RML Books

Richard Langworth’s Most Popular Books & eBooks

Links on this page may earn commissions.