[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC Onepolitics show


Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 March 2007, 16:34 GMT
Laughter in The House
Lord Kenneth Baker
Lord Kenneth Baker
Vice Chair - The Cartoon Museum

Detail of Kenneth Baker and Margaret Thatcher cartoon  Gerald Scarfe
A detail from Scarfe's cartoon of Margaret Thatcher and me

As Vice Chairman of the Cartoon Museum in London, I often have the enviable task of witnessing more than audible guffaws of visitors to Little Russell Street - the museum's home.

For a little over a year, we have been an emporium of laughter. It's been the brush and pen strokes combined with scything wit of British cartoonists that have brought this country's society to book.

And our political leaders have not escaped attention either.


It has been a fine tradition for the satirists of the day to lampoon those in high places - whether from the nobility or the elected chamber.

Walpole  Lord Kenneth Baker
Walpole the "big" man in all respects

I too have been on the receiving end of a pointed pen and bruising brush but I must say, there's been no blood drawn.

Lampoon at the top

Political cartoons and the office of Prime Minister were both established in the 1720s.

Caricature was also beginning to catch-on at the time. The famous Duchess of Marlborough asked one of her friends, "Can you find me somebody who could make me a caricature of Lady Masham, describing her covered with many sores and ulcers so that I may send it to the Queen to give her a slight idea of her favourite?"

So, from the start, there was malice and a desire to provoke laughter.

Walpole was Prime Minister for over 20 years from 1721 and was a "big" man in every sense of the word.

He built a huge palace in Norfolk, and interrupted Cabinet meetings to buy paintings, most of which ended up in the Hermitage collection in St. Petersburg.

Gillray's Plumb Pudding in danger  Lord Kenneth Baker
Gillray's "Plumb Pudding in danger" - one of the most famous cartoons

His political dominance largely emanated through bribery and corruption.

This gave rise to one cartoonist (unknown) depicting him as a huge bare bottom straddling the gates over the Treasury. Cartoonist saw that in order to "get on" in the early 18th Century England, you had to kiss Walpole's "arse".

A running sore...

Nearly 100 year's later, our prime minister was William Pitt the Younger who marshalled Europe to oppose Napoleon.

Pitt was depicted as dividing up the world with Napoleon in one of the most famous British cartoons.

It has been copied endlessly: Jim Callaghan dividing the Labour Party with Wedgwood Benn - Margaret Thatcher dividing up the Conservative Party with Michael Heseltine - and Tony Blair dividing up New Labour with Gordon Brown.

In the 19th Century, middle class morality invoked a milder approach to cartooning - but it still required big figures.

Tenniel's famous cartoon of Benjamin Disraeli
Benjamin Disraeli and the winking Sphinx

In Tenniel's famous cartoon of Benjamin Disraeli after he had bought shares in the Suez Canal, the sphinx can be seen giving him a wink.

But Disraeli is portrayed in a very Jewish stance with his finger on his nose which today would be deemed as racist.

Gladstone was the other giant - a great orator.

He was Prime Minister four times, and when in his 80s he was depicted leaning over the Despatch Box making one of his last, great, fiery speeches over Irish Home Rule in 1893. Through the cartoonists art, it captured the very essence of the man and the times.

You cannot help but admire him.

A Low high point

In the 20th Century, the appeasers of the 1930s were mercilessly taken apart by David Low, the cartoonist of the Evening Standard.

David Low's "You know you can trust me"  Solo Syndication
Low's "You know you can trust me"

Famously, it was Low that said "I never drew a line that made a difference, but his no-nonsense black and white brush and pen strokes captured the mood of a nation with its back against the wall.

Who knows what difference that made to the Express readers?

Indeed, so strongly "anti-Hitler" were his cartoons, that Ribbentrop complained to Lord Beaverbrook, who owned the Evening Standard, and asked him to cool it. Beaverbrook refused.

So it was that Neville Chamberlain's tell-tale top hat and umbrella were consumed by Low's Nazi tiger.

David Low's "All behind you Winston"  Solo Syndication
David Low's style mirrored the stoic attitude of the nation

Chamberlain was, of course, followed by the great political hero, Churchill, and David Low who again caught the nation's spirit in "All Behind You, Winston" was able to capitalise on the distinctive character of Churchill in both his stature and signature cigar.

Politicians from all the other parties united to defeat Hitler and Low includes Attlee, Bevin, Morrison, Anthony Eden, Halifax and Chamberlain.

But cartoonists also like a tab which really signals the politician.

Osbert Lancaster, who drew the pocket cartoon for the Daily Express for years, had a lovely one when Churchill flew to Casablanca for a meeting with President Roosevelt and General de Gaulle.

The meeting was cloaked in secrecy and here is his comment, "Well, if it isn't Widow Fatima, who is it?" [No.50] Anthony Eden was savaged over Suez and here Illingworth portrays him as a sheep in wolf's clothing.

Unmasking reality

Trog's Edward Heath  Punch Magazine
Trog's unmasking of Heath in Punch

Trog, a prolific cartoonist for many magazines, drew one of former Prime Minister; Ted Heath which I think reveals Heath's real character - behind that jovial mask there was a sad, lonely, cold figure Very little escapes the probing pen and brush of a cartoonist - warts and all.

Margaret Thatcher was a gift for cartoonists but, the more they attacked her, the stronger she became.

Cummings illustrated her as the only "man" in her Cabinet, while Gerald Scarfe managed to bring out what he saw as an acerbic personality - his Thatcher aquiline nose was a characteristic he accentuated with great aplomb.

Scarfe had me joining her in the "party" boat - going down as leader of the Tories when I was Party Chairman - you can see this on display in the Cartoon Museum.

Kenneth Baker and Margaret Thatcher  Gerald Scarfe
Scarfe's acerbic nose of Thatcher leading the way

Finally, John Major... Steve Bell really drew his ire by depicting him as always wearing naff aertex y-fronts over his trousers.

That satirical chronicle Private Eye published Bell's "Adoration of the Majori" as their front cover - you have to be able to laugh off such attentions - or they will get to you, This exemplar of Bell's work is now owned by the Cartoon Museum.

Arrival and departure

And as for Tony Blair - Peter Brookes gets to the heart of the Iraq debate showing that he saw through the deception from the very beginning. But it's not just with hindsight that the cartoonist's art makes a political statement.

Suggesting future political developments can be equally as cutting. Steve Bell, again has lunged into the Blair Brown arena with his take on the leadership debate.

Politicians have a love-hate relationship with cartoonists. But, that's only to be expected as the cartoonist's role is far from a desire to couch favour or approval.

John Major  Steve Bell
Bell's brilliance of depiction...

When an MP is cartooned in a national newspaper it means he or she has "arrived" and they are on the first step on their political ladder, but it's then that the going gets tough.

Today, all politicians are savaged, but they should never let the cartoonists get them down.

Margaret Thatcher ignored them, John Major was very depressed by them and Tony Blair cannot like his portrayal by left-wing cartoonists as a warmonger and a stooge of Bush.

But, as Alan Coren (the former Editor of Punch) once said: "The pen isn't actually mightier than the sword - the sword will destroy all pens in time - and we don't lie in our beds trembling in case Iran gets hold of a bottle of ink."

You can reach the Politics Show team by using the e-mail form below...

Send us your comments:

Your E-mail address:

Disclaimer: The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all emails will be published.

Max Cotton at the Cartoon Museum

Lord Baker - the history of the political cartoon...

An interview with Gerald Scarfe

An interview with Alan Coren


Politics from around the UK...

The Politics Show Newsletter
14 Jan 07 |  Politics Show
An interview with Gerald Scarfe...
07 Mar 07 |  Politics Show
Steve Bell - a life in cartoons...
10 Mar 07 |  Politics Show
An interview with Alan Coren
07 Mar 07 |  Politics Show
Scarfe and Bell cartoons...
07 Mar 07 |  Politics Show
Scarfe and Bell limited edition prints...
08 Mar 07 |  Politics Show

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

banner watch listen bbc sport Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific