Archive for August, 2013

Ralph Steadman, The Cartoon MuseumA bit slow to catch up on this one for various reasons, I’m normally speedier with the Cartoon Museum, one of my favourite galleries.

This show has been on for a few months already. It celebrates the life work of cartoonist and illustrator, Ralph Steadman, who is 77 and still going strong. He is best known, possibly, for his collaboration with Hunter S Thompson and American work from the late 60s onwards. This stuff is mostly very angry and genuinely disturbing. Brilliant, but I shan’t dwell on them here.

Elsewhere, there are large colour poster items on political themes which are superbly executed. You may remember the one of policemen whose heads are revolvers.

But this being London Historians, I’d like to tell you about his London work from the early to late 60s. Some Private Eye stuff early on, and we have some excellent Hogarth homages, bringing up-to-date Marriage à-la-mode, and  Taste in High Life (1 and 2). We then move on to New London Street Cries, following Paul Sandby and Thomas Rowlandson, except this time featuring a cabbie, a Soho pimp, etc.

Ralph Steadman, Cartoon Museum

New London Cries No. 1, Private Eye, 12 November 1965. © Ralph Steadman

Ralph Steadman. The Cartoon Museum

New London Cries No. 9, Private Eye, 4 February 1966. © Ralph Steadman

Steadman was still a youngish man during this time, but it’s clear that not only does he not embrace the brave new world of the so-called Swinging Sixties, he actively disapproves of the collective foolishness; he observes, he doesn’t participate. It is not affectionate ribbing: he casts a jaundiced eye and then renders with a viscious pen. Hilarious.

There is a wonderful picture from 1967 featuring the newly-opened Playboy club in London. It’s about “the man who touched he girl at the Playboy club” while all around are agasp and swooning. Steadman had nurtured a friendship with the elderly H.E. Bateman around this time; they had drawing sessions together.

Nearby in the room are commissions for a new 1972 publication of Through the Looking Glass. You can plainly see that Steadman has put heart and soul into these, they are quite exquisite and in my opinion the best work in the exhibition. The draftsmanship is breathtaking. The example below at 500px gives you an idea, but you really need to see the real thing. I think he bests Tenniel, how about you?

Ralph Steadman, Cartoon Museum

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, 1972. © Ralph Steadman

The thing about cartoon artwork is that it is mostly privately-owned. Virtually every piece in this show is labelled “Private Collection” and this is true of most shows at the Cartoon Museum, so you only get one go at seeing them in the original. Try not to miss these.

STEADman@77 ends on 8 September.

Entry is £5. £4 to London Historians members. Free to Friends of the Cartoon Museum and Art Pass (The Art Fund card).

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The Hanwell Asylum, aka the Middlesex County Asylum,  is probably better known – if at all – as St Bernard’s. For some reason, I thought it was long-closed, like the Holloway sanitorium in Virginia Water. Or at least moved away like the Bethlem Hospital (“Bedlam”) in Lambeth, now the Imperial War Museum.

Hanwell Asylum, St Bernard's

The Hanwell Pauper and Lunatic Asylum.

Not a bit of it. While out and about yesterday, we popped in to where we knew it to be, mainly to see – out of curiosity – what buildings remained. We quickly discovered two things: first, St Bernard’s Hospital, part of West London NHS Mental Health Trust is very much active. There were small numbers of patients hanging around on garden benches and wandering about. Some kept each other company. Quite a few were smoking. Is it safe to assume that even these poor souls are further tortured by anti-smoking? Second, many of the old buildings, particularly to the east (ie to the left in the above illustration) are very much extant, along with rather nondescript modern two-storey apartment blocks. While the old Holloway and Bedlam buildings are beautiful – uplifting even – overall St Bernard’s is decidedly grim and oppressive.

hanwell asylum, st bernard's

Pantopticon-style tower block, de riguer at the time in prison building theory as advocated by Jeremy Bentham.

The complex is fronted street-side (the very busy, dual-carriageway Uxbridge Road), by an imposing, ivy-bewigged, arched gatehouse, unoccupied by an employed keeper for many years, by the looks of it.  A long driveway leads to the chapel. One can imagine wagons of supplies rolling up here having collected them from the nearby GWR siding, opened a handful of years after the asylum itself which came into being in 1831.

Hanwell Asylum, St Bernard's

The Gatehouse.

Hanwell Asylum, St Bernard's

The chapel.

This was very much the mid -19C time when the authorities undertook a determined policy of shifting prisons, asylums, workhouses and cemeteries to the outskirts. London was expanding at its fastest pace before or since: no room for criminals, the poor, the dead or the mad.

Not quite Victorian, then, strictly speaking by year of foundation, but very much so in many other ways, not least in our imaginations.

Wikipedia has a good historical description of this rather desolate Victorian survival.
Very good article from Illustrated London News  in 1843, republished on Victorian London web site.

Hanwell Asylum, St Bernard's

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Today we had a lovely London Historians outing to the Watts Gallery and Watts Cemetery Chapel in Compton, Surrey. I’m hoping other members of our group will write about it the main attractions of the day.

In the cemetery itself is the family grave of the Huxley family, as in Aldous. It’s the last resting place of the author himself, he having died in the USA in 1963 (22 November, same day as JFK).

Aldous Huxley grave, ComptonLook at the writing below Huxley’s name. You can barely make it out. But it says “And Maria his wife, 1898 – 1955. ” Someone has deliberately removed the metal inlay, someone presumably not a fan of Maria Nys, Huxley’s first wife. Does anyone know the reason? Or have a theory?

Aldous Huxley grave, Compton.

Before we leave the Huxleys, I must share with you an unintendedly hilarious letter written by Huxley to George Orwell in 1949, congratulating him on Nineteen Eighty-Four, but explaining too why Brave New World is superior. (HT: LH Member Will Watts.)

Update: Two of our Members have done lovely write-ups of our outing, completely different perspectives, and both with beautiful photos (mind you, hard to fail, given the subject matter!). Caroline Derry here. (follow this excellent blog). And novelist Wendy Wallace here. (buy her new novel The Sacred River!). And finally we get to the main reason for our trip: Tina tells us about the Frank Holl exhibition.

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Cuthbert OttowayLong-standing readers may remember the story of Cuthbert Ottaway (1850 – 78), England’s first ever football captain. It was a guest post written by Ottaway’s biographer, Mick Southwick. Some seven years ago, Mick had discovered that Ottaway’s grave in Paddington Old Cemetery was in a terrible state: completely dilapidated and overgrown with weeds. England fan Paul McKay picked up on the story and so commenced a lengthy campaign to restore the footballer’s resting place to a state worthy of one of the great sportsmen of the era.

It was a great privilege for me to be present yesterday at the memorial unveiling and re-dedication of Ottaway’s last resting place. Paul and Mick were both there, of course, along with representatives of the Football Association, Marlow FC (Ottaway’s club), Councellor Roxanne Mashari from the Borough of Brent, the Town Mayor of Marlow, Councellor Suzanne Brown. Paul McKay read goodwill messages from – among others – the Prime Minister, the Mayor of London, Gordon Taylor of the Players Football Association and Ottaway’s descendants who all reside in Canada. The new memorial, draped in the flag of Eton College, was unveiled by Sir David Calvert-Smith, President of the Etonian Association. For Cuthbert Ottaway had been a King’s Scholar. He also represented Oxford at Athletics, Real Tennis, Racquets and Cricket (during his subsequent short career he often opened the batting  with W.G. Grace). Not bad.

No surprises, we also sang Abide With Me and Jerusalem, led by Mother Christine Cargill, the vicar of the local St. Anne’s Brondesbury, who conducted the service.

Ottaway captained England against Scotland twice, in 1872 and 1874. He also won an FA Cup medal in 1874 representing Oxford University v Royal Engineers. He died unexpectedly and suddenly from pneumonia aged just 27 when his Canadian wife was expecting their first child.

Cuthbert Ottoway

Paul McKay addresses us before the unveiling.

Cuthbert Ottoway

Paul McKay and Mick Southwick

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An exhibition opened today at the Museum of London which celebrates the magazine that has adorned many of the nation’s coffee-tables for almost a century: the Radio Times.  The “The” was dropped surprisingly early, in the 1930s, so it’s not just chicanery of modern branding agencies. People still use it, though. Don’t they?

But enough of that. The BBC first started broadcasting radio in 1922. To its chagrin, the nation’s newspapers refused to publish programme listings for free, so in a fit of pique, the corporation founded The Radio Times. Cover price: 2d. Did everything cost tuppence in the early part of the 20C?

radio times at 90

Issue 1. 28 September 1923. The Official Organ of the B.B.C.

Moving anti-clockwise from this issue we move through the decades, perusing a selection of several dozen covers of the 4,000+ issues that there have been of Radio Times. Through its 90 years, even during the war, RT has only missed one week (those pesky unions again). We flit backwards and forwards between mainly black and white print and occasional duotone (splashing out), and eventually moving on to full colour as a permanent fixture. We see long-forgotten stars of stage and screen. Recognition for me starts around Tony Hancock: for younger viewers, even he will seem obscure. It’s notable that light-entertainment is almost always the theme, sport and drama less so, news and documentary (apart from propagandistic wartime editions), hardly ever. But this may be down to selection, I don’t know.

Take a look at this war-time cover featuring J.B. Priestley, doing a sterling job of promoting cheerfulness in the face of evil.

“I’ve always pleaded for more imagination in handling of the war, more flags and less red tape, more music and fun, hard work and high jinks…”

I’d love to hear some of this stuff, and I wonder whether, unlike Orwell, some recordings have survived. The design is austere, grim and martial, it looks strangely Soviet and alien.

Radio Times at 90.

Now “The Journal of the British Broadcasting Corporation”. Dead patriotic and still 2d.

Talking of the war, one of the more unusual items among all of this is a map captured by the Americans in Germany towards the end of the war. It’s runs north-west of Westminster and plots targets for the Luftwaffe. These include the RT’s print works. It’s clearly a British map, overprinted in German. One imagines that RT was considered by the enemy as an important conduit of information from government to people and also important for morale. Whatever the case, the site was marked wrongly anyway, RT continued uninterrupted.

Radio Times at 90

“Stadtplan von London”, dated 1941.

There is something for all in this well-constructed, considered show. For me it was mostly to do with design. There are parallels with the London Transport Museum’s poster show for Tube150.  Indeed RT and London Transport (in its various guises), drew from the same pool of talented artists and graphic designers down the years. Looking at pictures of John Reith I can’t help thinking of London Transport’s Frank Pick.  Both were single-minded men with a vision, and on a mission, big personalities who insisted things were done their way. You don’t see their ilk in public life now. So, on a design thread, I appreciated the display showing all of RT’s mastheads down the years.

Radio Times at 90

Which do you like the most? I’m not sure whether it is loyalty to “my” era, but I think it’s second from bottom on the right.

Dr Who. Most reviews I’ve seen so far have focussed on the Dr Who-ness of this show. Not me. I should mention there is a very large Dr Who display in the middle of this exhibition, featuring Dr Who covers. It includes a real life golden dalek and some original comic artwork by Frank Bellamy. What is a surprise and will delight Who fans is the original designs for the daleks. Like proper engineering drawings. I always thought they were just knocked up based on back of an envelope sketch. But look!

radio times at 90

I realise that my choices have made this post look rather colourless, which gives a completely false impression of this delightful show which is actually very colourful indeed, so I’ll chuck in this image from 2005 for balance.

Radio Times at 90

Cover Story: Radio Times at 90 runs until 3 November at the Museum of London and is free admission.

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