Today we celebrate the centenary and life of the cartoonist Ronald “Carl” Giles (1916 – 1995), who was born and raised in North London.
Giles was probably the most beloved cartoonist of the 20C with his gentle pictorial commentary on the impact of politics and current affairs on – primarily – working-class Britain. The Giles annual became an inevitability for every dad’s Christmas stocking filler. Today it remains ubiquitous at charity shops and car-boot sales throughout the nation. Nobody could capture the misery of grotty British weather quite like Giles.
He worked for Express Newspapers between 1943 and 1989, producing three or four cartoons per week during most of that period, a total of over 7,000 pieces of work. Much of that time he alternated with Michael Cummings whose style was far more hard-edged, direct and overtly political. It was a nice balance.
Giles developed his skills in an animation studio in the 1930s before joining the left-wing Reynolds Weekly as a cartoonist before being enticed by the larger coffers of the Express group. Uncomfortable to begin with, it was a situation which clearly grew on him, allowing him to feed his enthusiasm for classic sports cars, fine cigars. There was definitely a Mr Toad side to his character.
World War 2. Unfit for active service, Giles nonetheless had an extremely interesting war. As a war correspondent, his illustrations of army life became increasingly cartoony and mixing with the troops allowed him to develop the world-weary everyman characters which populated his post-war output. Doing reportage as an illustrator, when the Nazi regime crumbled, he frequently found himself in the grim surroundings of internment camps, notably Bergen-Belsen. Against his better judgement he couldn’t help liking the murderous camp commander Josef Kramer, who was an admirer of his work!