Best of British: Political cartoons

Liz Nicholls

Liz Nicholls reflects on a tumultuous year in world politics, thanks to Tim Benson and the talented cartoonists who have depicted 2018 in satirical pictures…

Few people might have relished the political drama served up throughout 2018… However, by way of positive spin, it has been a gift to cartoonists.

“It’s been fantastic!” exclaims Tim Benson, editor of Britain’s Best Political Cartoons and co-owner of The Political Cartoon Gallery & Café in London.

“Over the last six years you couldn’t have made up the world events… For a cartoonist, it’s been like a daily treat. And the characters; from Jeremy Corbyn to Jacob Rees Mogg, Boris Johnson to Kim Jong Un… so many subjects to have fun with! No one knows what’s going to happen next.”

We’re just kissing goodbye to 2018; a feverish year in which Brexit got serious, football fever, a UK heatwave and royal wedding mania gripped us all and Trump got transformed into a giant baby blimp (see above, by Peter Brookes of The Times)…

Times of political turmoil test the mettle of our nation’s cartoonists – the best in the world. “We’re very lucky in this country, because cartoonists have more freedom here than anywhere else, which is something to be proud of,” says Tim.

A historian with a particular interest in 20th century political history, Tim’s PhD was on Sir David Low’s relationship with Lord Beaverbrook, his editor at The Daily Express. He began collecting political caricatures and has written several titles on political cartoon art, a vital form of satire, from 19th century etcher James Gillray via wartime master Sir David Low to today’s top draw. As a die-hard fan of newspapers myself, it’s cheering to read that it is also a media that works best in print.

Tim rejoices in the art form, pointing out that, while cartoonists might be the “canaries in the mine” when it comes to budget cuts, it has survived the industrial revolution, print censorship and two world wars. “And we still have a culture of daily political cartooning in the broadsheet press: Evening Standard editor George Osborne recently reinvigorated his opinion pages by bringing back the political cartoon after a hiatus of 13 years.”

Along with his partner Julie Dangoor, Tim has bought, sold and exhibited original cartoon art for 15 years. Their gallery is the world’s only venue dedicated to original political cartoon art, ranging from The Guardian’s Steve Bell and The Daily Telegraph’s Bob Moran to yesteryear greats “Vicky” (Victor Weisz) and Carl Giles as well as original gag cartoons from Punch and Private Eye.

Tim has edited six Britain’s Best books, published by Random House. “It’s fabulous because I get to play God,” he tells me. “Selecting my favourites is hard because there are so many good cartoons. As for depicting people, David Low called them ‘tags of identity’ and politicians often play these up – Theresa May’s leopard print shoes, Howard Wilson choosing a pipe even though really he was a cigar man… To be in politics you need the hide of a rhinoceros but the higher up the greasy pole you go, the more vain you can get… When Steve Bell got wind David Cameron was really irked by being depicted with a condom on his head, it felt like winning the lottery. Cartoons are a wonderful in the ‘now’ but also, when you put them into context, become a kind of commentary.”

We have a copy of Britain’s Best Political Cartoons 2018 to give away! To enter, click here or visit our competitions page.

The Political Cartoon Gallery & Café, SW15 1JP