Thursday, 1 July 2010

Record achievement...

In my mid teens, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, other than it would involve drawing. It wasn't the only thing I could do moderately well, and there were numerous other options open to me based on my academical achievements, but none that came anywhere near drawing on the scale of fun things to do for a living. I vividly recall writing that essay, the one where we put down on paper how we intend to spend the rest of our lives earning a crust, and fantasising about my dream job as a political cartoonist for a national daily newspaper. I was never short of grand ideas back then, but even I recognised that as pure wishful thinking, and filed it under 'unobtainable'.

Ten years on, I was very happily drawing comic pages for the Beano and Dandy, already a job beyond my wildest dreams, but I still allowed myself the political cartoon reverie from time to time. Another ten years later, and it 'suddenly' happened.

I had a very brief flirtation with political cartooning (or editorial cartooning, to give it its more usual description) after landing a regular slot illustrating a weekly 'profile' article for the Sunday Times 'Scotland' section (only available in Scottish editions, and bizarrely renamed 'Ecosse' not long after I stopped working for them). I somehow managed to persuade the editor of the section to let me do an occasional editorial cartoon, and I had a handful published before a change of editor resulted in a change of format... and sadly for me, but not unexpectedly, the dropping of the cartoonist.

However, I had been given a taste for political cartooning, and I was instantly hooked. And so a few speculative envelopes were dispatched to a handful of publications, far more in hope than any expectation, containing samples of political caricatures I'd quickly put together. Within a fortnight, I found myself sitting in the plushest office I'd ever seen, in a tower block overlooking the River Clyde in Glasgow, having been summoned to appear before the editor of Scotland's biggest-selling national newspaper, The Daily Record. I don't mind admitting it was a brown trouser moment.

I went with the intention of attempting to persuade Mr Quinn ("Terry" came later) to allow me to draw them one or two cartoons a week. I was greeted with the words, "Where the Hell have you been hiding up till now?", and an offer to engage in a two-week, fully paid, trial run, with the aim of appearing in the paper six days a week. At that point, I was looking for hidden cameras!

I should point out that the editorial cartoons I drew for the Sunday Times were completed on the Thursday before publication, with several days to come up with an idea, and nearly 36 hours to tweak things before the presses rolled if needs be. The Record job required that I come up with 4-5 topical ideas a day, bite my nails while they chose one (if they didn't like any of them, I'd have to offer them more), then work like lightning to complete the chosen one before the six o'clock deadline. At that moment, in that office, I had no idea if I could handle that sort of pressure even once, leave alone six days a week. But I wasn't about to tellhim that!

I did, however, knock him down from six days to five, insisting that I have a proper weekend break. But my legs were literally trembling as I left the office and made my way to the car for the journey home to Perth. 60 miles without recalling a single moment of the drive. I had no idea if I could do any of what I'd just confidently agreed to.

The trial period consisted of me submitting ideas on a daily basis over a two-week period. The cartoons were not intended to be published, but would be judged by the editor as if they were. If I cut the mustard, then I'd be swimming without a float after that. At the end of the first week, I took a call from the editor's secretary to tell me the fortnight's trial was to end there. I was pretty disappointed not to have even made it to the second week, but ready to accept the old maxim that the editor's decision is final, and thank him for the opportunity.

Thankfully, I paused just long enough before delivering my gratitude speech for the Ed's sec to inform me that he loved the work so far, had almost used one of the trial cartoons during the week, and wanted me to start for real in two days time.

This time I was in my own home - no hidden cameras to look for, so I listened out for Jiminy Cricket singing instead...


Here are two cartoons from the same day on that trial week. One of them is the one they very nearly printed - I think (as I often did throughout the years I worked for them) they chose the wrong one. Maybe you'd like to hazard a guess...


  1. The Gromit one has to be the one they almost printed, no?

    That must have taken some guts to leave the Beano and Dandy... I think I would have felt I had made it once working for them.

    I hope you keep going with your bloggage Steve, it really is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

  2. It's absolutely fascinating, Steve, and very reassuring to know that others go through the 'brown trouser moment'. I recall sending off a dummy book to a literary agent, who called me back about ten days later to say she'd found a publisher. My first response? 'Can you excuse me a moment, I'm going to have to sit down!' Weirdly, it wasn't an entirely pleasant feeling!

    My only criticism is that you haven't shared all this before!!!


  3. This is brilliant. Are you allowed to talk about your Beano days and the people you worked with, or is that too intrusive?

  4. Thanks, all!

    Scotty, you picked the wrong one, but I agree with you.

    Cathy, I know what you mean about the feeling not being entirely pleasant - it was a mixture of euphoria and sheer terror for me. Must be an amazing moment to find a publisher like that also.

    Brendini, I'm open to suggestions, and willing to talk about almost anything in my career. Send me some questions if you like, and we'll see what it triggers off.

  5. In his autobiography, A Very Funny Business, Leo Baxendale describes playing Keepie Up in the Beano office whilst batting ideas around with the Editor and writers. I just wondered if the Beano was conducive to that sort of horse-play while you were there.

  6. Only when the Editor was on holiday, Brendan. I was in The Beano for the first 18 months of my adult working life, and it was a very quiet office to work in. The Editor at the time was Harry Crammond, 'affectionately' known as The Grizzler among the staff. He ran a tight ship, and whilst none of the staff were scared of him exactly (he was very proud of his lads), he had a presence that demanded the business of creating funny comics be taken seriously. And generally, the atmosphere was fairly sombre. Didn't stop us from enjoying regular Friday 'liquid lunches' back then of course.

    Things were very different when I was shipped out of the Beano office with the chief sub editor to an isolated room on the top floor of Thomson Towers to create what eventually became 'Nutty' comic. That's where the fun began! But perhaps that can keep for a future blog post.