I am sitting in the British Cartoon Archive office reading a letter, and I canít quite believe what Iím reading it seems to be a bit of a dream, the part of the letter I am reading says
- ďShe is also glad that you got away without having lost, at least to the best of her knowledge, so much as a shred of your trousers.Ē, the reason I canít believe it is because of who it is sent from.
Who it is addressed to is of course Giles, he had quite a correspondence with this individual and other members of the family.
The reason I am looking at the letter is that I have been invited by the head of the archive to view the newly donated Giles collection.
The collection has been given to the British Cartoon Archive by the Trustees of Gilesí estate. The collection is not fully catalogued or conserved yet and so is not open for public access,
the reason for it not being fully catalogued should become apparent as you read further.
When I arrived I met the head of the archive, Dr Nicholas Hiley, we started off a tour around the items, and even before I had got to the bottom of the first flight of stairs,
a filing cabinet from Gilesí offices is in the corner. Another flight of stairs and another three filing cabinets, we stop at these and look at an orange manila folder. It contains some correspondence between Giles and the Express Newspaper,
dating from the early 1950ís. Itís safe to say that Giles was very comfortable corresponding by letter and at one stage seems to be quite enjoying the cut and thrust of the exchange.
A letter from Giles to Harold Keeble
A letter from the Express to Giles about a cartoon that, from the text of the letter, seems as relevant today as it was then.
It has to be said that a lot of the early letters are concerned with Giles not being too happy with the newspaper for reducing the size of the cartoon. Giles would have liked the cartoon to be 6 columns wide and in some cases the paper has dared to reduce it to 4 columns.
After this file of letters we move on to the next room, in there are several moveable racks, the first of which includes on one side a set of Giles related publications. These are all items that Giles had in his personal collection, and yes, Giles had a Giles annual collection !
There are many things in this section that I had never heard of, many that I had heard of, and many that are the stuff of legends, like the England Smiler. The other side of the rack consists of many books and publications not related to Giles,
these were all part of the archive that was donated, and were part of Giles personal library.
Giles' own collection
Another item on the top left of the first shelf is what looks like an annual that has no cartoons and no cover, and this is exactly what it is.
On opening it up it shows newspaper cartoons that have been cut out and pasted onto each page with notes and dates added.
This is the way the Giles annual was built up so it was ready to be published. Intriguingly on some of the pages the notes say things like ĎAlter Originalí as in the example below.
An Annual in the making
This cartoon is one that was altered after being published in the paper, and is now essentially a spot the difference cartoon. The cartoon as published in the annual is here (HTML Link).
We then moved to another of the moveable racks and there are more books and filing boxes marked ďCorrespondenceĒ. Another set of shelves and a large amount of unopened RNLI and other types of Christmas cards.
There are some small books that have some unsigned cartoons in them that are thought to be some of Gilesí earliest work.
Also a metal template that shows how large the Daily Express cartoon will be if it fills the full five columns when published in the paper.
So onto the next room, this is filled with tall filing cupboards and most are marked with a date range. Opening one of the cabinets shows it is filled with brown archive boxes, in each of these boxes are a small selection of Giles originals.
It is at this point that I realise the importance of what is stored in this room. All of the cartoons not given away by Giles, and there were not many of those, are in these cabinets.
Approximately 7500 original Giles cartoons in one room. I have only ever been in the presence of 2 original cartoons before and the thought of never wanting to leave the room until each box was opened and examined did cross my mind.
One of the many cabinets of cartoons
Dr Nicholas Hiley with one of the many boxes of cartoons
A close up of the cartoon.
Note the position of the signature on this cartoon
The cabinets are arranged in a horseshoe type of configuration and in the middle are yet more boxes. These are larger than the boxes in the cabinets and opening one of them reveals lots of original cover art in all itís raw glory.
The thought of never leaving the room is now extended to the rest of my life ! Examining the cover art shows lots of interesting detail, for example there are many places where items have been replaced.
By this I mean the art has a sort of 3D feel to it where either small mistakes or better ideas have been covered up by sticking pieces of paper on top of the main art board.
Another cover reveals that on the rear of the Fortieth Series a whole section of the top left corner has been replaced by cutting out the art board and replacing it with a piece from another board.
Also what strikes me about this cover is that above the Lord who is creating the DIY Venus De Milo, is a fluorescent strip light that is not fully visible on the cover of the annual,
you can only just see one edge of it at the very top of the final published page.
Another good example of this is the ĎWarning Oil On Beachí sign on the cover of the Forty second Series. This sign is drawn on a separate piece of paper and stuck over the original sign.
Another remarkable thing about the rear of this cover is that I had always assumed that the pink glow was a colour wash put on top of the cartoon,
but it is actually drawn on a pink coloured art board.
The rear cover of the thirty seventh annual
Notes and colour choices in the margins
Looking around the room shows much more than just the cartoons, for example there is an easel that was used by Giles in his studio, there is also a smaller cupboard that when opened reveals lots of artists materials which were stored in the Ipswich studio.
A display board featuring Grandma is propped up against another cabinet. Yet another cabinet is opened which contains framed cartoons and pictures that were sent to Giles by admirers and friends,
as well as a selection of framed personal photographs. In another on the top shelf is a comedy writers award and various other award related ephemera.
A display board
A collection of drawings, paintings and photographs
An easel from Giles' studio
Just as I thought that this has to be the extent of what is in the collection I am taken to yet another area, this store room has more shelves with box upon box of annuals.
These appear to be annuals that Giles had stored for either reference, presents or some other unknown purpose. Also at one end of the room are many objects that are just everyday items, including many childrenís toys.
Looking at them more closely it suddenly dawns on me that I have seen these items before. Iím sure Iíve seen that spinning top in a cartoon and that car looks familiar.
Itís quite odd to see the reference materials that Giles used to draw many of the objects in the cartoons.
At that point the presence of a BBC television crew means that my short time in the archive isnít going to turn into a lifestyle choice, so I am guided out of the main cartoon room.
I ask if I can look through some of the correspondence files further and take one of the boxes from the moveable shelves that had caught my eye earlier.
This is how I came to be disbelieving the letter that I was reading and came to the conclusion that I was dreaming.
The letter was in a box with a small yellow sticky note marked ĎRoyalí. The letter is about a dinner with the Queen and shows what a keen sense of humour the Queen has.
A letter from the palace
There are many letters sent of behalf of Her Majesty along with many invites to formal lunches and garden parties. There is also a folder that contains correspondence with the Duke of Edinburgh.
Quite a few of the letters contain requests for cartoons, such as the example below :-
The letter asking for the cartoon
The Dukes response once the cartoon has been sent.
The cartoon that is being referred to
Well Iím not dreaming but this has been such a wonderful opportunity and a fantastic experience one which I will remember for a long time to come.
The BBC crew film one more piece in the main office of the British Cartoon Archive and it is time to leave. Thankfully not for home yet, but on to the Giles exhibition that is based in the Canterbuty Royal Museum & Art Galery.
The exhibition is in an inner gallery in the Museum and walking in there were many people all closely examining the exhibits. There is a wonderful range of original cartoon art,
annual cover artwork and many other Giles related items. Including as a centre piece a mock up of the Ipswich studio Giles worked in.
I had to examine the studio exhibit three times during the evening as it has so many items and recognisable parts to it that it keeps on revealing another part of the Giles daily cartoon life.
Even after three visits I didnít spot the policemanís helmet in the corner !
After examining the exhibits and chatting to a few of the guests who included amongst their number two of Giles' nephews, friends of Giles, the Lord Mayor of Canterbury,
local councillors, the trustees of the Giles estate and various University of Kent representatives, it was time for some speeches to the mark the official handover of the collection to the British Cartoon Archive.
It was remarked during one of the speeches that if the whole collection was displayed, it would take about another 100 rooms of the same size to display all the cartoons.
Another quick tour of the exhibits and it was time to leave. It had been a fantastic day and I canít thank the British Cartoon Archive enough for letting me visit and see what can only be described as a Giles Fanís Holy Grail.
Do visit the exhibition if you are in the area or even if you are not, you wonít be disappointed.
Other links to related articles
A BBC News article about the exhibition
The British Cartoon Archive web site.