This is the second in our series of blog posts celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Giles Family, drawing on the riches of the Carl Giles Archive, which has been part of the British Cartoon Archive since 2005. This series is in lieu of a physical exhibition in our Gallery space, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In this post we’re going to tell you “Who’s Who” in the Giles Family! We’ve included lots of images here to give you a real taste of the characters. If it leaves you wanting more, just take a look through our archive online!!
Probably the most famous and prolific character, Grandma Giles is the hard-drinking, bet-placing, grumpy-looking star of the family.
Grandma can usually be found wearing her trademark black coat up to the neck, fox stole, with her hat pulled down over her head and her trusty umbrella and handbag in hand. She was rarely given a voice in cartoons, but appeared in over 1400 of them over the years.
Imagined to have been born as early as 1886, Grandma was a strict disciplinarian with extreme opinions; from being a royalist, to supporting hanging, to having a portrait of Lenin on her bedroom wall! Despite these… interesting… quirks of character, she is well-loved by fans of Giles’ work, and Giles was also incredibly fond of her. In fact, you could say there is some resemblance of Giles himself in Grandma…
Giles did admit that he occasionally considered killing off Grandma over the years, but found that if he left her out of the cartoons for a few days he would receive complaints from Daily Express readers asking when she was going to reappear!
The last cartoon featuring Grandma that we have in the archive was published in the Sunday Express, on 2nd June, 1991. In this cartoon she is uncharacteristically dressed in a winter fur coat, scarf and woolly hat, a comment on the cold June of 1991.
Considering himself the Head of the family (when we all know it’s actually Grandma!), Father was a mild and philosophical character.
A firm favourite, appearing in over 1100 cartoons, Father had served in both World Wars and just wanted a quiet life where he could enjoy sports and relax. He was a working Dad, although we were never given an explanation of what exactly he did for a living! His given name was also George Giles, but being that there are two other George’s in the family, he was always referred to as Father. He was imagined to be 60 years old, and was also, of course, a Grandfather.
In the early days of the Family cartoons Father was depicted wearing the typically working class garb of belt and braces. In later years though this changed with the times to a jumper and slacks.The final cartoon featuring Father in the archive shows him in bed, barely visible, being woken up by Ernie. Ernie is breaking it to him that “Some people are here who say Grandma has rented the house to them for Wimbledon fortnight”. Alas, a quiet life was not to be had!
Mother is the organised, cheerful, authoritative member of the family who appeared in over 950 of the Family cartoons.
We don’t know much about her, except that she should be considered as head of the family. She is matronly, but with a kind face, and can often be found doing the housework, herding the children or serving the tea.
Vera & George
George, the eldest son of Mother and Father, was married to Vera, and together they had a son, George Jr. In the early Family cartoons there was elder son, illustrated with an Eton collar and bowtie (seen behind Vera in the image below), but he had disappeared by the time the Family canon was established.
George could usually be found smoking a pipe and reading a book. He rarely spoke, and was quite absent in the later Family cartoons, only featuring in around 400 in total. He could often be spotted in the background hunched over in a chair, dawdling behind the rest of the family, or with his back to the viewer not noticing the chaos around him.Vera on the other hand, appearing in over 750 cartoons, was often found at Grandma’s side, looking rather ill and put upon. She was originally depicted as a bit of an intellectual, reading poetry alongside George, but as time wore on she became more meek and frail, frequently ill with a cold, constantly worrying, or clutching a bottle of aspirin!
The kids: George Jr, the Twins and Ernie (and Stinker!)
It’s not tricky to spot the kids in the cartoons of the Giles Family; after all they appeared in over 900 of them! Miniscule in stature, the kids were the often chaotic, and always cheeky, element of the Family.
The youngest child of Mother and Father, Ernie, was referred to by Giles as “the most dangerous element of the family”! He was often the centre of the chaos, with a weapon of some sort in his hand, and followed by his gang of tiny troublemakers. He was a reincarnation of an earlier Giles character of the same name, who appeared in a comic strip in the early 1940s. In looks, he is a miniature version of Father and he became less anarchic over time, with the chaotic torch being handed to his friend, Stinker, in later years.
Talking of Stinker…
With his trademark black hair, Stinker was not a relative of the family but was a strong presence, appearing in over 800 cartoons, even going on holiday with the family. Stinker was of course a nickname, his actual name being Larry Wilmott. He never spoke but was well loved by many fans, with even Giles speaking of him as “a favourite in a way”.
The smallest of the grandchildren is George Jnr. Baby George often looks bewildered, is usually wearing a bib around his neck, and is seemingly without legs, having only little feet. In a number of images he appears to be staring out at the viewer, breaking “the 4th wall” of the cartoons. Perhaps he is pleading for aid, or maybe it’s his way of saying “Really?!?!”
The twins, Laurence and Ralph (arguably the cutest of the group), are always found together in their matching outfits, and were named after their mother Ann’s favourite actors, Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Ralph Richardson.
Ann (occasionally spelled ‘Anne’) is the eldest daughter of Mother and Father. Appearing in over 450 cartoons, she is mother to the twins, Laurence and Ralph. Being the eldest, Ann is the tallest of the daughters and can usually be spotted by her distinctive quaffed fringe.
The father of Ann’s twins is absent, and also could be considered in dispute! A number of the Family cartoons suggest that he may have been an American G.I., however in the very early cartoons of 1947 we see what we could presume to be him, a tall man covering his eyes on the stairs…
Carol is the well behaved, often relaxed and smiling, middle daughter. She can usually be seen reading a magazine or lounging about the house.
Bridget is the youngest daughter of Mother and Father. Often wearing a gymslip or school uniform with her dark hair in a plait, she appeared in less than 600 cartoons. She is only slightly taller than her young nephews, but in comparison is incredibly gangly, as opposed to their bouncier, rounded stature.
It’s been noted that on at least two occasions Giles switched the names of Carol and Bridget, presumably accidentally, in the cartoons, such as in this example…
In the early days of the Family cartoons there was an appearance of an American daughter, seen in the cartoon below. It’s been suggested that she married an American GI and moved to America with him after the war.
Chalkie the schoolmaster appeared in c.400 cartoons and was a sarcastic, skeletal looking figure. He was inspired by Giles’ real life school teacher, Mr Chalk, who Giles harassed along with his gang of friends whilst at Barnsbury Park School in London.
The Giles Family had a number of pets over the years, there was Attila the Hun (the parrot), Butch and Rush (the dogs, an Airedale Terrier and Border Collie respectively), Natalie (the cat), and Randy (the fish).