Giles Family at 75: The Birth of the Giles Family

On Wednesday 5 August 1945 the Giles Family appeared for the first time in the pages of the Sunday Express. The creation of cartoonist Carl Giles (1916-1995), over the course of the next 45 years they would appear in over two thousand cartoons in the Sunday Express and Daily Express. For many people his cartoons capture British life in microcosm, and the Family became a national institution. Giles became the most famous and well-beloved cartoonist of his generation: in 2000 he was voted Britain’s Favourite Cartoonist of the 20th century.

GA5732: Cover artwork for 13th Giles Annual, 1959

This is the first in a series of blog posts and social media posts celebrating 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. This first blog post will explore the origins of Giles the cartoonist and the birth of his Family.

Carl Giles: a brief biography

GAPH00392: Giles at Reynolds News

Ronald ‘Carl’ Giles was born in Islington, London, on 29 September 1916, the youngest son of Albert, a tobacconist, and Edith, a dressmaker. He left school at 13 and spent 5 years as an office boy in the animation studios of a London advertising agency. Giles never had any formal art training, but he began developing his artistic skills as an “in-betweener”, filling in the movement between key drawings. He also gained the lifelong nickname Carl, after the monster played by Boris Karloff in the 1932 release of Frankenstein, because of his short haircut. In 1935, he took a position at film producer Alexander Korda’s London Films, and worked on The Fox Hunt, the first British colour animation with sound. A near-fatal motorbike accident in 1936 left him blind and partially deaf in his right eye and ear, and he went to Suffolk to recuperate. He began submitting cartoons to newspapers and magazines and eventually became a regular with the left-wing London Sunday newspaper Reynolds News, including his first series ‘Young Ernie’.

GAP2029: ‘Young Ernie’ strip, published Reynolds News, 12 November 1939

His work was instantly popular, and by 1942, he began attracting attention from other newspapers, and in 1943 signed up with the Sunday Express, which then had the highest circulation in Britain. The self-described “dirty leftist” was initially “thoroughly miserable” at the right-wing Sunday Express, until the increasingly large postbag of fan letters showed him the attractions of addressing a vast readership. By 1947 he was also working for sister paper the Daily Express, and settled into a routine of three single-panel cartoons a week (two for the daily and one for the Sunday).

Exempt from war service because of his motorbike injuries, in September 1944 he became the official war cartoonist for the Express and travelled to the European war zone several times, being present both at the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and the German surrender on Luneberg Heath in May 1945.

GAPC0466: “Hermann – you’ve left that verdammt door open again”, published Sunday Express, 3 October 1943

As the war in Europe ended, Giles realised that his cast of characters was rapidly diminishing. Giles had ridiculed the Axis leaders by presenting them as a dysfunctional family: his first cartoon for the Sunday Express in October 1943 had imagined Hitler, Goering, Goebbels and Mussolini as living a peculiar domestic life in Berlin, an idea to which he repeatedly returned. On Mussolini’s execution in April 1945, Giles later remarked, “I sure hated to see old Musso go […] he was half my bloody stock-in-trade”.

The Family arrives

The Giles Family was actively created as something to take the place of the ‘Axis Family’. The nominal focus of this new Family was one of his wartime soldier characters, returned to civilian life, and had its first recognisable appearance in the Sunday Express of 5 August 1945.

GA5447: “It’s quicker by rail”, published Sunday Express, 5 August 1945

A comment on the chaotic and unreliable state of the railway network in the immediate aftermath of the war, the Family is shown walking along a deserted railway line with thermos and bucket and spade above the ironic caption “It’s quicker by rail”. All the elements that made Giles’ work so recognisable and beloved are here: the fine rendering of the English countryside, the accuracy in depicting the signalling equipment, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it details like the child tumbling down the embankment, and, at the rear, a small black figure, so cleverly drawn that the eye is drawn towards her: Grandma.

GA0208: “If they give us an 11-hour day and a 4-day week, I suppose that means we’re going to have everybody at home for a 24-hour day 3 days a week.”, published Daily Express, 2 September 1947

In August 1947, the Daily Express ran a series of cartoons introducing the different characters to its readers. After that, as Giles recalled, “the Family took on a life of its own almost immediately”. As a cartoonist, Giles was an amused spectator rather than angry satirist. The Family proved a useful medium for commenting on post-war life, reacting to the confusion of world politics and a rapidly changing society.

The family are archetypally working class characters, a large, multi-generational household that are patriotic yet suspicious of authority. As the series progressed, they took on the attributes of a middle class household, with a car, caravan, yacht and foreign holidays. The family never aged, but their home, their hobbies and their dress reflected the changing British fashions and standard of living. The family’s common humanity had a wide social appeal.

The group of characters had achieved their final form by April 1950, when they were known as “Giles and Family”. By August 1951 this had become “The Giles Family”, and in November 1951, responding to “constant public enquiries”, Giles published “The Giles Family Tree”, explaining who everyone was (more of which in the next post).

GA0683: ‘The Giles Family Tree’, published Daily Express, 23 November 1951

Click here more information on the Giles Collection and the British Cartoon Archive.

Exploring Early Modern Kent in the Archive (Part 1): An Introduction to the Ronald Baldwin Collection

SC&A are delighted to present the first of a series of blog posts by one of our volunteers, Dr. Daniella Gonzalez.

Having finished my doctoral studies and eager to get back into the archives to kick-start my career in the archival sector, I began to volunteer at Special Collections & Archives (hereafter SC&A) at the University of Kent in February 2020. There is nothing I like more than uncovering the mysteries that lie in the records before me. It is these materials that tie us back to the past and to the people who lived it. We get an insight into their experiences, thoughts and those they interacted with, as well as the processes that governed their everyday lives. In this piece I want to tell you a bit about what I’ve been doing and what I’ve learnt.

Ronald Baldwin in 1986

As a volunteer at SC&A, I had the fantastic opportunity to work with the early modern indentures that form part of the Ronald Baldwin collection, a selection of pre-1900 material that focuses on the county of Kent and which was collected by Baldwin, a local historian. The items in this part of the collection span the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, informing us about the lives of those that lived in the county of Kent under the Plantagenet kings of England up to the first Georgian monarch. My task was to sort and list the documents into a spreadsheet so it could be uploaded into the online catalogue; to transcribe and translate the documents; and to repackage them into archival quality enclosures to ensure their long-term preservation.

As soon as I laid eyes on the documents I would be working on I knew that this was the perfect project for me. Opening the box was the familiar sight of vellum, parchment and paper, as well as the script that is typical of early modern legal documents – to my delight there was even a late medieval document dating to 1 July 1425!

Indenture dated 29 May 1609 RB/DOC/IND/9

Those utilising these records will also notice that some are written in Latin and others in English. Some, like in the document below, produced on 10 February 1645, whilst Charles I was still king, are even written in both (as you can see the document is divided into two section, the Latin section, which is a preamble of sorts is at the top, and below the document continues in English), so be ready to put your Latin skills to the test!

Indenture dated 10 February 1645 RB/DOC/IND/15

Several of these items are in relatively good condition seals that have been slightly damaged and some slight staining of particular records.

Indenture dated 14 July 1718 RB/DOC/IND/19

As part of my introduction to the project, the University Archivist explained to me how archive catalogues are structured as a hierarchy, with different levels representing different aspects of the collection. Whilst I’ve had my fair share of visits to archives, I’d never realised that there is a catalogue hierarchy of sorts.

Knowing this was key in order for me to carry out my work on the early modern legal records I had before me. Thanks to the introduction, I knew that when cataloguing material, archivists need to capture several key bits of information, such as the level of these records – in this case ‘item’ – the repository they are held in, the collection they belong to and their reference number, which uniquely identifies these records as particular items. Other essential information to include are the date they were produced, the language they were written in, the condition of the record, what type of record it is and a description of the records that describes its content.

Detail of indenture dated 22 May 1626 RB/DOC/IND/10

Whilst sorting them into chronological order and cataloguing these records has been the central part of this project, I have also been able to put my palaeography skills to the test. Palaeography is the study of old handwriting and, whilst a medievalist by trade and having studied palaeography previously, some of the early modern handwriting was a little tricky at times. Totally worth it though when you encounter such beautiful illustrated initials like that on the right, dating to the reign of Charles I!

I have also been putting my palaeography skills to good use and producing transcriptions for researchers and the general public alike, which will be made available soon!

I’ll be producing some posts about my archive experiences with SC&A, so watch this space for more on early modern indentures and the daily lives of Kent’s early modern communities!

The catalogue entries for this collection are now live and can be viewed here: https://archive.kent.ac.uk/TreeBrowse.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&field=RefNo&key=RB%2fDOC%2fIND

 

Radical Roots and Dangerous Ideas: Archives and Gulbenkian’s Heritage

Guest blog from Barbican archivists Matthew Harle and Thomas Overton.

Radical Roots and Dangerous Ideas, a youth-led project responding creatively to the archives of the Gulbenkian Theatre at the University of Kent at Canterbury, took place at a doubly exciting time. It was not only the Gulbenkian’s 50th anniversary, but a moment at which our participants were thinking differently about archives, authority and protest  in the era of social media and the internet.

The University of Canterbury at Kent (UKC) was founded in 1965 as one of a group of institutions which sought to broaden access to higher education to a growing population of young people. This was the Baby Boomer generation: the children of those who had returned from the Second World War.  In contrast to the typically red brick of the universities built in the Victorian era, or the medieval ‘dreaming spires’ of those built long before, the University of Kent at Canterbury was among those known as plate glass universities. This name referred to their modern architecture and design – the glass, concrete and steel which sprang up on the site of this old farm on the edge of the ancient cathedral city of Canterbury.

View of Rutherford College in 1968, the second college at Kent to be constructed.

Building continued in phases as the university expanded in its scope and facilities, accepting its first cohort of undergraduate students in 1965. During their first three years at the University, this group would see both the campus and student culture grow around them. By the time they graduated in 1968, there were three colleges, a university Library, the poet W.H. Auden had delivered the first TS Eliot lectures, and a new student magazine FUSS had been established. 1968 is remembered for a turn in youth culture across the Western world; the May student rebellion in Paris sparked a year of global struggle for progress which was fought on many fronts. From the US Civil Rights Movement to protest against the Vietnam War, and the groundswell of support for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the UK, messages of protest spread through the mass media whipped up activism and solidarity across students bodies round the world.

Kent was no different, with an active and vocal student culture that assembled in a group of 1500 in the centre of Canterbury to protest Apartheid in South Africa. Sit-Ins, demonstrations and meetings continued on-campus, organised by a busy set of societies and reading groups. To mark the 50th anniversary, Gulbenkian’s young filmmakers group SCREEN 31 spoke to some former staff and students who recounted political and cultural activities from the late 60s-early 70s. (These ‘oral histories’ are now available in the University of Kent Special Collections and Archives.) In just three years, Kent, like some of its fellow  Plate Glass universities, such as Sussex, East Anglia and Essex, had grown into one of the most progressive student cultures in the country.

Kent students at a protest in support of Biafra, April 1969

A year and a month after May ’68, a theatre and arts centre, the Gulbenkian, opened up on the University campus. It takes its name from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, which contributed £35,500 to the overall costs of around £54,000. Inspiration came from Leicester’s Phoenix Theatre, which was opened in 1963, and renamed the Sue Townsend theatre in 2014. The committee in charge of the Gulbenkian hoped to demonstrate ‘the possibilities of low-cost theatre building for universities’, hosting a varied programme for students and the general public.

Gulbenkian Theatre under construction, 1968

The first production, The Exploding Dream by playwright Richard Drain responded to the revolutionary atmosphere on campus by re-imagining the story of Guy Fawkes. Drain’s avant-garde re-telling of the Gunpowder Plot had been chosen by the Gulbenkian’s young Director, Mike Lucas, as an attempt to shake up the Canterbury establishment and bring the radical tendencies of the University’s students to the local community. The play contained full-frontal male nudity and dialogue calculated to shock the local press. The Gulbenkian had made a name for itself in its opening performance, though later productions were more conservative.

In Radical Roots, we were interested in how the Gulbenkian and University’s past spoke to young people half a century on. What does it actually mean to be ‘radical’?  Were their forebears more or less ‘radical’ than they were? Many of the struggles engaged with by students and artists of the 1960s seem almost obvious to young people today: from gender and racial equality, LGBTQ rights, to democratising our experience of culture and exploring marginalised social voices in the arts and media. Yet, only days before the project began, several of the students had picketed their schools on climate strike, or travelled up to London to protest Donald Trump’s state visit to Britain. Rather than feeling that the struggles of the 1960s were remote and to be taken for granted, the participants responded to the energy spread among the letters, magazines and ephemera they discovered in the archive. Their own interpretation and responses have since been absorbed into Kent’s collections — awaiting re-discovery by the next generation.

Gulbenkian Theatre in the 1980s

James Friell a.k.a. Gabriel a.k.a. Jimmy Friell a.k.a. Field pt.2

Earlier this year Special Collections & Archives hosted two student interns with the generous support of Kent’s Work-Study scheme. Becca and Emily worked on our James Friell collection from the British Cartoon Archive, helping to sort, repackage and list this large collection of cuttings and original artworks. In this second of two posts written by Becca and Emily, they give an overview of their time with us:

Introductions

Hello! We are two interns, working with the Special Collections and Archives, as part of the Work-Study scheme.

I am Becca, a final year Classical and Archaeological Studies undergraduate student. Although my interests are mainly in a far earlier period than is covered by the Friell collection, I’ve found the cartoons both interesting, funny, and in some cases, still relevant – they clearly stand the test of time!

I am Emily, a final year History undergraduate student. The Friell collection has been fascinating to work with, largely my historical interests and expertise surrounds modern political history, as such the collection has helped me with my studies and vice versa.

The Collection

The Friell collection primarily contains newspaper cartoon cuttings and original artwork of the late political cartoonist, James Friell, also known by his ​Daily Worker ​pen name, Gabriel. The University of Kent has one of the biggest cartoon archives in the UK and the pieces in their Friell collection easily numbers in the thousands. The collection also features personal items such as small biographies written by Friell himself, personal greetings cards sent to friends, and rough sketches. It’s fantastic to work with a collection as complete as this, where we can read about Friell’s life in and outside of cartoons, and see not only the published work, but the original concepts and artwork, too.

The Task

Before and after: the original folders and boxes for the cuttings are on the right, and the repackaged on the left.

Our first task with the collection was to sort through the thousands of cartoon clippings from both ​The Daily Worker ​and The Evening Standard. ​This involved date ordering the clippings and repackaging the collection to conservation grade standard. Our next task was to then research the original artwork in order to date the pieces, as well as cross referencing with the cartoon clippings we had previously worked with, to organise the artwork and make it accessible for readers.

What were the main challenges with working with this collection?

Newspaper cutting from the Friell collection

One of the biggest challenges of working with the Friell collection was also one of the best parts: it is completely uncatalogued and little work had been done on it until we began. Whilst this meant that we had a mammoth task of sorting the collection from scratch, it was also great to know that when we finished the project, we would’ve been responsible for sorting and caring for an entire collection from start to finish.

The biggest challenge came from working with the original artwork within the collection. Whereas with the cuttings, the date was often written on the cartoon or printed on the newspaper, the majority of the original artwork was both undated and in no discernable order – cartoons from ​The Daily Worker ​in 1948 mingled freely with those from 1957, where Friell had begun signing his work with his surname, rather than the familiar Gabriel. The only way we had to date these artworks was to search through the cuttings to find the corresponding date that the cartoon had been printed. When faced with thousands of cuttings and thousands of original artworks, you can forgive us if there were tears! Nevertheless, we powered on and in just a few weeks, had the majority of the original artwork listed, dated, and linked to their corresponding newspaper cutting.

What has been the best thing about working in Special Collections & Archives?

Our Templeman exhibition cases in the Templeman Gallery

We have loved the variety. Whilst caring for and sorting the Friell collection was our primary project, we had the opportunity to help install the Our Templeman exhibition in the Library’s Gallery space, including cases dedicated to the Maddison collection and David Drummond Pantomime collection. This not only taught us the practical handling and displaying skills necessary for exhibition work, but also gave us the opportunity to work with varied collections outside of Friell.

David Drummond Pantomime exhibition case

The whole experience has been fantastic, the Special Collections & Archives team are so lovely to work with and the feeling of completing a task the size of the Friell collection was amazing. Most of all, this internship has provided us with invaluable experience, which has meant that we both have either secured a place in further education or a graduate role within the archive sector, something that seemed unattainable without this role.

James Friell a.k.a. Gabriel a.k.a. Jimmy Friell a.k.a. Field

Earlier this year Special Collections & Archives hosted two student interns with the generous support of Kent’s Work-Study scheme. Becca and Emily worked on our James Friell collection from the British Cartoon Archive, helping to sort, repackage and list this large collection of cuttings and original artworks. In this first of two posts written by Becca and Emily, they give an overview of Friell’s life and work:

Cover of “Gabriel’s 1946 review in cartoons from the ‘Daily Worker'”, a compendium of his cartoons published that year.

“So you became a cartoonist, but why a political cartoonist? The answer to that was that I grew up in Glasgow in the thirties and I still can’t understand anyone who grew up anywhere in the thirties not being political.”

James Friell (1912-1997), also known by Jimmy Friell, Gabriel, and Field, was a political cartoonist for various British newspapers and television programmes between 1936 and 1988. Born in 1912 in Glasgow to a large Irish Catholic family, Friell showed artistic talent from an early age. He was a bright boy who was offered a scholarship for an academy, which would have led to university, but his father made him turn it down in favour of work. He worked in a solicitor’s office, where he sold a few cartoons to Glaswegian and London newspapers, before pursuing a cartoonist career full-time.

Friell’s first position began in 1936 at The Daily Worker, a Communist party-owned weekly paper whose views fell in line with his own. Here, he took the pen name ‘Gabriel’, after the archangel, and joined the Communist party in 1937. During his time at the paper, Gabriel’s main targets were Churchill, Mussolini, and Hitler, with a good few jabs at the Labour and Tory parties. He was called up to the Royal Artillery during the Second World War but served his time in a factory, due to his known ties to the Communist party. He worked for The Daily Worker until 1956, leaving when he felt he could no longer work for a Communist paper who condemned the evils of capitalism whilst praising the “acknowledged evils” of Communism in Russia.

Sheffield Youth Peace Festival 1952 (FR0476)

After a few months out of work, Friell took up a job with the Evening Standard, leaving his pen name Gabriel behind. He worked there for five and a half years, from 1956-1962, now signing his cartoons ‘Friell’. He left the Evening Standard after a new cartoonist was brought in, knowing that no other other paper would hire a hard-left cartoonist and being forced to take on several other pseudonyms to get work. He worked in television for a few years, winning the Bronze Award in 1983 for a television cartoon piece, before moving to his last position at The New Civil Engineer magazine in 1973.

James Friell was discovered by an American professor in 1986 after years of living in obscurity, leading to a History Today article, interviews deposited into the National Library of the Spoken Word, and several lectures for the Americans Social Historians group. He retired in 1988 and died in 1997, aged 84. The Friell collection in the University of Kent’s Special Collections & Archives is lucky to have a wide range of pieces surrounding the cartoonist – from newspaper cartoon cuttings and original artworks from his time at The Daily Worker and Evening Standard, to rough sketches and personal greetings cards. Our next blog post will detail our work with the collection, including some of the challenges that come with attempting to sort such a large and varied collection.