Music in the Archives: A whistle-stop tour through our collections (part three)

Welcome to the third and final part of our mini series exploring all things musical in Special Collections & Archives – just in time for Kent’s Summer Music Week! Today we’re stepping into the modern age with pantomime and stand-up comedy; what more could you want on this glorious Thursday?

Pantomime: celebrity, pop culture and the power of music in storytelling

Just as melodrama and popular Victorian entertainments use music in conjunction with other theatrical effects, so pantomime develops the use of music with visual storytelling even further. At Kent, our pantomime material can be found in the incredible David Drummond Pantomime Collection alongside lots of material in our previously mentioned Melville and Pettingell archives.

Programme for Drury Lane Theatre's 1899/1900 Pantomime 'Jack and the Beanstalk' with photograph of star Miss Mabel Nelson

Programme for Drury Lane Theatre’s 1899/1900 Pantomime ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ (David Drummond Pantomime Collection)

Pantomime’s links with music go all the way back to its origins in the 16th century ‘commedia dell’arte’ Italian entertainment with stock characters; when the stories initially began to appear on the British stage in the 18th century performances would have no speech at all – just music. (This was in part due to theatre licensing regulations restricting the use of speech in performances, overturned by the Theatres Act in 1843.) Fast forward to the 19th century and pantomime became an incredibly lavish affair for many theatres, particularly for London’s Drury Lane theatre which became known for its elaborate, expensive performances which lasted as long as five hours!

Cover for sheet music of 'Beauty and the Beast: A Chamber Opera' with five illustrations

Cover for sheet music of ‘Beauty and the Beast: A Chamber Opera’ (David Drummond Pantomime Collection)

Sheet music from 'Beauty and the Beast: A Chamber Opera'

Sheet music from ‘Beauty and the Beast: A Chamber Opera’ (David Drummond Pantomime Collection)

Music, of course, is one of the most consistently integral parts of the pantomime genre, from libretti (which you could often buy as a souvenir of the performance) to audience participation. Many songs used in pantomime are familiar to their audiences and often have lyrics rewritten for a particular show. Sometimes theatregoers are encouraged to sing along and participate, with the music helping to give pantomimes a very two-way performance between its stars and the audience.

Poster for the pantomime 'Sleeping Beauty' at the Manchester Palace theatre starring comedians Morecambe and Wise (David Drummond Pantomime Collection)

Poster for the pantomime ‘Sleeping Beauty’ at the Manchester Palace theatre starring comedians Morecambe and Wise (David Drummond Pantomime Collection)

Poster for the pantomime 'Aladdin' at the London Palladium theatre, starring Danny La Rue (David Drummond Pantomime Collection)

Poster for the pantomime ‘Aladdin’ at the London Palladium theatre, starring Danny La Rue (David Drummond Pantomime Collection)

Today, we generally associate pantomime with famous stars – but did you know this, too, has musical links? In the 19th century music hall stars began to join pantomime performances – partly to bring in new, younger audiences and partly to add some celebrity glamour to the show! This trend has continued through the 20th century and up to today, with debates about whether this ‘ruins’ pantomime ever-present.

The British Stand-Up Comedy Archive: the next evolution of music hall and challenges for archivists

We couldn’t finish a tour of all things musical without stopping in at the 20th/21st century wonder that is our British Stand-Up Comedy Archive (known as BSUCA for short because we all love an acronym). Created in 2015 and funded through the University’s Beacon projects to celebrate Kent’s 50th birthday, six years later BSUCA contains over 30 different collections and it’s still growing.

What’s particularly brilliant about BSUCA is that for an archive about what initially appears to be a fairly niche subject, it packs one heck of a research punch. Topics it covers include the history of performance, artists and venues, Thatcher’s Britain and the miner’s strike, protest, counter-culture, publishing, audience interaction, celebrity and much more. So – are you surprised that it’s also a great source for all things musical? You shouldn’t be!

Flyer advertising the Alternative Cabaret collective

Flyer advertising the Alternative Cabaret collective (Andy de la Tour Collection, BSUCA/AT/3)

Stand-up comedy as a genre has its roots in both popular performance and variety. Tony Allen’s stand-up comedy developed in part during his time with the Rough Theatre group, whose plays included rewritten gags from music hall shows. The Alternative Cabaret collective (which included Tony Allen, Alexei Sayle, Jim Barclay and Andy de la Tour) performed shows that lasted several hours and included musicians and comedians working together. The links between music hall and stand-up don’t end there: CAST New Variety, a left-wing theatre company founded by Roland and Claire Muldoon, was also responsible for helping to save the Hackney Empire music hall in late 1986 by using it for gigs.

Poster for CAST New Variety night entitled 'Reds under the bed', 1985 (

Poster for CAST New Variety night entitled ‘Reds under the bed’, 1985 (Linda Smith Collection, BSUCA/LS/3/1/1)

When the 1980s Comic Strip group began performing, academic Olly Double notes that several publications compared their gigs as doing to comedy what punk did for the music world (2020, pp.32 – 33). This comparison is further strengthened by the fact that they released an LP:

The Comic Strip poster, 1980

Poster, 1980. Originally a venue, The Comic Strip collective quickly embarked on a national tour, released an LP and produced TV series “The Comic Strip Presents…” (Arnold Brown Collection, BSUCA/AB/2/1)

All of this music inevitably leads us to questions about how we look after such material. Caring for music archives is a lot of fun but it can be tricky! Fortunately preserving most paper-based material such as song sheets and play scripts is a relatively straightforward process (acid free boxes + stable temperature and humidity = happy collections). However, audiovisual material (LPs, videos, CDs, cassette tapes) is generally incredibly sensitive to environmental changes not to mention the rapid development of technology that renders media obsolete relatively quickly. So for us, managing audiovisual material is one of our key priorities at the moment; it involves knowing what material we have and in which formats and then working to prioritise items most at risk. You can read more about how we transfer collections from audiovisual to digital here.

One thing is certain though: these days music is just a big a part of our culture as it’s ever been, whether we listen to the radio, stream music online, or enjoy it as part of live performance. And as long as it continues to be such a large influence on our lives, we’ll continue to collect material on how it’s used in popular culture!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this mini-series about music in Special Collections & Archives; do visit our website for more information on the collections and if you have any queries please drop us a line (specialcollections@kent.ac.uk).

Sources:

Pantomime:

Anderson, Gillian B. “Synchronized Music: The Influence of Pantomime on Moving Pictures.” Music and the Moving Image, vol. 8, no. 3, 2015, pp. 3–39. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/musimoviimag.8.3.0003. Accessed 7 June 2021.

Mitchell, G. (2017). ‘Mod Movement in Quality Street Clothes’: British Popular Music and Pantomime, 1955–75. New Theatre Quarterly, 33(3), 254-276. doi:10.1017/S0266464X17000306

‘The Story of Pantomime’ at the V&A Museum: https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/the-story-of-pantomime

BSUCA:

Double, Oliver. Alternative Comedy : 1979 and the Reinvention of British Stand-Up, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/kentuk/detail.action?docID=6120964.

Music in the Archives: A whistle-stop tour through our collections (part two)

Welcome to part two of our mini series exploring all things musical in Special Collections & Archives – just in time for Kent’s Summer Music Week! Today we’re delving into all things Boucicault and Melville and having a look at some of the amazing art held in the British Cartoon Archive…

Theatre collections part two: Boucicault’s brilliant box-office hits

Ah, Boucicault. The great thing about theatre people is that their history is just as interesting as their works, and the Victorian playwright’s life really is no exception. Bankruptcy? Tick! Extravagant legal battles over copyright of his works? Tick! Affairs and scandal? Tick!

Title page of a Penny Pictorial edition of Dion Boucicault's play The Colleen Bawn, showing the famous drowning scene

Title page of a Penny Pictorial copy of the play “The Colleen Bawn” by Dion Boucicault, undated (PETT BND 126.33)

Front cover of a Penny Pictorial Play Book of 'The Colleen Bawn' by Dion Boucicault, featuring a colour illustration of a scene from the play.

Front cover of a Penny Pictorial Play Book of ‘The Colleen Bawn’ by Dion Boucicault, featuring a colour illustration of a scene from the play (BOUC/PHO/0648577)

Drama aside (if that’s possible), Boucicault was arguably one of the most popular writers in the nineteenth century. His plays were immensely popular, in part because they nearly always contained a visual spectacle designed to draw audiences to the box office. In an age before movies and TV, it was a pretty thrilling thing to see – for example – someone nearly drowning in a cave, almost being run over by a train, or a burning house – on stage literally in front of your eyes. But what is possibly less well known about Boucicault is how he was one of the first playwrights to incorporate music specifically written for his works in the theatre; in The Colleen Bawn, not only does the music play alongside dialogue but it actually changes with each line. The music itself was so popular that it was still being loaned out over twenty years after the play was first staged in 1860.

Cover for sheet music accompanying the play "The Colleen Bawn" by Dion Boucicault, c.1861, featuring the famous drowning scene

Cover for sheet music accompanying the play “The Colleen Bawn” by Dion Boucicault, c.1861          (CALB/COL/MUS/LDN ADL/F190364)

Boucicault’s use of music in his melodramas also massively helped ease critics into greater support for orchestras on the ‘proper’ theatre stage, showing that drama could extend beyond well-written words into a more complete theatre experience.

The British Cartoon Archive: more than just politics

Our British Cartoon Archive is best known for its vast collection of social and political cartoons across the 19th and 20th centuries, so it’s hardly a surprise to discover that music pops up fairly regularly as well. A quick search on our catalogue for ‘music’ returns 146 results! Sometimes music and entertainment is a beautiful hark back to previous times, like in this David Low cartoon from 1954 where the current political situation is reimagined as a music hall variety night:

Cartoon by David Low comparing the current political situation to a night of music hall entertainment

“Music-hall situation” by David Low in The Manchester Guardian (28 May 1954, LSE4654)

 

Occasionally nursery rhymes become mischievously reimagined for contemporary comment, such as in Leslie Illingworth’s retelling of ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’:

Cartoon by Leslie Illingworth showing Harold Macmillan as a shepherd in a field of sheep, with one black sheep leaping off to the side

“He’s a poor little lamb who has lost his way, Baa! Baa! Baa!
The little black sheep who has gone astray, Baa! Baa! Baa!
Gentleman Tory off on a spree, D—-d from here to eternity,
Lord have mercy on such as he, Baa! Baa! Baa!
With acknowledgments and apologies to the Whiffenpoof song, published by the Magna Music Co. Ltd.” (Leslie Illingworth, 21 March 1962 for the Daily Mail, ILW3486)

The most regular culprits are – of course – the early 20th century cartoonist W.K. Haselden and the wonderful Carl Giles. For Haselden, whose work in the Daily Mirror tended to look at societal changes as well as political events and wars, the inclusion of music is hardly a leap. Famous for his sketches of actors in Punch and repeated forays into women’s fashion and roles in society, music is another way in which Haselden pokes fun at everyday people and trends:

Cartoon by W.K. Haselden showing the different types of music that would entertain railway commuters

“Music for the Railway travellers” by W.K. Haselden, published in the Daily Mirror on 04 October 1907 and 20 September 1911 (WH0614)

Cartoon by W.K. Haselden showing the excesses of combining musical performance with food

“Music at meals: Meals at music – a parallel” by W.K. Haselden, published in the Daily Mirror on 17 March 1914 and 19 February 1918 (WH0895)

In Carl Giles’ world music is somewhat of a nuisance, especially when it comes to small children attempting to avoid piano lessons:

Cartoon by Carl Giles showing the many different places toffees can be hidden to distract from piano lessons

“IN THE GILES FAMILY there is a theory among the children that the more toffee they get on the piano the quicker they get their music lessons over – you press one note and they all go down together. I offer this simple sweets-are-now-off-the-ration guide to parents who, during the more or less sweet-free years, may have forgotten the trouble spots.” (Carl Giles, 7 February 1953 for the Daily Express, GA0825)

Music is also a huge source of mischief in Carl Giles’ land, as seen by this 1959 cartoon:

Cartoon by Carl Giles showing a group of soldiers being told off for inserting a mischievous page of music into the official performance

“It is reported that during band practice for the forthcoming visit by Chancellor Adenauer you did wilfully insert one page of ‘Colonel Bogey’ into the band’s music for ‘Deutschland Uber Alles’.” – Carl Giles for the Sunday Express, 15 November 1959 (GA1601)

As you are probably aware, our British Cartoon Archive is such a vast, wide-ranging collection that it’s definitely worth an hour of your time exploring all things musical via the online catalogue. Have fun!

Theatre collections part three: enter the Melvilles stage right

One of the many SC&A hills I am prepared to die on is this: the Melville family, whose complete archives we hold, is criminally underrated in the theatre history world and more people should know about them and love their work. A dynasty of thespians (you can find a brief Twitter-friendly summary of them here), the Melvilles managed several important theatres (including the Theatre Royal Brighton, the Lyceum and the Prince’s / Shaftesbury in London) at the turn of the 19th /  early 20th century. But their love of all things drama extended far beyond managing as they wrote and acted in plays as well.

Image containing sepia-toned photographs of the Melville family

Image containing sepia-toned photographs of the Melville family

The Melvilles are probably best known for their Bad Woman plays, popular in the early 20th century. The Bad Woman plays are interesting in several ways: they became well known during a time when melodrama as a genre was beginning to wane in theatres, but they also spoke to concerns in early Edwardian society – particularly the role of women during the suffrage movement, when demands for equal rights and pay were becoming ever louder.

Black and white postcard photograph publicising 'The Bad Girl of the Family' by Frederick Melville, and showing a scene from the play

Black and white postcard photograph publicising ‘The Bad Girl of the Family’ by Frederick Melville, and showing a scene from the play, c.1909 (MEL/PUBMA/123: 0699937e)

The Melvilles tapped into these concerns and used the melodrama genre to address middle and lower-working class fears about ‘New Women’ disrupting society. As a genre, melodramas always play out social issues on stage before resolving them neatly and the Bad Woman plays did just this, creating unruly female leads who eventually gave up their misbehaving antics to settle down. Music played a huge role in the melodramatic genre; it became integral to the performance, making speech and gestures more extravagant and heightening emotion and meaning throughout.

Music from the Dion Boucicault play 'The Octoroon', adapted by the Melville family

Music from the Dion Boucicault play ‘The Octoroon’, adapted by the Melville family (MEL 70)

Alongside the Bad Woman plays the Melvilles worked extensively on a huge range of popular stories, rewriting them for their audiences. We have over 240 play texts from the Melvilles in our archives (view a list of titles here) and many of them contain the original scores for the performances. These plays ranged from pantomimes to contemporary stories, such as First World War dramas (‘The Female Hun’ notably includes sheet music for the German ‘Hymn of Hate’). The amount of music in the Melville archive is also documented through an entire section of the archive catalogue.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this mini-series about music in Special Collections & Archives; do visit our website for more information on the collections and if you have any queries please drop us a line (specialcollections@kent.ac.uk).

Sources:

Boucicault collections:

Fuhrmann, C. Between Opera and Musical: Theatre Music in Early Nineteenth-Century London. In Gordon, R. and Jubin, O. (Eds) The Oxford Handbook of the British Musical. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199988747.013.2

Pisani, M. (2004). Music for the theatre: Style and function in incidental music. In K. Powell (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Victorian and Edwardian Theatre (Cambridge Companions to Literature, pp. 70-92). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CCOL052179157X.005

Melvilles:

Mayer, D. (2004). Encountering melodrama. In K. Powell (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Victorian and Edwardian Theatre (Cambridge Companions to Literature, pp. 145-163). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CCOL052179157X.009

Giles Family at 75: Media and advertising

With all their fame and success, it’s no surprise that the Giles family leapt from their creator’s drawing board and into the wider world. In this blog post – the last in our series celebrating 75 years of the Giles family – we dive into the Carl Giles Trust archives (not, er, literally) to take a look at how Grandma and the gang have been used in media and advertising:

In this blog post – the last in our series celebrating 75 years of the Giles family – we dive into the Carl Giles Trust archives (not, er, literally) to take a look at how Grandma and the gang have been used in media and advertising:

What’s the tea, Grandma? 

Centre spread of Special 'T-Day Edition' of the Daily Express, celebrating the appearance of the Giles family in the Tetley Quick Brew adverts - Carl Giles, Daily Express, c. 1983 (Image ref: GAAD0021B)

Centre spread of Special ‘T-Day Edition’ of the Daily Express, celebrating the appearance of the Giles family in the Tetley Quick Brew adverts – Carl Giles, Daily Express, c. 1983 (Image ref: GAAD0021B)

Around 1983 – 1985, Carl Giles partnered with restaurant chain and food manufacturer Lyons to advertise their Quick Brew tea. The adverts starred Grandma and can be viewed here, here and here. (There is some debate regarding Giles’ agreement to these adverts.) Alongside Grandma, Mother and Father also had starring roles:

Colour advert for Lyons Quick Brew tea bags with Giles cartoon - Carl Giles, c.1985 (Image ref: GAPC0611)

Colour advert for Lyons Quick Brew tea bags with Giles cartoon – Carl Giles, c.1985 (Image ref: GAPC0611)

Colour advert for Lyons Quick Brew tea bags with Giles cartoon - Carl Giles, c.1985 (Image ref: GAPC0612)

Colour advert for Lyons Quick Brew tea bags with Giles cartoon – Carl Giles, c.1985 (Image ref: GAPC0612)

It was also possible to buy specially designed boxes of Quick Brew tea which had the Giles Family on. Here’s a closeup of the art Giles drew for this:

Colour proof of Lyons Quick Brew 500g tea bag packaging - Carl Giles, c.1985 (Image ref: GAP2166)

Colour proof of Lyons Quick Brew 500g tea bag packaging – Carl Giles, c.1985 (Image ref: GAP2166)

And for the true tea lover / Giles family aficionado? You could send off for a Giles family tea towel! Don’t think Grandma would like being used to clean up, mind you.

Tea towel featuring the Giles family for a Lyons Quick Brew tea promotion - Carl Giles, c.1986 (Image ref: GAX00006)

Tea towel featuring the Giles family for a Lyons Quick Brew tea promotion – Carl Giles, c.1986 (Image ref: GAX00006)

The Giles family reign over the land of Lyons Quick Brew came to an end in 1986; it was thought that they didn’t transfer from the cartoon into the ‘real world’ quite as successfully had hoped. The Carl Giles Trust archive holds a folder of correspondence relating to the Quick Brew campaign; you can read a summary of it here.

The Giles Family: coming soon to video near you!

Not all advertising campaigns were as successful (or as long-running) as the Giles/Lyons cartoons – some never even got off the ground. In this undated draft, the Giles Family were stars of their very own VCR systems:

Photocopy of rough draft for proposed advert for Granada video players featuring members of the Giles family; sent by Group X Advertising with request for Giles to draw the final version - Group X Advertising, undated (Image ref: GACS00593)

Photocopy of rough draft for proposed advert for Granada video players featuring members of the Giles family; sent by Group X Advertising with request for Giles to draw the final version – Group X Advertising, undated (Image ref: GACS00593)

Careful now…

As an artist, Giles was no stranger to public information campaigns – his work for the Ministry of Information during the Second World War, including a foray into animation – is one of the highlights of the archive we hold here at Kent. But did you know that the Giles family were also used in this manner? Here, George Jr and Stinker are attempting to warn everyone about the dangers of using machinery:

Part of cover cartoon in booklet 'Safe hands on the Land' - Carl Giles, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, 1956 (Image ref: GAPC0244)

Part of cover cartoon in booklet ‘Safe hands on the Land’ – Carl Giles, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, 1956 (Image ref: GAPC0244)

To the forecourt!

The Giles Family were so popular during Giles’ lifetime that it’s hardly surprising everyone wanted in on the action – including car companies. In 1973 Giles was approached by the advertising manager of Renault cars asking him if it was possible to incorporate the Giles Family into their next campaign. Whilst we hold a draft of the work Giles produced in response it’s unclear if the art made it into the real world:

Sample colour artwork advertising Renault cars - Carl Giles, c.1975 (Image ref: GACS00008)

Sample colour artwork advertising Renault cars – Carl Giles, c.1975 (Image ref: GACS00008)

Off the page and onto your screens?

Here’s another fact about the Giles family you may not know: there were talks to bring them to the land of television, in the form of an animated comedy series. It was never actually produced but we hold a draft script and an opening sketch…

Drawing of opening scene of draft script for an episode of an animated comedy series about the Giles Family - James McClure, undated (Image ref: GACS00775C)

Drawing of opening scene of draft script for an episode of an animated comedy series about the Giles Family – James McClure, undated (Image ref: GACS00775C)

Front page of draft script for an episode of an animated comedy series about the Giles Family - James McClure, undated (Image ref: GACS00775A)

Front page of draft script for an episode of an animated comedy series about the Giles Family – James McClure, undated (Image ref: GACS00775A)

Page 1 of draft script for an episode of an animated comedy series about the Giles Family - James McClure, undated (Image ref: GACS00775D)

Page 1 of draft script for an episode of an animated comedy series about the Giles Family – James McClure, undated (Image ref: GACS00775D)

Page 2 of draft script for an episode of an animated comedy series about the Giles Family - James McClure, undated (Image ref: GACS00775E)

Page 2 of draft script for an episode of an animated comedy series about the Giles Family – James McClure, undated (Image ref: GACS00775E)

A long day’s work = time for the pub

We’ve shared this image on our social media already but we couldn’t resist posting it here for posterity: when you get so famous your creations wind up on a pub sign, you know you’ve made it. Here’s Grandma and Natalie the cat adorning a pub in Islington, Giles’ birthplace in 1973:

Black and white photo of the sign for 'The Giles' pub, which includes a picture of Grandma and Natalie the cat - 30 October 1973 (Image ref: GAPH00069)

Black and white photo of the sign for ‘The Giles’ pub, which includes a picture of Grandma and Natalie the cat – 30 October 1973 (Image ref: GAPH00069)

Grandma forever!

It wouldn’t be a blog about media and advertising without mentioning one of the most famous incarnations of the Giles Family: the statue of Grandma in Ipswich unveiled in 1993. News of the statue made it into the local press and Giles was there at the opening ceremony:

Article entitled 'No joke, grandma, Ipswich is set to honour Giles', about the proposed Giles statue in Ipswich - East Anglian Daily Times, 6 June 1981 (Image ref: GAPA0075)

Article entitled ‘No joke, grandma, Ipswich is set to honour Giles’, about the proposed Giles statue in Ipswich – East Anglian Daily Times, 6 June 1981 (Image ref: GAPA0075)

Colour photo of the unveiling of the Grandma statue in Ipswich, featuring actor Warren Mitchell , Giles, the sculptor Miles Robinson, writer and friend Johnny Speight, and Andrew Cameron (Express Newspapers) - September 1993 (Image ref: GAPH00430)

Colour photo of the unveiling of the Grandma statue in Ipswich, featuring actor Warren Mitchell , Giles, the sculptor Miles Robinson, writer and friend Johnny Speight, and Andrew Cameron (Express Newspapers) – September 1993 (Image ref: GAPH00430)

Colour photo of Grandma statue with sculptor Miles Robinson - East Anglian Daily Times, September 1993 (Image ref: GAR-F-S-460-2)

Colour photo of Grandma statue with sculptor Miles Robinson – East Anglian Daily Times, September 1993 (Image ref: GAR-F-S-460-2)

What else is there to say (other than – go and see the statue for yourself)? Thank you always, Carl Giles, for the amazing Family. May your legacy continue!

Colour photo of Giles at the unveiling of the Grandma statue in Ipswich - East Anglian Daily Times, September 1993 (Image ref: GAPH00429)

Colour photo of Giles at the unveiling of the Grandma statue in Ipswich – East Anglian Daily Times, September 1993 (Image ref: GAPH00429)

We hope you’ve enjoyed this series of blog posts about all things Giles, You can view more details about the Carl Giles Trust archive through our catalogue and when we’re open again why not come and view some of this incredible material?

Giles Family at 75: The Characters

GA5720: Front cover artwork for the 42nd Giles annual, 1988.

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!!

GAP2013: The Giles Family Tree, Daily Express, 23 Nov 1951.

Grandma

Probably the most famous and prolific character, Grandma Giles is the hard-drinking, bet-placing, grumpy-looking star of the family.

GA3715: Published caption: “Know why I think this betting slip is a forgery? Because I can’t
remember giving anyone 500-1 against Manchester United and I don’t spell Cup Final with a K”, published by Sunday Express, 22 May 1977.

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.

Left – GA5567: “Watch it! I can get you 2 1/2 years inside if you hit me just because I nicked your pension book”, published Sunday Express, 15 Nov 1987.
Right – GA5721: Back cover artwork for the 44th Giles annual, 1990.

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…

Left – GAPH00136: Black and white photo of Giles in the snow at Hillbrow Farm holding packaged artwork being collected by helicopter, 1987.
Right – GAPA0004: Front cover of ‘Sunday Express Magazine’ advertising article ‘Giles: The man who gave birth to Grandma’, published by Sunday Express, 16 Feb 1986.

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.

GA5382: “Do you think his Lordship would mind if we put a match to it?”, published by Sunday Express, 02 Jun 1991.

Father

Considering himself the Head of the family (when we all know it’s actually Grandma!), Father was a mild and philosophical character.

GA3862: “St. George to Dragon – I give you ten seconds to get off my new
flower bed – over and out”, published by Sunday Express, 23 Apr 1978.

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.

Left – GA5389: “1914-18 found him winning his first war”, published by Daily Express, 05 Jan 1950.
Right – GAN1798: “And this comment from your music teacher – ‘I hope your boy enjoys his holiday as much as I’m going to enjoy mine’…”, published by Sunday Express, 21 Jul 1968.

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.

Left – GA0420: “This really is a remarkable sight – the world’s most famous speed men racing neck and neck ……”, published by Daily Express, 20 Aug 1949.
Right – GA0282: [No caption], published by Daily Express, 31 May 1948.

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!

GA5383: “Some people are here who say Grandma has rented the house to them for Wimbledon fortnight”, published by Sunday Express, 23 Jun 1991.

Mother

Mother is the organised, cheerful, authoritative member of the family who appeared in over 950 of the Family cartoons.

GA5395: “and Mum -“, published by Daily Express, 28 Aug 1947.

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.

Left – GAA253058: “In view of his team being knocked out of the Cup yesterday, for goodness sake let him win”, published by Sunday Express, 03 Jan 1971.
Right – GAA415132: “Grandma – explain to man’s best friend that Man has taken the day off to go to Wimbledon”, published by Daily Express, 23 Jun 1987.

 

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.

GA0226: “Ho! Mother was going to have a new hat, everybody was going to have new boots – if father’s cert had won the Cambridgeshire”, published by Daily Express, 26 Oct 1947.

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.

Left – GA5398: “and our eldest son George and his baby”, published by Daily Express, 28 Aug 1947.
Middle – GA5118: [no caption], published by Sunday Express, 01 Nov 1987.
Right – GA5388: ” Before long a beautiful thing came into his life – his first son, George”, published by Daily Express, 05 Jan 1950.

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!

Left – GA5778: “Now the war is over I assume you have decided to risk the perils of travel and give us a look”, published by Sunday Express, 03 Mar 1991.
Middle – GA5399: ” and his intellectual wife”, published by Daily Express, 28 Aug 1947.
Right – GA2070: “I’ve told you before not to give your tray to anyone in a uniform. They’re not all stewards”, published by Daily Express, 15 Jan 1964.

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.

GA1378: “Fire Brigade? We wish to report we’ve just launched Sputnik 3”, published by Sunday Express, 10 Nov 1957.

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.

GAA192287: “Mum, remember Grandma said if her pension went up she was going
to treat herself to something she always wanted?”, published by Daily Express, 12 Nov 1964.

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”.

Left – GAPC0355: Giles cartoon on the cover of the Ipswich Sixth Form rag magazine (Volume 1, 1980), with caption: “We care – do you?”, published by Ipswich Sixth Form, 1980.
Right – GAPC0244: Part of cover cartoon in booklet ‘Safe hands on the Land’, published by The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, published by Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, 1956.

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?!?!”

GA1147: “This delegation wishes to register a strong protest about Father Christmases who come home late and forget to fill our socks”, published by Sunday Express, 25 Dec 1955.

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.

GAN1411: “Grandma – dad says we can’t wait any longer while you sit in there reading about Rhodesia. One plane ticket coming under the door”, published by Daily Express, 26 Oct 1965.

Other characters

The sisters

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.

Top – GA1668: “Flaming June”, published by Daily Express, 21 Jun 1960.
Bottom – GA0718: “And only last night Dad was saying whatever the Budget result things couldn’t get much worse”, published by Daily Express, 11 Mar 1952.

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…

GA0235: “If 4,298,700 tons of coal in one week isn’t a good enough exuse to celebrate and buy myself a new hat, what is?”, published by Daily Express, 11 Dec 1947.

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.

Left – “Get in the queue if you want to take advantage of the new reduced telephone charges to the United States”, published by Daily Express, 02 Feb 1967.
Middle – GA5396: “the girls”, published by Daily Express, 28 Aug 1947.
Right – GA3602: “Thank goodness he didn’t win – we’d never have got him up on the top one”, published by Sunday Express, 25 Jul 1976.

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…

GA5777: “You’d better agree to a ‘cooling-off’ period before you meet Bridget’s latest boyfriend”, published by Sunday Express, 23 Apr 1972.

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.

GA0302: “Well, folks – when we arrived from England, Wally pointed out that there were other things in America besides skyscrapers”, published by Daily Express, 03 Aug 1948.

Chalkie

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.

Left – GA2046: “Any Prime Minister who looks that much like Chalkie’s had my vote”, published by Daily Express, 24 Oct 1963.
Right – GA1742: “All this fuss about schoolchildren being compelled to wear uniforms would surely be solved if only the head and teachers had to wear the uniform as well.” – Reader’s letter, published by Daily Express, 09 Mar 1961.

The pets

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).

GAA111405: “I’d show him who’s favourite in this house if they ever let him out for a fly round the room”, published by Daily Express, 15 Sep 1957.

Various crops from images refs GA3134, GA4247, GA5405, GAA091103, GACE00302, published by Express Newspapers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some images in this blog post have been cropped. Please see archive.cartoons.ac.uk and search for the reference number cited for the full image.

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.