Giles - The genesis of the Giles Family
Giles loses his cast of wartime characters, and creates the “Giles family” as a replacement
Giles’ wartime cartoons ridiculed the Axis leaders by presenting them as a peculiar disfunctional family, reacting to events beyond its control. His first cartoon for the Sunday Express in October 1943 had imagined Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, and Mussolini as living a strange domestic life together in Berlin, and he enjoyed returning to that idea. When Mussolini was executed in April 1945, Giles immediately realised the impact it would have on his work. “I sure hated to see old Musso go”, he admitted afterwards: “He was half my bloody stock-in-trade.”
The German surrender in May 1945 left Giles looking for a new set of characters. “All my work for the Express up until then had been in the wartime” he later explained: “All the characters were wartime characters - or people caught up in the war. Suddenly they were gone. I had lost them - Hitler, Mussolini - disreputable little Franco was still there, of course - Himmler, Goering, Goebbels. I remember writing to my wife, Joan, from Europe where I was a war correspondent. At the end of the letter there was a PS which said: ‘I’ve just lost my best character, Musso.’ I drew the Family as something which could taken their place.”
The focus of the new Giles Family was one of his wartime soldier characters, returned to civilian life. Its first recognisable appearance was in the Sunday Express of 5 August 1945, and it proved a useful medium for commenting on postwar life. The Giles Family, like the hapless Axis leaders before them, was shown reacting to the confusion of world politics. In August 1947, with Giles’ cartoons a regular feature, 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”.
The group of characters was referred to in April 1950 as “Giles and Family”, but by August 1951 this had become “The Giles Family”, and in November 1951 Giles responded to “constant public enquiries” by drawing “The Giles Family Tree” for the Daily Express, explaining who everyone was. It was not yet clear whether the name “The Giles Family” meant anything more than the family that Giles drew. But he came to speak of them as if they were close relations, and a reference to “Grandma Giles” in December 1953 confirmed that they had his surname, and were in some strange way members of his own family.