David Langdon was born in London on 24 February 1914, the son of Bennett Langdon and his wife Bess. Keen on drawing from the age of four, he studied "Design and Decoration" at Davenant Grammar School, London, and contributed sketches to the school magazine. However, he was largely self-taught. Langdon's parents did not regard art as offering a worthwhile career, and in 1931 he left school to work in the Architects Department of the London County Council. For the next five years he concentrated on professional qualifications, but in 1935 he had his first cartoons published in the LCC staff journal, London Town.
In 1936 Langdon sold his first cartoon - a joke about Mussolini - to Time and Tide, and in 1937 he was invited to contribute to Punch, after meeting Kenneth Bird, who was then its Art Director. Langdon felt at home at the Punch office. "It was a holy-of-holies sort of atmosphere", he recalled: "It was all very quiet, with highly-polished floors." Styles of cartoon were changing and Langdon's work suited the moment. As he recalled, "I concentrated on pure humour at a time when the simplified drawing and the short caption were taking over from the stylised drawing and the copious legend." In 1937 Langdon began contributing to the new magazine Lilliput, and sold an idea for an advertisement to Shell.
On the outbreak of war in 1939 Langdon left the LCC to become an Executive Officer in the London Rescue Service. At the same time he began to make a name for himself as a cartoonist, recalling later that "we minor cartoonists left it to David Low to satirise and exhort and try to move mountains": "We occupied ourselves with the minutiae of life as it was lived hour by hour in the shortest term view. We were flattered by having our work together with Low's described as contributing to the war effort." Langdon produced a series of wartime information cartoons for London Transport featuring "Billy Brown of London Town", with verses by Richard Usborne. These became so famous that they inspired a song by Noel Gay: "Who stood up and saved the town when London Bridge was falling down? Mr Brown of London town."
In 1941 Langdon's first book of cartoons was published, entitled Home Front Lines. In the same year he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, eventually becoming a squadron leader and, from 1945 to 1946, editor of the Royal Air Force Journal. Langdon worked quickly, and it was noted in 1942 that "it takes him about twenty minutes to finish a drawing." His wartime output was large and very popular, and on his demobilisation in 1946 he became a freelance, making regular contributions to Punch. In 1948 he started a long association with the Sunday Pictorial, later renamed the Sunday Mirror, by contributing a weekly column of topical cartoons, and in 1952 he also began contributing to the New Yorker.
In 1953 Langdon created "Professor Puff and His Dog Wuff" for Eagle, the children's comic, and a book of these strips was published in 1957. In 1958 Langdon was elected to the Punch Table. His drawings also appeared in Paris-Match, Radio Times, Saturday Evening Post, Aeroplane, Royal Air Force Review, Collier's, True and The Spectator. From 1959 he produced an annual racing calendar for Ladbrokes. He also drew a set of caricatures of lawyers and High Court judges, and produced a considerable amount of advertising work including drawings for Bovril, Winsor & Newton, Shell, Schweppes and others.
Langdon had an economical style, citing his influences as Honore Daumier and Kenneth Bird ("Fougasse"). He once described his method of working as "controlled mind-wandering": "You pick something out of the paper - I'm very much a current affairs cartoonist, you know - you think about it, your mind wanders away, you pull it back, it wanders away again, you pull it back once more, and by now the gag is beginning to stare you in the face." For the final version he would use a brush and ink over a pencil outline drawn half larger than reproduction size on white Bristol board. He claimed to have introduced the "open mouth" into humorous art, to indicate who is speaking.
In 1977 Langdon described his weekly routine. On Monday he would go through the papers, and in the evening rough out his Punch cartoons. The next day he would take them into the Punch office, returning home in the afternoon to work on the finished versions. On Wednesday he would take the finished cartoons to the Punch editorial lunch, and in the afternoon begin working on his roughs for the Sunday Mirror. On Thursday he would take these roughs to the Mirror office, and remained there until the chosen cartoons were finished. A devoted supporter of Wycombe Wanderers football club, where he sat for a time on the committee, his daughter recalled that “watching the Blues and playing golf at Harewood Downs were my father's way of relaxing at the end of a week thinking up new and original ideas for cartoons”.
In 1988 Langdon was awarded an OBE and elected FRSA. In 1990 he stopped working for the Sunday Mirror, and he also stopped working for Punch when it folded in 1992, having contributed at least 5,000 cartoons to the magazine. In 2001 he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Cartoon Art Trust. David Langdon died peacefully in his sleep on 18 November 2011, at the age of 97.
- Percy V Bradshaw They Make Us Smile (London, 1942), pp.51-2.
- Patrick Skene Catling "Punch Artists in Profile: David Langdon", Punch, 20 July 1966, p.111.
- Bill Grundy "Grundy's Cartoonists 2: Who is David Langdon?", Punch, 27 July 1977, p.151.
- Punch, 6-12 February 1991, Supplement "The Best of British Cartoonists: No.1 David Langdon", p.3.
- Denis Gifford “Obituary: David Langdon”, The Guardian, 23 November 2011, p.46.
- The Times, 24 November 2011, Obituaries, “David Langdon: Cartoonist whose amusing observations of life graced the pages of Punch, The New Yorker and The Spectator.”
- Andy Carswell “Family remembers famous cartoonist”, Bucks Free Press, 24 November 2011.
- Mark Bryant “David Langdon: Cartoonist who depicted the incongruities of everyday life for six decades”, The Independent, 2 December 2011, p.50.
248 catalogued originals [LA0001 - 0248]
60s; 70s (1969 - 72)