Michael Heath was born on 13 October 1935 in Bloomsbury, London, the only child of George Heath, whom he later recalled as "a serious hack illustrator of children's comics." From 1932 onwards George Heath worked as an illustrator for the Amalgamated Press, for titles including Radio Fun, Film Fun, and Hotspur. In 1947 he created "The Falcon" for Radio Fun. Heath's mother also drew illustrations for Picturegoer and Woman's Own.
After the outbreak of war in 1939, Heath and his mother left London to stay with his grandmother in Devon, at a spot where, as he later recalled, the Lufwaffe dropped its bombs if it couldn't find Plymouth. A raid in 1942 sent them back to live with Heath's father in Hampstead, but he was again evacuated in 1944. After leaving school it was thought that Heath might follow his parents and become an illustrator. He studied at Brighton Art College from 1952 to 1953, but recalled that "they sent me to art school because I was useless at everything else": "I was useless there, too...Hated every single second of it. I left as soon as I could, even before I'd properly finished the course."
In 1954 Heath sold his first drawing - a picture of the Thelonius Monk Trio - to Melody Maker for four guineas. In those days, he recalled, "you could get four guineas for a small cartoon in Tatler and that would cover your rent on a flat." The following year he began work as an animator with Rank, but he became a full-time freelance in 1956. He worked from home for a few years, recalling that "I wanted to draw...and not be pinned down to Noddy the Dog or whatever, so I kept on dodging and weaving around and changed styles." He then started drawing in the offices of the newspapers and magazines that used his cartoons, borrowing the corner of someone's desk.
In 1957 Heath began contributing to the Spectator - where Bernard Levin paid four guineas for his first cartoon - and in 1958 began contributing to Punch. "When I started at Punch," he later recalled, "I was told that if I kept sending in my drawings then maybe in a year or two I'd be published. Nobody will do that now. Nobody will wait, doing all that work for no return." In June 1962 Heath began a long association with Private Eye, contributing a large body of work including the series "Great Bores of Today" and "Heath's Private View."
Heath's father had been sacked by Amalgamated Press in 1961, after which he worked for D.C. Thomson for less money. In 1968, as Heath recalled, he "died on his drawing board." According to his friend Christopher Howse, one of Heath's fears was always that of "growing into his father, who drew endless frames for children's comics - cowboys and air aces - worried about getting the fighter plane right, and worried about getting the next commission."
In 1977 Heath was voted CCGB Pocket Cartoonist of the Year, and Glen Grant Cartoonist of the Year, and in 1979 was Granada TV's What the Papers Say Cartoonist of the Year. In 1977 he got a contract with the Evening Standard under the editorship of Simon Jenkins, but the following year, as he later recalled, "suddenly Charles Wintour came back": "He was no fan. Every day I would give him four or five roughs, and he'd look at them and not smile, then say, 'If I must use one, I'll use that'. That was pretty awful." Heath remained with the Evening Standard until 1986, and also contributed to Man About Town, Lilliput, Mail on Sunday, Honey, Tatler, Men Only, Woman's Sunday Mirror, Sunday Times, Evening News, and Guardian.
Heath continued to draw regularly for Punch until it closed in 1992, including covers. Towards the end of that period he had a desk in the Punch office, where, as an interviewer noted, "he sits from sometime before 9 in the morning until, usually, 6 or 6.30 in the evening, not even pausing to eat lunch, but eating it one-handed while he continues to draw." In 1990 he was also invited to draw a regular cartoon for the Independent, insisting this time that the editor should give him "entirely free rein, with the only proviso that I don't get into trouble legally." The association continued until 1994.
In 1991 Heath became Cartoon Editor of the Spectator. Christopher Howse, with whom he shared an office, recalled that "from grey dawn all through the day Heath would sit, scratch, scratching away with his dip pen and Indian ink, hatching and cross-hatching A3 sheets with perfect control, producing extraordinary double-perspectives and spinning eddies of line." His cartoons were based in a love of the city, and close observation. "The comment that most pleased him", Howse recalled, "came from Lucian Freud, who mentioned the little spiral of ink with which he had indicated a nipple." He also began experimenting with a different style of cartooning, often using collage, signing these cartoons "Tom Castro" or "Castro".
Heath was now a senior figure among British cartoonists. "We all used to hate each other", Martin Rowson later recalled: "Michael Heath used to have these dinner parties in 2 Brydges Place [a private club in Soho], and you couldn’t go for a piss. You knew as soon as you left the room they’d say, ‘What’s that arsehole doing here?’ so all these people are crossing and uncrossing their legs all evening." In 1997 Heath openly attacked the new political cartooning of cartoonists like Rowson. "The whole thing's a mess, it's cobblers. They say it's going madly satirical. Rubbish. It's just ugly. Worms coming out of John Major's nose, that sort of thing. There's no thought behind it." On receiving the MBE in 2001 Heath observed that "I used to do 'Great Bores of Today' for Private Eye. Now I suppose I've turned into one." As he mused two years later, "I guess all cartoonists are right-wing, they're all pretty down on pop music and young people, they're three-piece suit men, really."
In 2004 Heath welcomed the word “chav” as describing “the type of people I have been drawing for years: trailer trash covered in bling bling, wearing Burberry baseball hats, white tracksuit bottoms and white trainers.” In 2008 he argued that too many subjects had now become taboo for British cartoonists. "You can't laugh at Muslims," he claimed, "you can't laugh at gypsies, you can't make fun of caravans, of the working class, of the Irish. You can't attack religion, unless it's Christianity. The only people you can tell jokes about now are middle-class whites, the people who pay the taxes while the others live off benefits."
“I work in a cupboard under the stairs just to keep me grounded,” Heath reported in 2005: “My cupboard has in it, apart from old clothes, a cat litter tray and a collection of hundreds of jazz CDs.” He draws on layout paper using dip pen and indian ink and never uses pencil. His distinctive fine line work, with occasional use of collage, has been widely admired. Particularly good on dress and interiors, Hewison described him as having "the best visual memory in the business." In his work for the Mail on Sunday, he noted in 2008, "I have to draw 20 roughs every week before the editor is happy."
- Bill Grundy "Grundy's Cartoonists 6: Michael Heath", Punch, 24 August 1977, p.313.
- Stanley Reynolds "Heath - the Million Gag Machine", UK Press Gazette, 28 September 1987, pp.1, 6.
- Independent, Media Page, 2 August 1989.
- Martin Plimmer "Out of Toon", Evening Standard, 7 April 1993, p.36.
- CSCC Archive, John Harvey "Stiletto in the Ink: British Political Cartoons", c.1994, p.12.
- John Windsor, "All Consuming; Good for a laugh", Independent on Sunday, 10 May 1997, p.18.
- "PASSED/FAILED: Michael Heath", Guardian, 14 August 1997, p.E6.
- Alan Clark "Dictionary of British Comic Artists, Writers and Editors" (British Library, London, 1998), p.76, "George Heath (1900-1968)."
- Mark Bryant Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000), pp.107-8.
- "MBE for cartoonist Heath", Mail on Sunday, 17 June 2001, p.2.
- Lewis Jones "A Life In Full: The Bebop Cartoonist", Independent On Sunday 23 November 2003.
- Michael Heath “Diary”, The Spectator, 13 March 2004.
- Rod Liddle "You can't be serious", The Times, 17 April 2004, p.8.
- Christopher Howse "Heath and his everyday monsters", Daily Telegraph, 8 October 2005, p.27.
- Michael Heath “Diary”, The Spectator, 22 October 2005.
- Roy Greenslade "Cartoonist Heath draws laughter as he throws down the gauntlet", blog post at Guardian.co.uk, 14 April 2008.
- Michael Heath “Bells did not ring out on Christmas Day in 1940. If they had, it would have been a sign that we had been invaded”, The Spectator, 18 December 2010.
- Helen Lewis “Ink-stained assassins”, New Statesman, 23 August 2012.
27 uncatalogued originals [PU0586 - 0612]
2 unaccessioned originals
32 unaccessioned originals (Drawer 15), + 2 photocopies
60s; 70s (1977)