Victor Weisz [Vicky]
Victor Weisz was born at 14 Regensburgerstrasse, Berlin, on 25 April 1913. His father was Dezso Weisz, a Hungarian Jewish jeweller and goldsmith, but, according to his friend George Mikes, Victor Weisz only ever knew "about ten words of Hungarian." At the age of eleven Weisz studied with the painter Tennstedt, and on the death by suicide of his father in 1928 he began drawing caricatures freelance - his first sale, aged fifteen, being of a German boxer. He joined the graphics department of the radical anti-Hitler journal 12 Uhr Blatt, and by 1929 was sports and theatre cartoonist on the paper, signing his work "V. Weiss." He did his first anti-Nazi cartoon that year, but in 1933 the paper was taken over by the Nazis and by 1935 Weisz had moved to London.
In London Weisz's first work was drawing caricatures and cartoons for various publications including the Evening Standard, the Daily Telegraph's "Peterborough" column, World Film News ("Cockalorum" series), Sunday Chronicle (the strip "Vicky by Vicky"), Punch, Sunday Dispatch, Daily Mail (the "Funny Figures" series), Headway, Courier, Daily Mirror (the "Nazi Nuggets" series), Sketch, Lilliput, New Statesman, Men Only, Tatler, Time & Tide (from 1936 to 1943), and Daily Express. In 1939, after a trial to replace Will Dyson on the Daily Herald - the job eventually going to Whitelaw - Weisz began working for the pro-Liberal News Chronicle, sharing an office with Richard Winnington. In 1941 Weisz joined the staff as the paper's political cartoonist, but he also drew strips such as "Weekend Fantasia" and "Young Vicky's Almanack." In 1947 he became a British citizen.
At the News Chronicle Weisz developed the two distinct styles that he was to use throughout his career. His usual style of political cartooning was exaggeratedly comic, drawn sparingly with thin black lines. But for subjects about which he felt strongly Weisz used a sketchier style of drawing, with darker shadows, reminiscent of the work of Kathe Kollwitz and Feliks Topolski. Gerald Barry, the editor of the News Chronicle, noted that "I usually know when one of these 'grim' cartoons is on the way": "On presenting himself in my room with his daily offering he wears an advance look of mingled cunning and despair, as who should say 'You're going to turn me down.' ...I usually do."
Barry liked Weisz, but when Robert Cruickshank took over as editor of the News Chronicle in 1947 he and Weisz had frequent disagreements. Cruickshank was not fond of cartoons, and disliked Weisz's left-wing politics, which led to frequent arguments and rejected drawings. According to Arthur Horner, who worked on the paper from 1950, Weisz produced one or two roughs every morning, but hated showing them to Cruikshank. They met around 11.30am, when the editor, his deputy and leader-writers, were still together after the morning editorial conference. "Doing the cartoon was nothing," Horner recalled of Weisz, "but he would have to nerve himself up to go in and see Cruikshank...and of course if the editor didn't like it he just had to stroke his chin and look at it in silence for a long time and that was the cue to the others to say it was...not on." Weisz would then brood over the rejected image, trying to see what was wrong.
The final straw was when Cruikshank rejected several of Weisz's cartoons, culminating with one on the subject of Kenya. In 1954 Weisz was offered jobs on both the Daily Mirror and the Evening Standard. His friends advised him to go to the Evening Standard, but he objected to it as "a Tory paper", and went instead to the Daily Mirror as replacement for Zec. But he regretted the decision, feeling that his cartoons did not fit in among the glaring headlines, and disappointed that in political circles "nobody reads the Daily Mirror." As soon as his contract ended in 1958 he accepted the offer of a job on the Evening Standard, then edited by Charles Wintour. However, he was unwilling to displace James Friell, the paper's existing cartoonist, and agreed to do only four cartoons a week - leaving Wednesdays and Saturdays to Friell. His first Evening Standard cartoon appeared on 3 November 1958.
From 1958 to 1959 Weisz also worked as "Pierrot" for L'Express, and contributed pocket cartoons to the News Chronicle as "Smith". In addition he drew advertisements for Simpson's Services Club and others. Perhaps his most memorable creation was the character "Supermac" - a parody of the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan - which first appeared in the Evening Standard on 6 November 1958. "Supermac" confirmed Weisz as one of the most influential political cartoonists, and Michael Foot called him "the best cartoonist in the world." However, Weisz had intended "Supermac" as a criticism of Macmillan's "personality cult", and admitted that the attack "boomeranged" when it made Macmillan more endearing. Weisz was bemused by the relationship between public figures and his cartoon representations. "I've always believed that politicians grow more like the drawings", he observed in 1963: "I had difficulty with Mr Selwyn Lloyd. I was in the end accused of almost having invented him."
According to Stan Franklin, who took over as Daily Mirror political cartoonist, Weisz had hoped that moving to the Evening Standard would give him greater political leverage. "He really wanted to use the cartoon to change the world, to try and engineer opinions", Franklin recalled: "But even he had to admit in the end that he had failed...He hoped he would have an influence over the more informed members of the Labour Party who did read the Standard. But he had none." He also found himself at odds with Raymond Jackson - "Jak" - who had been employed as illustrator on the Evening Standard since 1952. Jackson was right-wing, combative, and commercially-minded, and Keith Mackenzie recalled that the two men "couldn't bear each other." After one quarrel Weisz spent years avoiding Jackson, using the back stairs to get to his office so they wouldn't meet.
Weisz had "a well-lit airy studio" on the top floor of the Evening Standard building. "I get up at a quarter to six," he told an interviewer in 1965, "breakfast and arrive at the office by half past seven": "At 6.30 am I listen to the news, and often have then some idea of what subject I want to deal with. Sometimes I feel I must do it, though I don't have to...I do a rough. Sometimes it doesn't come too easily and I throw things away like mad." At this time of day he was working on the next day's Evening Standard cartoon, for a 3.00pm deadline, but Weisz sometimes felt the news was moving so fast that he also redrew that day's cartoon for the afternoon editions. This meant working to a 10.30am deadline as well.
On the Evening Standard Weisz frequently caricatured Hugh Gaitskell, leader of the Labour Party, until finally Gaitskell asked Milton Schulman, a reviewer on the paper, if he could “speak to Vicky about the way his nose was drawn”: “'He makes it look like a ski run,' said Gaitskell, running his finger down his nose. 'It's not sharp at all. Can't he be more accurate?'” But Weisz's passionate socialism cut across the politics of the Evening Standard, and he more often drew criticism from the political right. During the 1959 General Election he admitted to getting "literally hundreds" of protest letters from readers. Yet, as James Cameron realised, Weisz's socialism was largely theoretical, and he "would have been rather horrified to meet a cloth-capped worker." Weisz's image of Britishness was always slightly out of date, and Horner recalled that "when he drew a lot of his English types they were from thirty to forty years back - the lady in the fur coat and the stockbroker and things...I don't think he really observed the British scene outside of politics much."
Weisz worked mostly in ink and brush on board, and sometimes included a small version of himself in his cartoons, commenting on the main character's actions. He once said of his caricatures that "I don't make fun of a face. I make fun of what is behind that face." Weisz's scratchy, brittle pen line was influenced by George Grosz and Kathe Kollwitz - especially in his bleaker drawings, which became known as his "Oxfam" style. Such drawings were in stark contrast to his usual cartoons, and Osbert Lancaster, who worked on the Daily Express, admitted that "when Vicky turned on the sob stuff it became rather embarrassing." Sometimes the two contrasting styles were evident in a single cartoon. Weisz was also credited with designing the logo for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
In 1960 Weisz was voted Cartoonist of the Year by Granada TV's What the Papers Say, but was coming under increasing pressure. "My job is the sort of job that never leaves me and I worry about it", he admitted: "I find I have less and less time for leisure." Weisz lost faith in his ability to maintain a high standard, developed a "terrible haunting feeling" about his work, and eventually confessing to George Mikes "that when I finish a drawing I always have a panic that I wouldn't have a further idea and that nothing would occur to me." Weisz's job on the Evening Standard was not as secure as it seemed. In 1964 the Canadian cartoonist Duncan Macpherson visited Britain, and Beaverbrook employed him as guest cartoonist on the Daily Express. He was also apparently offered Weisz's job on the Evening Standard, but Macpherson turned it down and Weisz remained.
Keith Waite, who joined the Sun in 1965, later protested that "I don't think people realise today how boring Vicky was": "He angered a lot of people but didn't influence people." Weisz was certainly very serious about his work, and, if the news changed, would even produce a new cartoon for later editions of the Evening Standard. His friend Ritchie Calder admitted that Weisz "never took a laugh for granted": "He would, with great seriousness, ask what was funny about cricket, what '(laughter)' meant apropos something in Hansard, or why the court was convulsed by some judicial witticism." Ralph Sallon, who admired Weisz's work, agreed that eventually "he took himself too seriously": "Everything he drew had to be a touch of genius and this is ridiculous." In 1965 he refused to accept the CCGB's Political Cartoonist of the Year Award.
In 1965 Weisz admitted to having been "desperate" about his ideas drying up: "I said to myself, take a year off. There are pressures, steady pressures. Then it passed." On 23 February 1966, suffering from depression, Victor Weisz committed suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills at his home in London. As Leslie Illingworth wrote in the next day's Daily Mail, "It seems impossible that I will never see that sprightly, fierce little man again." Weisz's style had considerable impact on the work of Nicholas Garland, and a play about Weisz's life, entitled No End of Blame, was produced by Howard Barker at the Oxford Playhouse on 5 February 1982.
- Gerald Barry "The Editor Regrets?", introduction to Victor Weisz "The Editor Regrets: Unpublished cartoons by Vicky" (Allan Wingate, London, 1957).
- CSCC archive, transcripts of Vicky interviews on "Frankly Speaking", 12 February 1960, and "World of Books", 1 January 1963.
- Michael Bateman Funny Way to Earn a Living: A Book of Cartoons and Cartoonists (Leslie Frewin, London, 1966), pp.9-11.
- The Times, 24 February 1966, p.14 col.5, "Vicky: Prolific Political Cartoonist."
- Ritchie Calder "Vicky", The Times, 28 February 1966, p.12 col.5.
- CSCC archive, transcripts of Keith Mackenzie's interview with Arthur Horner, 19 August 1976; Rosette Glaser's interview with Stanley Franklin, 14 September 1976; Rosette Glaser's interview with Keith Waite, 15 September 1976; Keith Mackenzie's interview with James Cameron, 14 July 1977; and Keith Mackenzie's interview with George Mikes, 13 January 1978. Also transcript of undated interview with Sallon by Keith Mackenzie, p.3.
- Russell Davies and Liz Ottaway Vicky (Secker & Warburg, London, 1987).
- John Biffen "Courtly Jester", Sunday Times, Books section, 6 August 1989.
- Milton Shulman “Just the luck of the draw”, Evening Standard, 27 October 1995, p.30.
- Mark Bryant Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000), pp.236-8.
- P.R. Ritchie-Calder, "Weisz, Victor [Vicky] (1913-1966)", rev., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford University Press, 2004).
39 catalogued originals
5 uncatalogued originals
2 boxes book research material