Margaret Belsky was born Margaret Constance Owen in Dorset on 20 June 1919. Nicknamed 'Cooee' by her Australian-Irish father, she attended Bournemouth School of Art, won a Punch competition, and went on to study illustration and engraving at the Royal College of Art.
Belsky began cartooning while at the Royal College. Her Czech fiancé Franta Belsky - whom she married in 1944 and who became a celebrated sculptor - showed her work to the editor of Lilliput, which had already published some of his own early cartoons. Belsky's own estimation was that she "started out at the Royal College of Art as a serious artist but became progressively more frivolous."
In 1951 Belsky began working for the Daily Herald. She was the first woman to draw a daily front-page cartoon for a national newspaper, but the paper did not reveal this to its readers, who knew nothing about their cartoonist beyond the signature "Belsky." In her eighteen years on the Daily Herald Belsky drew an estimated 6,000 pocket cartoons. "I go into the office about four", she told an interviewer in 1965, "and have a look at the day's schedule of news": "I just go on looking until I find something amusing."
In 1969 the Daily Herald - by then renamed the Sun - was bought by Rupert Murdoch, but Belsky refused to work for him and left. From the beginning of 1970 she instead drew cartoons for the New Statesman and the Sunday People, and also worked for Punch, Guardian, Sunday Graphic, John Bull, and the Financial Weekly. In addition she illustrated children's books and designed jackets for Penguin Books.
Belsky called herself "just a hack", and it was reported that, despite her enormous output, "she had so low...an opinion of her own worth that she refused to make any collection of her drawings." Regarding herself modestly as "the poor man's Osbert Lancaster", she described her politics as "pinkish", with her jokes often making fun of dogs and Tory ladies. She died on 26 January 1989.
- Ian J. Scott (ed) British Cartoonists Year Book 1964 (London, 1963), p.115.
- Michael Bateman Funny Way to Earn a Living: A Book of Cartoons and Cartoonists (Leslie Frewin, London, 1966), pp.40-1.
- T.S. Matthews "Belsky", Independent, 1 February 1989.
- "Margaret Belsky", The Times, 2 February 1989.
- Mark Bryant Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000), pp.21-22.
- CSCC archive.
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