Nicolas - originally Nicholas - Bentley was born on 14 June 1907 in Hampstead, London. The son of the writer, journalist and amateur artist E. Clerihew Bentley - inventor of the "clerihew" - his godfather was G. K. Chesterton.
Educated at University College School, London, from 1915 to 1924, Bentley subsequently enrolled at Heatherley's School of Art, where he studied for eighteen months before leaving in 1925 to work briefly as a circus clown and as a film extra. In 1926 Bentley and Victor Reinganum formed the Pandemonium Group, a loosely knit group of "bright young things" that held regular exhibitions at the Beaux Arts Gallery, where they experimented with abstraction.
In 1926 Bentley joined the W. S. Crawford advertising agency as a junior, meeting the poster artist Horace Taylor with whom he subsequently worked. From 1927 to 1929 he contributed to the monthly trade magazine Man and His Clothes, and in 1929 became a salesman of advertising space on the Daily Telegraph. In 1930 Bentley joined Shell-Mex's publicity office, where he employed Walter Goetz and John Reynolds - son of Frank Reynolds - as artists.
In 1930 Bentley illustrated his first book - New Cautionary Tales by Hilaire Belloc, a friend of his father - and in 1932 he left Shell-Mex to become a freelance illustrator and commercial artist. His first successful advertising cartoon series was "Mr Can and Mr Can't", which he drew for Eno's Fruit Salt in 1933, and he subsequently drew for Pan Yan Pickle, Sankey-Sheldon Steel and others. He also contributed cartoons to Bystander, Lilliput, Men Only, Daily Express, Sunday Express, Night & Day, Punch and Radio Times, sometimes signing his work 'NB'. During the Second World War Bentley worked in the Ministry of Information and served as a fireman. After the war he worked for the News Chronicle from March 1955 to November 1957, and from January 1958 to June 1962 drew topical pocket cartoons - "Watch My Line" - for the Daily Mail.
Bentley also wrote novels and continued to illustrate books. In 1951 he was one of the founders of the book publishers Andre Deutsch Ltd - the three arrows of its logo representing himself, Deutsch and the third director, Diana Athill. However, as one employee recalled, Bentley "stayed out of the office altogether apart from attendance at Friday editorial meetings." He also worked as an editor for Mitchell Beazley, Sunday Times Publications from 1962 to 1963, and for Thomas Nelson from 1963 to 1967. In 1972 he joined the Sunday Telegraph - leaving two years later, and also produced cartoons and caricatures for Sunday Times, Punch, Private Eye - notably illustrating "Auberon Waugh's Diary" from its inception in 1972.
Influenced by Caran D'Ache and the New Yorker cartoonist Ralph Barton, Bentley even dropped the "h" in his Christian name so that his signature could appear symmetrically in two lines like Barton's. He also admired Steinlen, Dora, La andre, Gulbransson, William Nicholson, George Price, Mervyn Peake and Lewitt-Him. Bentley often drew figures without background or setting, making much use of solid blacks and only rarely working in colour. After making a detailed pencil rough he worked "half-up" in size, using a Gillott 303 pen and indian ink, with a brush for large areas of black. He occasionally also worked in chalk. Nicolas Bentley died in Somerset on 14 August 1978.
- Mark Bryant Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000), pp.22-23.
- Jasia Reichardt "Victor Reinganum", Independent, 30 January 1995, p.12.
- Clare Colvin "The Books Interview - Diana Athill", Independent, 12 August 2000, p.9.
22 unaccessioned originals
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