Bill Caldwell was born in Glasgow on 30 September 1946, the son of William McComish, an opera singer and musical director. At the age of 12 he changed his name to Caldwell (his mother's name). Educated at Vale of Leven Academy, Alexandria, Dumbartonshire, he began work at Hambro's merchant bank (1967) but left after a year to study graphics at Stockport College of Technology. He worked at first in advertising, and, as he recalled, "got roped into doing cartoons for the odd newspaper ad and liked it." Shortly after selling his first joke cartoon to the Daily Sketch in 1971 Caldwell turned full-time freelance cartoonist.
Caldwell sold cartoons to the Daily Mirror and The Sun, and for seven years syndicated nine weekly strips to ninety provincial and overseas papers via P.A. Features and Advance Features. A topical pocket cartoon then brought him to the attention of Express Newspapers, who hired him as pocket cartoonist for their new title, the Daily Star, when it was launched on 2 November 1978. Originally recruited to produce a single-column cartoon for news and one for sport, the management decided after a few weeks that the paper needed a "Giles-type cartoon", and Caldwell moved to the new five-column format. He continued to work for the Daily Star - with a short break - until March 2003.
Caldwell like to include a small dog in his cartoons, and in 1986 the Daily Star even launched a "Spot Caldwell's Dog" competition. In 1990 he was also recruited as editorial cartoonist for the short-lived Sunday Scot, and when that paper folded later in the year he became editorial cartoonist of the Scottish Sunday Mail. Starting with a five-column cartoon, as in the Daily Star, he later moved to a panel of four single-column gags providing a roundup of the week's events. In 2001 Caldwell was named Scottish Cartoonist of the Year for his work in the Sunday Mail.
Caldwell's work also attracted controversy. In August 2001 the Daily Star carried a cartoon dealing with the National Health Service's bid to recruit overseas doctors, showing a witch doctor in an NHS surgery. A similar cartoon by Mac appeared in the Daily Mail of the same date. The British Medical Association sent protest letters to both the Daily Star and the Daily Mail, claiming that Caldwell's cartoon "directly contributed" to racism within the NHS. The Daily Star's editor, Peter Hill, refused to apologise, accusing the BMA in turn of being "sanctimonious" and telling them to "get a life": "Newspaper cartoons are meant to be in bad taste and this one was exceptionally funny. You need to get a sense of humour."
In April 2003 Caldwell stopped working for the Daily Star and the Sunday Mail, and joined the Sun as editorial/political cartoonist, succeeding Dave Gaskill. He has also worked on advertising for BUPA, Parcelforce and others and has occasionally drawn as "Bill McComish." Caldwell draws in the style of Giles, Mac and Jak. At first he worked in pen and indian ink on watercolour paper, but since 1992 he has mostly used a Pilot Lettering pen on A4 photocopy paper. He sometimes also draws on an Apple Mac computer with Photoshop software.
- Mark Bryant Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000), p.44.
- Pulse, 1 September 2001, p.1, "BMA protest at 'witchdoctor' jibe."
- Bill Caldwell's website at http://www.billcaldwell.com/about_bill.htm