Michael ffolkes was born Brian Davis in London on 6 June 1925, the son of the commercial graphic artist Walter Lawrence Davis. He attended Leigh Hall College, Essex, and from 1941 to 1943 studied art at St Martin's School of Art under wood-engraver John Farleigh. In 1942, aged seventeen, ffolkes sold his first drawing to Punch, signing it "brian". In 1943, after working in various commercial art studios, ffolkes joined the Royal Navy, and saw wartime service in the Far East. After demobilisation in 1946 he studied painting at Chelsea School of Art, adopting the name "Michael ffolkes" after thumbing through a copy of Burke's Peerage.
From 1946 ffolkes's work appeared primarily in Punch, and he always regarded himself as a Punch cartoonist - boasting that he was the first to draw "sexually desirable women" in the magazine. He became a professional cartoonist soon afterward graduating in 1949. In 1955 ffolkes began a lifetime's work of illustrating Michael Wharton's "Way of the World" column in the Daily Telegraph, featuring such characters as Peter Simple, Dr Spaceley-Trellis, and Dr Heinz Kiosk. In 1961 he also began illustrating the film reviews in Punch, and once admitted that "my whole life has been influenced by the cinema": "I still often draw classic film situations - the mad scientist, Pancho Villa, Beau Geste and the Hunchback of Notre Dame." ffolkes provided numerous Punch covers and illustrated David Taylor's "Passing Through" column. He became a member of the Punch Table in 1978.
ffolkes became increasingly flamboyant, drinking champagne and driving around London in an open Bentley. In 1965 he admitted that "some of my opinions are outrageously right-wing", and was described as "a Boulting Brothers impersonation of a Conservative": "He drives a Bentley, smokes torpedo-size cigars, handles a brandy glass with bold elan, and, even on days when the newspapers are full of gloom and dismay, he always manages a convincing irresponsible giggle." As Mel Calman recalled, ffolkes "often seemed...to be acting the part of a slightly crusty Englishman - amiable and rather mellowed by port." A great conversationalist, ffolkes was also known as arrogant and irritating. A heavy drinker, and something of a loner, he could be waspish and difficult, but John Jensen recalled that "he could be hard work and, like hard work, rewarding."
Influenced by Disney, Pont, Emett, Ronald Searle, Andre Francois, Rubens and Saul Steinberg, ffolkes worked in pen and ink and wash but was particularly adept with watercolours. He used Daler board or Daler Langton watercolour paper and Higgins black ink or Dr Martin's coloured inks with a dip pen and a Perry Durabrite No. 16 nib, though he did sometimes also use Pentel pens and pastels. He also contributed to Strand Magazine, Leader, Lilliput, Daily Telegraph, Country Fair, Daily Sketch, Spectator, Sunday Telegraph, Playboy, Private Eye, New Yorker, Connoisseur, Reader's Digest, Basler Zeitung, Krokodil, Esquire and Pardon. He designed clothes for Anya Scott as "ffanya".
ffolkes' drawings were elegant, stylish and flamboyant, often featuring mythological and historical subjects, and frequently adorned with large sexy ladies. Hewison observed that "ffolkes draws the most stylish nudes in the business", but, as Mel Calman added, he "managed to draw lewd men chasing nymph-like maidens with a charming innocence that defused the sex": "His satyrs had obviously been to good schools." ffolkes loved the comment of an American admirer that his Playboy cartoons were "full of gin and buttercups", but he reacted strongly against the implications of such praise. "I hate the thought of being called whimsical," he told one interviewer, "but there it is." Michael ffolkes published his autobiography ffundamental ffolkes in 1985, and died in London on 18 October 1988 at the age of 63.
- Patrick Skene Catling "Punch Artists in Profile: ffolkes", Punch, 13 October 1965, pp.534-5.
- Michael Bateman Funny Way to Earn a Living: A Book of Cartoons and Cartoonists (Leslie Frewin, London, 1966), pp.69-73.
- Bill Grundy "Who is ffolkes?" Punch, 20 July 1977, pp.114-5.
- Stanley Reynolds "Michael ffolkes", The Independent, 20 October 1988.
- Mel Calman "Michael ffolkes: Fine crusted caricaturist", Guardian, 20 October 1988.
- John Jensen "Appreciation of Michael ffolkes", Guardian, 24 October 1988.
- Mark Bryant Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000), p.74.
24 uncatalogued originals [PU0288 - 0311]
9 unaccessioned originals
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