Noel Ford was born on 22 December 1942 in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, the son of Thomas Joseph Ford and Martha Ford. Influenced initially by comics such as Radio Fun, Film Fun, Dandy and Beano, Noel recalls wanting to be a cartoonist from a very early age and clearly remembers drawing cartoons in chalk on the pavement outside the house.
He was educated at King Edward VI Grammar School, Nuneaton, from 1954 to 1959 and from there went on to Birmingham College of Arts and Crafts, where he was told, wisely but, in his case, erroneously, to forget any ambitions of becoming a cartoonist as he would never be able to make a living that way. Realising he wasn’t cut out for a formal fine art education, he dropped out after a year and, four years later, was playing lead guitar with professional rock band, The Establishment, touring the UK and France and supporting some of the iconic bands of the time such as Manfred Mann, Marty Wilde and Brian Poole and the Tremeloes.
During this time, Noel made sporadic, unsuccessful attempts to sell cartoons to newspapers and magazines but receive some encouragement when crime novelist John Creasey asked him to draw cartoons to support his campaign for electoral reform. Noel’s first break into paid cartooning, however, came after submitting a topical cartoon to the Nuneaton Evening Tribune. The editor invited him to contribute a weekly cartoon, and a fee of £1.00 per cartoon was agreed.
In 1971, the band having broken up, still drawing his Ford’s Eye View cartoon for the Tribune and with a full-time job running the screen printing department of local company, Creative Developments, Noel married Margaret, converted a bedroom of their new house into a studio and set about seriously submitting cartoons. Signed up by the agency, Space Syndications, he soon began selling regularly to the popular tabloid newspapers and magazines (Mirror, Sun, Weekend, Reveille, Titbits, etc.)
Circa 1973, Noel became a member of the UK’s oldest and largest organisation for cartoonists, The Cartoonists’ Club Of Great Britain. He regards this as a watershed event since, up until then, he had never met another cartoonist. He found that the interaction with other cartoonists gave him a big boost. At the time, he could never imagine that one day he would become chairman of the club.
1974 brought a major breakthrough and turning point in Noel’s career when he received the commission to produce the twelve cartoons for the 1976 Guinness calendar, on the basis of which, he left his employment at Creative Developments, against the advice of his Managing Director, and became a full-time cartoonist in February 1975. With the added cushion of Margaret’s salary as a nursing sister, plus selling short stories to Weekend magazine and the BBC’s Radio 4 Morning Story, he was able to concentrate on speculative cartooning.
His next target was to get into Punch magazine. It took a year of submitting ten cartoons per week but finally, in the autumn of 1976, he received an acceptance from Bill Hewison, the Art Editor. From that point his cartooning took a significant leap forward. He stopped working through an agency and soon became one of Punch’s regular stable of cartoonists, subsequently producing hundreds of single gag cartoons, many single and double page spreads and a large number of full colour front covers. At that time, with no Internet, Punch was the main shop window for advertising agencies and corporate clients seeking cartoonists and Noel found himself being regularly commissioned. In 1979, Daily Express cartoon Editor Graham Lipp was instrumental in Noel becoming one of the Daily Star’s two editorial cartoonists – a job he did on a freelance basis and which he continued to do for 14 years. Whilst he acknowledges this was a valuable experience (artistically and financially), Noel has studiously avoided buying and reading newspapers ever since!
In 1984, Noel’s first cartoon collection, Deadly Humorous, was published by a small publisher in his home town of Nuneaton. Four years later, mainstream UK and Australian publishers Angus and Robinson published Golf Widows, the first of his series of ‘Widows’ cartoon books which were successful enough to be published in several languages. Then, in 1988, Noel’s writing ambitions were fulfilled with the publication of his first children’s book, Nuts, as a Kites (Penguin Group) hardback This was the first of several similar story books both written an illustrated by Noel. In addition to his own books, Noel has illustrated numerous books for other authors, including the BBC’s Grumpy Old Men series.
In 1989, John Whale, then editor of UK national weekly Anglican newspaper, approached Noel to draw a regular weekly cartoon. At the time of writing this profile (2017), Noel is still editorial cartoonist for Church times, now under the editorship of Paul Handley, who Noel sees as a true cartoon enthusiast and one of the most cartoon-friendly editors he has ever worked with. He finds it a sobering thought that many of the people working at the newspaper weren’t born at the time his first CT cartoon was published. In addition, Noel produces editorial cartoons for several other UK publications.
Noel and Margaret now live in the Herefordshire village of Hope under Dinmore – ‘living in Hope’, as he says. They have a daughter, Sara and a grandson, James Alexander. Noel still plays guitar on a regular basis but mainly performs for charity gigs.
In 2016, Noel was elected chairman of The Cartoonists’ Club Of Great Britain. He is also a founder member of The Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation (PCO) and a member of the British Cartoonists’ Association (BCA).
Since the turn of the century, Noel has worked almost entirely digitally, producing his cartoons on Wacom digital tablets and Apple Mac computers. The exception to this is when he is involved with cartoon festivals both in the UK and abroad, where he takes part in live cartooning, usually using marker pens and pastels. Noel is one of the directors and organisers of the Shrewsbury International Cartoon Festival, an annual April event since 2004.
- In addition to the materials held in the British Cartoon Archive, the Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery has a large collection of Noel’s early work, including Punch covers.
- Yomiuri Excellence Award (twice): Japan
- United Nations Award (Cartoonists Against Drug Abuse)
- Lindsay Award: Australia
- Dog Cartoonist Of The Year: UK
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- Deadly Humorous (Grambon)
- Golf Widows (Angus & Robinson)
- Cricket Widows (Angus & Robinson)
- Business Widows (Angus & Robinson)
- Draw Cartoons, with Pete Dredge and Steve Chadburn (New Holland)
- Draw Caricature, with Pete Dredge and Steve Chadburn (New Holland)
- Tuppence. The Daily Doings Of A Dipsy Dog (Noel Ford)
- All Things Highly Whimsical (In preparation)
- Nuts (various Penguin imprints)
- Limeroons (Puffin)
- The Lost Wag (various Penguin imprints)
- Diary Of An Alien (various Penguin imprints)
- The Greedy Ghost (various Penguin imprints)
- An Earful Of Aliens (Knight Books/Hodder & Stoughton)