Arthur Horner was born in Melbourne, Australia, on 10 May 1916, the son of Arthur Horner, a civil servant. When he was thirteen his family moved to Sydney, where Horner attended Sydney High School and East Sydney Technical College. He began writing and acting in radio plays, and also became a regular contributor of cartoons to the Sydney Bulletin. He later joined the staff of Smith's Weekly, and ABC Weekly, but after the outbreak of the Second World War he served in the Army, first as the Commanding Officer of a camouflage unit in New Guinea, and later as head of a Military History Field Unit in Borneo.
In 1947 Horner moved to London, and studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts under Ruskin Spear and Bernard Meninsky, before drawing regularly for Lilliput and the Leader and becoming political cartoonist on Tribune. In 1948 he married the Australian cartoonist Victoria Cowdroy, with whom he had shared a studio in Sydney, and who had come to England the year before he did. In 1950 Horner got a job as pocket cartoonist on the News Chronicle ("Horner's Corner"), working alongside Victor Weisz ("Vicky"), who became a close friend. In 1952 Horner heard that the editor of the News Chronicle, Robert Cruickshank, wanted a strip cartoon to compete with Wally Fawkes' "Flook", which had been running in the Daily Mail since 1949. Horner roughed out some ideas and was given the job of producing the "Colonel Pewter" strip, featuring an irascible ex-officer.
Unfortunately Cruickshank never liked cartoons, and was said to be slightly ashamed of running a cartoon strip in the News Chronicle. When the first "Colonel Pewter" story finished after a few months, he thus suspended the series, but pressure from the readers quickly brought it back. The central characters were the eccentric Colonel Hugo Pewter (Rtd), who lived at "Chukkas" in the English village of Much Overdun, just along the narrow road from Wit's End and Dipping Hemline. Pewter's household included Glub (his Neaderthal butler, whom he had dug up), his housekeeper Mrs Aspic, his solemn great-nephew Martin, and Sirius the dog (the offspring of a local bitch and a visiting space-dog).
Horner had a passion for detail, conducting careful research for his strips with the explanation "that there were experts in everything, all waiting to write letters to the editor denouncing 'The abominable ignorance of your artist in giving an 18th-century midshipman's uniform the wrong number of buttons.'" But, as his daughter recalled, Horner never mapped out his stories, and "often hadn't the faintest idea" what would happen next. He would wander round his five-acre smallholding in Hertforshire waiting for inspiration, then “retire to his cottage and his chaotic desk in the small hours, draw like a demon and emerge just in time to send the latest batch of strips off by train to London”: “We all sighed with relief and my father wandered off to check on the goats or the geese until the next crisis.”
Horner developed a format in which each "Colonel Pewter" story ran for three months, and the strip was widely syndicated abroad. It gained a huge following in Melbourne, where it was published by the Age - the only paper in the world to run every "Colonel Pewter" story. "I have always been a bit baffled by Melbourne's fondness for Pewter", Horner later admitted: "English friends have told me that the main fault with the strip was that it was too English." He decided it must be based on nostalgia for an imagined England.
When Vicky left for the Daily Mirror in 1954, Horner succeeded him as the News Chronicle's political cartoonist, although also continuing to draw "Colonel Pewter." However, the editor of the News Chronicle, Norman Cursley, was not entirely happy with Horner's work. One story - "Into the Ice Age" - satirised modern Britain, and led to criticism, whilst in 1958 Cursley recruited Glan Williams to work alongside Horner. Then, when the News Chronicle merged with the Daily Mail in October 1960, preference was given to the Daily Mail's established political cartoonist "Emmwood" - John Musgrave-Wood. Horner continued to draw "Colonel Pewter", but it was eventually displaced by Alex Graham's "Fred Basset," which the paper began running in 1963.
In June 1964 Horner duly transferred to the Guardian, where "Colonel Pewter" became the paper's first cartoon strip. He finally ended the strip in 1970, feeling that it had become too nostalgic, and he began producing instead a daily 'first-person' strip entitled "The Thoughts of Citizen Doe", which ran for about two years. From 1966 to 1972 he was also political cartoonist on the New Statesman, as well as contributing political cartoons to the Times Higher Education Supplement and Humanist. In 1974 and 1975 he was Rigby's holiday stand-in on the Sun, and his work also featured in Private Eye, Punch, Truth, Sunday Times and on BBC TV.
Horner's wife Victoria was now producing animated films, but Horner had never felt at home in England, and for some time considered returning to Australia. In 1976 he and Victoria finally made the move, returning to Melbourne and taking "Colonel Pewter" with him. In 1977 the strip was revived for the Melbourne Age (which had published the earlier syndicated strips) on the pretext that the Colonel had gone to Australia to watch the cricket. This adventure was entitled "The Pukka Ashes", but Horner decided it should be the last, telling the Age that he was "sorry to let old readers down but once off the treadmill of a daily strip the act of climbing back on again was more than this weak flesh could undertake". In 1977 Horner and his wife were said to be working on "a TV cartoon film of Colonel Pewter", but it never appeared.
Horner cited his influences as being Henry Ospovat, the artists of Simplicissimus, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Feliks Topolski and H.M. Bateman. He used line and wash, and occasionally line and spirit colours, but mostly worked in line - pen and ink, fibre pen or crayon. In 1958 he claimed to have "worked on canvas, copper, silk and stone (litho, not paving), but finds newsprint his natural medium, not least because of the salutary reflection that what is today so full of wit and truth is tomorrow full of fish and chips." For newsprint reproduction he developed a unique way of getting half-tone effects for line-block processing by manipulating textured plates under a drawing while rubbing a crayon on top.
Horner produced lithographs, etchings, aquatints and seriographs, and experimented with animated film. An agnostic socialist with a passion for social justice, Horner continued drawing political cartoons, caricatures and theatre drawings for the Melbourne Age for several years, also creating a new strip about the Archangel Uriel. He only stopped drawing with the onset of Parkinson's Disease. Arthur Horner died in Melbourne in February 1997, three years after his wife.
- Stuart Sayers "News of the Day / Pewter Sen.", Melbourne Age, 14 March 1958, p.2.
- "The Lighter Side: Arthur Wakefield Horner", News Chronicle, 7 November 1958.
- "Horner", Second Sitting (Newsletter of the CCGB) No.46, October 1967.
- Peter Cole-Adams "What Happened to Col. Pewter", Melbourne Age, 10 September 1970, p.8.
- CSCC, transcript of Keith Mackenzie's interview with Arthur Horner, 19 August 1976.
- Les Tanner “A precise and elegant artist”, The Melbourne Age, 27 February 1997, Metro p.2.
- Michael Mcnay "Our First Strip Cartoonist", Guardian, 4 March 1997, p.15.
- Jane Sullivan “Remembering Horner”, The Melbourne Age, 8 March 1997, Saturday Extra, p.6.
- Mark Bryant Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000), pp.118-9.
- Joan Kerr "Arthur Wakefield Horner" (2007) and Victoria Ethel Cowdroy (2007) at "Dictionary of Australian Artists Online" - www.daao.org.au/main/read/3342 and www.daao.org.au/main/read/1939
- Royston Robertson "Spitting Image", The Foghorn, Issue 44 (April 2010), p.3.
- Ian Thomas's Colonel Pewter tribute site at www.colonelpewter.com
572 catalogued originals [AH0001 - 0572]
6 boxes uncatalogued original 'Colonel Pewter' strips [CP0001 - 0556]
11 boxes unaccessioned rough sketches (undated)
2 uncatalogued taken out of frames
2627 Colonel Pewter cuttings
1 uncatalogued original [PU0707]
50s (30/7/56 -12/8/56, 4/7/56 - 20/7/56, 1954, 1927, 3/56)back to top