Jimmy Friell was born in Glasgow on 13 March 1912, the fifth of the seven children of James Friell, the straight man in a comedy duo that toured Scottish music halls. Unable to take up a scholarship because of the need to earn money, Friell left school at the age of fourteen, and for a time he and his sister were the only ones in work, providing for the whole family. Friell spent a short time touring in a music-hall act, then became a solicitor's office boy, but he taught himself cartooning and bombarded London newspapers with his joke cartoons. However, he quickly moved towards political subjects, noting later "I still can't understand anyone who grew up anywhere in the thirties not being political."
Friell's first political cartoon, drawn when he was fifteen, showed a crucified worker surrounded by leering capitalists. He took it to the Glasgow Forward, which encouraged him but did not print it. His first published cartoon came two years later, when he was seventeen. Friell was soon doing regular features for Glasgow newspapers, especially the Glasgow Evening Times, and in 1931 he won a scholarship to Glasgow School of Art. He completed the three-year commercial art diploma course in one year, and got a job in the advertising department of Kodak, which sent him to London in 1932.
In 1936 Friell sent some cartoons to the Communist Party's Daily Worker, and was offered a job on the staff. Billed as "Fleet Street's greatest discovery since David Low", he realised he had an important role "in supplying the humour that the paper rather desperately needed." He adopted the signature "Gabriel" - "the Archangel...in charge of blowing for the annunciation of Judgement Day" - because he wanted to herald the end of capitalism. However, this nom de plume also enabled him to supplement the Daily Worker's standard £4 a week salary by continuing to contribute to Glasgow newspapers under his own name. In his first year on the Daily Worker he had offers from three other Fleet Street papers, but stayed put, although he also began drawing cartoons for the World's Press News.
Called up in 1940, Friell served in the Royal Artillery, but was kept under observation by MI5 as a "Dangerous Red". In 1944 he helped set up Soldier magazine, working as cartoonist, art editor, layout man and printer liaison, and he also contributed cartoons and covers to Seven and to Bulldozer - signing himself "Jas F.", "Jas Friell" or "Gnr Friell". On his demobilisation in 1946 Friell returned to the Daily Worker, and remained at the paper until 1956, when his cartoon comparing the Russian tanks in Budapest to the Anglo-French invasion of Egypt was rejected. He walked out along with many of the Daily Worker editorial staff. "I couldn't conceive carrying on cartooning about the evils of capitalism and imperialism," he wrote, "and ignoring the acknowledged evils of Russian communism." But it was a move he later regretted.
In 1957, after six months unemployment, Friell went to see Lord Beaverbrook, who offered him a job on the London Evening Standard, as the replacement for John Musgrave-Wood - "Emmwood" - who had left for the Daily Mail. He was promised "complete political freedom", and on the Evening Standard signed himself "Friell". According to Keith Mackenzie, Beaverbrook "was always looking for another Low", and liked Friell because his style was similar. However, it was soon decided on the Evening Standard that Friell "wasn't at all good", and in 1958 his job was offered to Vicky. As Mackenzie recalled, "Vicky said if he came to the Standard he didn't want Friell to be sacked", and it was arranged that Friell would continue to draw the cartoon on Wednesdays and Saturdays: "So you had the best cartoonist in the world and the worst cartoonist at the same paper at one time. It was very sad for Friell."
By 1962 Friell was drawing pocket cartoons for the Evening Standard, and so left the paper to work freelance for Thames TV and others. He was becoming tired of political cartooning, complaining about the resilience of party politicians, who bought the cartoons he drew attacking them. "You begin to wonder," he wrote in 1968, "if you are banging your head against a foam rubber wall." In 1972 Friell joined the New Civil Engineer as its first cartoonist, drawing as "Field". He also produced advertisements for Murray's Mellow Mixture Tobacco and others, and was awarded a Bronze Medal at the International Film and TV Festival for his cartoons for the Grand Metropolitan Catering Service. Friell retired in 1988 aged seventy-five, and died at his home in Ealing, West London, on 4 February 1997.
- James Friell "My Stage Career", BBC Radio 4, 26 January 1968.
- James Friell "Time to Talk", BBC Radio 4, 8 November 1968.
- CSCC Archive, transcript of Keith Mackenzie's interview with George Mikes, 13 January 1978.
- Patrick Goldring "Pointing the Finger", Guardian, 12 February 1997.
- Mark Bryant Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000), pp.81-2.
- Michal Bonzca “An angel with a poison pen”, Morning Star, 3 April 2007.
7 boxes uncatalogued originals [FR0001 - 1307] (1946 - 58)
5 boxes cuttings
1 framed uncatalogued original (no. 121)
24 unaccessioned originals (Drawer 15, A) (+ 34 photocopies)
6 unaccessioned originals (Mid Week Selections) (Drawer 15, B)
Prism: BBC cuttings
Originals: 40s; 50s; 60s (1946 - 60) [N.B. 4 boxes undated]
Cuttings: 30s, 40s, 50s (1936 - 58)
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