Merrily Harpur was educated at Headington School, Oxford, and Trinity College, Dublin. After a period restoring oil paintings she became a freelance cartoonist and writer, working for the Guardian from 1978, and in 1979 producing cartoon backdrops and animated titles for Miles Kington’s TV series Let’s Parler Franglais.
Harpur has also provided cartoons and feature articles for The Times (including “Merrily Harpur’s Diary” and the strip“Flavia Corkscrew’s Good Food Guide” from 1983), Sunday Telegraph (including the series “Chattering Classes” and the strip “The Arcadians”), Daily Mail, The Guardian, Financial Times, Sunday Times, Private Eye, Spectator, Field, Country Living and others. She also drew weekly page-length cartoon strips for Punch and The Listener, and in Ireland has also contributed to The Irish Times, The Independent and the Irish Tatler. She currently appears weekly in the London Evening Standard.
“Being funny is quite a male activity”, Harpur declared in 1989, when asked about the shortage of female cartoonists, “most women have got better things to do than spend their day thinking up jokes.” She described the difficult process of cartooning as “like an examination”: “You sit down with a blank sheet of paper in front of you and think of fifteen funny things in the three hours.”
Harpur has published three books of cartoons, The Nightmares of Dream Topping (1985), Unheard of Ambridge (1987) and Pig Overboard (1990), and the non-fiction books Mystery Big Cats (2006) and Roaring Dorset! Encounters with Big Cats (2008). She has also illustrated books by Kingsley Amis, Jill Tweedie, Miles Kington, Michael Frayn, John Michell, Candida Lycett Green and James Fenton.
Since 1988 Harpur has divided her time between Dorset and County Roscommon in Ireland, where in 1998 she co-founded the Strokestown International Poetry Festival, of which she was director from 1998 to 2004, and again in 2009-2010. She lists her hobbies as "staring dreamily out of the window and fly-fishing".
Independent, Media Page, 2 August 1989.
Mark Bryant Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000), pp.103-4.
Merrily Harpur’s website, including a cartoon gallery, is at www.harpur.org
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