W.K Haselden was born in Spain on 3 December 1872, the son of Adolphe Henry Haselden, the English director of the Seville Gasworks, and his wife Susannah Kerridge. In about 1874 the family moved to Linares, where Haselden's uncle was running the family mining business. In 1877, during a holiday in England, Haselden's father caught pneumonia. He died in the following year, and Haselden remained in London with his mother, going to Charterhouse school. They lived off the family investments in mining until 1888, when these were sold off.
On leaving school, Haselden obtained a post at Lloyds as an underwriter, through a family friend. However, he hated office routine, and spent a lot of his time "drawing pictures on the blotting-paper". Haselden was self-taught as an artist, but in 1902 he sold a caricature to the Sovereign magazine, which had been formed that year from the British Mining and Financial Review. Haselden recalled that the paper "was running a 'successful business man' series", and he submitted a cartoon of George Faber, one of the wealthiest underwriters at Lloyds. Haselden was offered a job on the Sovereign at £2.10s a week, and began drawing theatrical sketches and "a sort of political cartoon of my own invention."
When the Sovereign ceased publication four months later, in April 1903, Haselden had to go freelance. At first, he recalled, the only work he could get was "odds and ends done for the Tatler or the St. James's Gazette." But he was encouraged to write to Alfred Harmsworth, the newspaper and magazine publisher, and in December 1903 Harmsworth referred him to Arkas Sapt, who was trying to rescue the newly-created but failing Daily Mirror. Sapt looked through Haselden's cuttings and sketches, and offered him immediate employment on the Daily Mirror at £5 a week, saying "that they wanted a cartoonist, and they would boom me like a second F.C. Gould."
Haselden started work on the Daily Mirror in January 1904, under its new editor, Hamilton Fyfe. At first Haselden drew single-frame political cartoons similar to the ones that he had produced for the Sovereign, but when the paper dropped its price to a halfpenny, and went for a more popular market, he began to experiment with subdivided images, and light social comment. From April 1906 Haselden also contributed theatrical cartoons to Punch, after E.T. Reed saw the work he was doing for the Daily Mirror and recommended him to the new Punch editor, Owen Seaman.
Haselden had been having an affair with his editor’s wife, Eleanor, and in May 1906 she left her husband to live with him. Fyfe petitioned for divorce, citing Haselden as co-respondent. The divorce was kept out of the papers, presumably through Harmsworth's influence. After it was finalised in February 1907, Eleanor and Haselden were married, and Fyfe left the Daily Mirror.
Under the Daily Mirror's new editor, Alexander Kenealy, Haselden gradually abandoned the single-frame political cartoon, and in October 1907 he committed himself to the multi-frame format, usually of six images, which would be his trademark for the next thirty-three years. The theme, as he expressed it, was the "little passing topics of the day." These cartoons proved very popular, and at the end of 1907 the Daily Mirror issued the first collection of his work, under the title Daily Mirror Reflections. Haselden's political cartoons were omitted, to concentrate on the comic drawings, which the introduction hoped would be "a perfect cure for the 'blues'." This was the first volume of non-political cartoons ever issued by a British newspaper, and the Daily Mirror released a similar volume of Reflections every year until 1935.
Haselden worked with a pen and indian ink on board. He didn't carry a sketchbook, but nevertheless used real people as the models for his cartoons. "My method of work", he explained in 1908, "is to look through the morning papers for a subject which is at the same time prominent and cartoonable": "Having fixed this, I sit at my drawing-desk and waste time for a spell, then set to work with pen and ink as fast as maybe...Sometimes, of course, there are no suitable subjects - then one has to be made up. Almost everything but politics and religion is permissible."
Haselden drew his cartoons the day before publication, and only rarely managed to get a day ahead by drawing two. He claimed that the most frequent question he was asked was "How do you manage to think of something every day?" His answer was, "I have to!" But inspiration was not always easy to come by. "I sometimes feel in despair for an idea," he admitted, "and then for a change of scene I get into the Tube, go to the City, sit in a cold, horrid, dirty little dark room, and in its gloomy surroundings come inspirations because I feel that I cannot sit there any longer than necessary."
On 2 October 1914, soon after the outbreak of the First World War, Haselden returned to political subjects with a Daily Mirror cartoon featuring the German Kaiser and his son the Crown Prince. Captioned "Sad Experience of Big and Little Willie No. 1", this was the first of a long series of comic episodes, which in 1915 were reprinted in book form as The Sad Experiences of Big and Little Willie, and led Haselden being seen as the father of the British newspaper strip cartoon. He later tried other wartime characters, including Colonel Dug-Out, Joy Flapperton, and Burlington Bertie, but none had the same success.
Haselden had a long and successful career with the Daily Mirror. He was reportedly offered a knighthood by Stanley Baldwin, but supposedly turned it down as he "didn't want all the fuss." In September 1936 increasing deafness forced Haselden to give up his Punch theatrical cartoons, and in 1940 he retired from the Daily Mirror. Haselden died on 25 December 1953, leaving an estate worth £41,000.
- National Archives, London, J 77/878/6655, Fyfe v. Fyfe and Haselden, Petition for Divorce filed 1 May 1906.
- Daily Mirror, 16 January 1908, p.5 col.3, "'My Confessions' / Mr Haselden Chats About Cartoons."
- Daily Mirror, 2 December 1908, p.4 col.2, "Cartoonist's Career."
- Mrs Alec-Tweedie My Table-Cloths: A Few Reminiscences (George H. Doran, New York, 1916), pp.261-4.
- CSCC Archive, W.K. Haselden "Answers to questions put to me by Richard Jennings", (copy) n.d.
- Mark Bryant Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000), p.105.
- David Little "W.K. Haselden (1872-1953)", New Dictionary of National Biography.
- For a collection of posters which W.K. Haselden drew for London Transport visit http://www.ltmcollection.org/
6679 originals [WH0001 - 5800 are catalogued WH5801- uncatalogued
283 uncatalogued Punch originals (theatrical illustrations) [WH6275 - 7080]
7 colour originals
1 cuttings book
1900s - 1930sback to top