Leslie Illingworth was born in Barry, Glamorgan, on 2 September 1902. His father was Richard Illingworth, a Yorkshire quantity surveyor who worked in the Engineers' Department of Barry Docks. After attending the Church School of St Athan, Illingworth won the first of a series of scholarships. "I won a scholarship to the grammar school, Barry County School," he recalled, "from which I joined the lithographic department of of the Western Mail in Cardiff, because my father used to golf with Sir Robert J. Webber, chief of the newspaper."
Whilst working for the Western Mail in the afternoons, Illingworth also attended the Cardiff School of Art, to which he had won a scholarship. He had already had cartoons published in the Football Express, and continued to draw sporting cartoons for the Western Mail while attending Cardiff Art School, as well as deputising for the paper's Political Cartoonist, the ailing J.M. Staniforth. Illingworth had been to school with Ronald Niebour, who later worked alongside him as a cartoonist, but they lost touch when he joined the Western Mail and Niebour went into the Merchant Navy.
In 1920 Illingworth won a County Scholarship to the Royal College of Art, where he received encouragement from William Rothenstein. However, after only a few months he heard that Staniforth had died, and was offered his job at £6 a week. In 1921 Illingworth returned to the Western Mail to take up the post. Three years later he returned to London, and continued working for the Western Mail while studying at the Slade School. One of those to commission work from him was Owen Aves, editor of Passing Show, and in 1927, when Aves became a artist's agent, he found enough work for Illingworth to go freelance - including in 1927 his first commission from Punch. As Illingworth later recalled, "I was a good artist, and I could make a lot of money."
In 1927 Illingworth travelled to the United States, returning the following year to continue his art training in Berlin and Paris, where he had a flat and studied at the Academie Julian. Illingworth freelanced for Nash's, Passing Show, Strand Magazine, Good Housekeeping, London Opinion, Red Magazine, Wills' Magazine, Answers, Tit-Bits and, later, for Life. In addition he produced advertising illustrations for the 'Beer is Best' campaign, and for Winsor & Newton, Grey's Cigarettes, Symington's Soups, Eiffel Tower Lemonade and Wolsey underwear. In 1930 Illingworth again visited Canada and the United States. In 1937 he produced his first "big cut" for Punch, and continued to supply them with regular political cartoons.
In 1938 Percy Fearon ("Poy") retired from the Daily Mail, and Illingworth decided to apply for his job. He sent in some sample cartoons, but signed them "MacGregor" in case there was prejudice against employing "Illingworth of Punch." There was some justification for this, for Percy Bradshaw, who ran the Press Art School, was asked to recommend possible cartoonists for the Daily Mail, and decided that "Illingworth was not among those who, in my view, would be able to hold the job down." It seemed likely that Illingworth's detailed style might not be adaptable to daily cartooning, but the work he submitted was liked, and he joined the Daily Mail staff in November 1939. Illingworth produced a cartoon a day, but claimed that in wartime it was not difficult to find subjects: "it was absolutely easy - there's no doubt about it."
It was noted in 1942 that Illingworth's busiest time began on Thursday mornings, after the Punch cartoon had been commissioned the previous day. This was "Illingworth's toughest period of the week...when he has a Punch cartoon and two Mail cartoons to produce before Saturday", and he would often work through the night and into the next day to produce the detailed drawings. His wartime cartoons were very successful, and after the war a cutting of one of his Daily Mail cartoons - from 14 January 1944 - was found in the ruins of Hitler's Chancellery.
Illingworth also produced work for the Ministry of Defence, and on Bernard Partridge's death in 1945 he replaced him as Second Cartoonist on Punch, working alongside Ernest Shepard. In 1949 Illingworth became Cartoonist on Punch, alternating with Norman Mansbridge. In 1948 Illingworth became a member of the Punch Table, but considered himself uneducated, and was very shy at the weekly lunches, where the subject of the cartoon was decided. When Malcom Muggeridge was editor of Punch from 1953 to 1957, Illingworth would sit at the Punch table between him and John Betjeman. "They were very kind to me", he recalled: "I was conscious that I was a monumental bore, so I used to concentrate on the claret and keep as quiet as a cabbage."
Muggeridge recalled that, as Illingworth "did not have a strongly political mind, a whole series of suggestions might be put to him...without his reacting strongly." Eventually, however, one would fire his imagination, and "from then on the only anxiety was actually to lay hands on the cartoon": "If left to himself he would go on working away at it indefinitely; sometimes it had to be snatched from him by cunning or brute force." The result was a highly-detailed Punch cartoon, which took Illingworth a day to produce and was designed to make a political point that would remain topical for a week. Muggeridge and Illingworth's most controversial collaboration was a portrait of the ailing Churchill, which appeared in Punch on 3 February 1954 with the caption "Man Goeth Forth unto his Work and to his Labour until the Evening."
Bernard Hollowood, who edited Punch from 1957 to 1969, agreed that Illingworth lacked passionate involvement and "produced very few of his own ideas." As he recalled, at Punch "the chief political cartoons were produced communally, and the method suited Leslie." The idea for Illingworth's cartoon would be conceived during the Wednesday lunch, and, as one Punch writer explained in 1966: "Every aspect of the drawing is discussed, Illingworth makes a number of roughs in which the position of figures and objects is finalised, and then returns to his Barbican flat to start work on the actual finish." Illingworth finally left Punch in 1968, being succeeded by Wally Fawkes.
In 1965 Illingworth was getting £1,000 a year for his Punch work, on top of £7,000 a year from the Daily Mail. As he told an interviewer that year, he made regular trips to the Houses of Parliament to study his subjects in action, for "I have a season ticket to the gallery - there’s usually a lovely show going on there." He was fascinated by politicians’ concern for their appearance - "they know all the angles...and they’re always combing themselves" - and by their love of the cartoonist’s attention - "to be left out...that’s death and destruction."
At the Daily Mail Illingworth continued to work in close consultation with the editor. In the morning, noted an interviewer in 1969, he listened to the news and read the papers, and worked up a number of roughs at the Daily Mail office. These were ready by lunchtime, when he talked them over with the editor, and a final subject was chosen. He then went to his small office to work up the final version. It might take Illingworth three hours to work up his Daily Mail cartoon from the pencil sketch approved by the editor.
Illingworth retired from the Daily Mail in 1969, taking up farming in Sussex. However he lived on in the Daily Mail as "Organ Morgan", the Welsh farmer in Wally Fawkes' "Flook" strip. In 1973 Illingworth also stood in for Paul Rigby on the Sun, and in 1974 he returned to Fleet Street with a weekly cartoon for the News of the World. As he told one interviewer, each Thursday he would read the papers intently at his home in Sussex, and produce a pencil sketch. Then on Friday "I drive up to...Bouverie Street to show it to the editor and ink it in": "Very seldom do the editor and his executives suggest what should be drawn. Sometimes I take up three or four samples. Only once did I have to follow their ideas."
Illingworth had been voted CCGB Political and Social Cartoonist of the Year in 1962, and in 1966 he was one of the founder members of the British Cartoonists' Association, serving as its first President. In 1975 he received an Honorary D.Litt. from the University of Kent. Illingworth used a Gillott 290 pen with Higgins ink on hot-pressed fashion board, roughing out in pencil first, and was one of the first cartoonists to employ scraperboard. He claimed to concentrate best surrounded by people - "lots of chatter" - and his Daily Mail office was often full of his colleagues. He disliked seeing his own work in print, claiming to "skip the pages I'm in", and said he was unable to caricature women.
A great admirer of Carl Giles - "no one, anywhere, can come up to Giles" - Illingworth summed himself up as "a red-nosed comic artist", but his work was widely admired by his fellow cartoonists, and his classical style has been likened to the early work of John Tenniel. When asked how he managed to survive so long in Fleet Street, Illingworth used to say that "when the editor comes in looking for someone to sack, I hide behind the door and he doesn't see me." Leslie Illingworth died on 20 December 1979. In 2009 a commemorative blue plaque was placed on his former home in Barry.
- Percy V Bradshaw They Make Us Smile (London, 1942), p.43.
- Michael Bateman Funny Way to Earn a Living: A Book of Cartoons and Cartoonists (Leslie Frewin, London, 1966), pp.15-17.
- CSCC Archive, cutting from London Opinion, January 1942, p.47, and cutting "Neb was in Hitler's files too", from Daily Mail, 13 August 1945.
- Helen Speed and Jackie Lindhurst "Extra Special: With a quartet of cartoonists", Woman, 20 February 1965, p.8.
- Alexander Frater "Punch Artists in Profile: Illingworth", Punch, 27 April 1966, p.615.
- Keith Mackenzie "Cartoonists and their Work No.1: Illingworth", The Artist, June 1969, pp.93-5.
- Sydney Reynolds "The Cartoonist Draws on Life from Sussex", Sussex Life, October 1975, p.48-50.
- Colin Reid "Farewell to the Kind Man with a Savage Pen", Daily Mail, 21 December 1979.
- Malcolm Muggeridge "A Satirist in the Grand Style", Guardian, 22 December 1979.
- Bernard Hollowood "A Cartoonist of Genius", Observer, 23 December 1979.
- CSCC Archive, note on Leslie Illingworth by Keith Mackenzie
- South Wales Echo, 24 November 2009, p.9, “Town's 'blue plaque' heroes are revealed.”
photographs, prints, glass negatives
1 box cuttings and miscellaneous related items