Matthew Pritchett was born on 14 July 1964, the son of Daily Telegraph columnist Oliver Pritchett and grandson of the novelist Sir Victor (V. S.) Pritchett. Pritchett studied graphics for four years at St Martin's School of Art, and hoped for a career as a film cameraman, but gave it up when he found that his responsibilities were principally "to carry the camera from one place to another." For a time Pritchett worked as a waiter in a pizza restaurant, before hearing that magazines would pay £75 a time for cartoons, and deciding "I must be able to think of one joke a week and if I can think of two I will be living like a millionaire." After weeks of submitting gag cartoons to various publications, Pritchett managed to get one into the New Statesman.
Pritchett began speculatively submitting topical cartoons to the Daily Telegraph’s “Peterborough” column, edited by Peter Birkett. His first was accepted while Birkett was on holiday, and on his return he furiously hung an A3 enlargement of it in his office with the caption “This is the worst cartoon that has ever appeared in any publication.” But Matt continued to have work published in the paper, and in 1988 began acting as stand-in for George Gale, producing the same full-size political cartoons, signed "MATT". On the death of Mark Boxer later that year, the editor, Max Hastings, considered Pritchett for the job of pocket cartoonist on the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph. As a test he was asked to produce six specimen cartoons a week, and after six weeks the first was printed. It remains one of Pritchett’s favourites. Published on the front page the day after the Daily Telegraph had mistakenly printed the wrong date, it featured a character saying “I hope I have a better Thursday than I did yesterday.”
From the start Pritchett worked at a desk in the Daily Telegraph office. "I'm terrible on my own", he admits: "I'm very undisciplined and I need to be in an office surrounded by people and with the panic of having to get something done." His routine was to submit half a dozen "roughs" to the paper's Night Editor in the afternoon, and then work up the chosen cartoon as a "finish" for publication. If the news was particularly important his cartoon might be dropped altogether, but Pritchett accepted this, noting in 1989 that he was not interested in drawing "'statement' cartoons", and did not like drawing "anything that isn't a joke."
Pritchett describes the subject of his Daily Telegraph pocket cartoons as "ordinary people affected by life", and they have proved enormously popular. He acknowledges the Guardian cartoonist Bryan McAllister as an early influence, and he has also been influenced by Jean-Jacques Sempe and the cartoonists of the New Yorker. When Max Hastings moved to the Evening Standard in 1995, Sir David English persuaded him to offer Pritchett a considerable salary increase if he would move to its sister paper the Daily Mail, but Pritchett reportedly replied "Dear Max, Even though the Daily Mail's offer is £150,000 more than I'm getting here, I feel I have to say no because I'm so happy at The Daily Telegraph."
Pritchett's work has also appeared in Punch, Spectator and other publications. In 2001 he was awarded the MBE. By this time he had drawn an estimated 2,500 pocket cartoons for the Daily Telegraph, still working at a desk in the corner of the paper's open-plan offices in Canary Wharf. Pritchett follows “a scattergun approach”, noting down dozens of possible cartoon ideas “no matter how crap they are” and then refining them into the six or so roughs that he shows the editor. “It’s very rare that the first one gets through", he admits: "It’s often the very last one. I think of it as being a bit like colonic irrigation.” The subject of his cartoon often follows the main news story, but Pritchett admits that "as long as it's funny and vaguely topical they don't really care."
As Andrew Marr has noted, Pritchett “has dug himself into the consciousness of millions as few of his angrier, more flamboyant rivals have done...His wry, mordant, put-upon couple are to the middle classes what Andy Capp was to the working classes.” His awards have included Granada TV's What the Papers Say Cartoonist of the Year in 1992, Cartoon Art Trust Pocket Cartoonist of the Year in 1995, 1996, and 2005, UK Press Gazette's Cartoonist of the Year in 1996 and 1998. He is widely admired by other cartoonists. "It really is astonishing how he keeps going," commented Christian Adams when Pritchett won the Cartoonist of the Year at the 2009 British Press Awards, "and not only produce at least six cartoons a week, but also make each one seem so fresh."
In 2009 Pritchett described his daily routine as starting at 8.30am with a check of the other newspapers "to see if anyone has done anything funnier than me". Later he contacted the newsdesk to see what would be featured in the next day’s Daily Telegraph. Then he began sketching out possible jokes, noting that “the rubbish comes out first”: “Then some slightly crazy ideas. Then there's nothing left but to have good ideas." By 4.00pm he had a sheet of jokes to show around the office, for Pritchett admits that "I'm not always the best judge of my own stuff". The final choice was left to the editor, but Pritchett joked that “in fact, the Editor's secretary picks them. She's a much better judge." The final drawing was completed by the paper’s 9.00pm deadline.
Pritchett acknowledges that a great deal of effort is involved in pocket cartooning, for "making anything look effortless is a huge amount of work." As he notes, "the disadvantage of the cartoon is that you cannot set up a joke like a stand-up comic would. But then, it can be more instant." The pocket cartoon is also able to gain impact from the seriousness of the surrounding news. "When I’m imagining the cartoon," he told an interviewer in 2012, "I’m thinking about it on the page and what the headline around it will be. Sometimes, when there’s heavy news around, it can be a tiny little rectangle among pages of horror. It’s the perfect set-up for the joke sometimes."
Pritchett uses a fine Profipen felt-tip and occasionally watercolour (up to 1994 also sometimes Letratone). An admirer of the work of "Pont" (Graham Laidler), he is self-deprecating about his own contribution to the art of cartooning: "Pocket cartoons might sit, yellowing, on somebody's fridge for a while but works like Pont's The British Character series go on forever.'' "People tell me that my cartoons occasionally make political statements," he says: "But all I am going for is the cheap laugh."
Pritchett is married to the fashion designer Pascale Smets, and his sister Georgina was a scriptwriter for Spitting Image. As he jokes, his grandfather wrote short stories, his father wrote newspaper columns, and he makes a living on eight or nine words a day, so “my children will be mime artists.”
- Russell Davies "Go to work on a smile", Daily Telegraph, 23 December 1989, Weekend p.I.
- Mark Bryant Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000), p.176.
- David Graves "Keeping the secret nearly killed me, says Matt, MBE", Daily Telegraph, 31 December 2001, p.3.
- David Derbyshire "Laughter? It's a funny business", Daily Telegraph, 13 March 2002, p.23.
- The Times, 11 October 2002, Section 2 p.19, "Max Hastings."
- Ian Burrell “Perhaps I should have told you this...”, The Independent, 21 November 2005, p.14.
- Andrew Marr “The Making of Matt”, Standpoint Magazine, June 2008.
- Christian Adams' Cartoon Blog for 1 April 2009, at blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/author/christianadams/
- Lizzie Murphy “Learning the art of creativity”, Yorkshire Post, 9 June 2009.
- Florence Waters “Funny how cartoons still have bite”, The Daily Telegraph, 21 November 2009, p.13.
- Helen Lewis “Ink-stained assassins”, New Statesman, 23 August 2012.
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