Percy Fearon was born in Shanghai, China, on 6 September 1874, of English parents. His father then moved to business in New York, where Fearon's friends pronounced his first name "Poycee", which he later shortened to "Poy". He showed skill in cartooning, and a neighbour in New York, Charles Bush, who had been cartoonist for the New York Herald, encouraged him to study art. He enrolled at the Art Students' League and Chase School of Art, New York. Fearon continued to study art after the family returned to London, under Sir Hubert Herkomer. He then offered his cartoons around Fleet Street, and his first published work appeared in Judy. In 1897 he was recruited by that magazine, which in 1901 carried a sketch of him as "'Judy's' Staff No.6 - Mr. P.H. Fearon ('Poy')."
In 1905 Edward Hulton invited Fearon to become cartoonist for his Manchester Evening Chronicle. Hulton had a strong group of cartoonists working in the studio at his Withy Grove offices, and Fearon's contemporaries included "Matt" (Matthew Sandford) and E.A. Morton. However, as a contemporary recalled, Hulton was known to be capricious, and at the outset "there were those who thought he couldn't survive": "They said Poy couldn't draw. His style was unorthodox. His drawings were unfinished. What happened, of course, was that he went all out for the essential idea. He became the biggest draw Hulton ever had...work on the editorial floor at Withy Grove didn't start until the fellows had paid a visit to the studio to see Poy's rough-out for the next day, having a pinch of snuff from Matt's box on the way out."
In 1907 Fearon moved from the Manchester Evening Chronicle to Hulton's Daily Dispatch and Sunday Chronicle, where he was one of the first cartoonists to caricature Winston Churchill extensively. It was even claimed that his cartoons played a significant part in the campaign against Churchill in 1908, when he lost his Manchester seat. In 1913 Fearon left Manchester to work on Northcliffe's London Evening News - a move which Hulton felt very personally. Fearon had an equal impact in London journalism, and one contemporary described him as "the picture leader-writer" of the Evening News. His cartoons were also occasionally reproduced in its sister paper, the Daily Mail.
During the First World War Fearon served in the National Guard on air-raid duty, and created "Cuthbert" the rabbit as a symbol of those who refused to join the war effort. The character became so well known that, after the war, "Cuthbert" entered the Oxford English Dictionary as the slang term for "a man who deliberately avoids military service; especially...by securing a post in a Government office or the Civil Service." By 1918 Fearon was said to have produced "about a thousand" war cartoons for the Daily Mail.
In 1918 Fearon was described as shy and quietly spoken, "a very polite and self-contained Briton, clean-shaven, pink, and slightly sunburnt." In 1920 another interviewer commented that "the things he says in that rapid, eager way of his strike one as being said because they amuse him, not because he thinks they ought to amuse you." He added that Fearon was happiest "when he is working out his cartoon for the day": "His first task in the morning is to read the papers, and, having selected his subject, his pencil is soon at work sketching out the main lines of the drawing, which is in the hands of the printers before one o'clock. The effect of freedom and spontaneity in his work is no illusion but represents the actual fact."
Fearon's most famous creation was probably "John Citizen", the ordinary man, although he also drew that character's bureaucratic opponents "Dilly and Dally", "Dux and Drakes", and "Government Gus". In 1935 Fearon retired from the Evening News, although his work continued to appear in its sister paper the Daily Mail until 1938, when he finally retired from cartooning after "34 unbroken years of daily work". He was succeeded as political cartoonist at the Daily Mail by Leslie Illingworth. Fearon estimated that since joining the Manchester Evening Chronicle he had produced 10,000 cartoons, which he considered "a record for a political cartoonist." He died on 5 November 1948.
- Judy, 30 January 1901, p.50, "'Judy's' Staff No.6 - Mr. P.H. Fearon ('Poy')."
- OED, citing Evening News cartoon of 25 January 1917.
- CSCC Archive, cuttings from Daily Mail, 6 July 1918, "'Poy' the Daily Mail Cartoonist"; Daily Mail, 18 December 1920, "'Poy,' the Anti-Waste Cartoonist" by "T"; World's Press News, 31 October 1929, "'Poy' Means 'Poicy'"; Daily Mail, 9 February 1938, "Poy Retires"; World's Press News, 17 February 1938, "Why They Called Him 'Poy'"; Daily Mail, 6 November 1948, "Farewell to 'Poy'", by "MS"; The Times, 6 November 1948, "Mr P.H. Fearon"; Manchester Guardian, 6 November 1948, "The Passing of Poy".
- Mark Bryant Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000), pp.72-3.
32 scrapbooks containing newspaper cuttings of Poy's cartoons:
Evening News 1913 - 1934
Daily Dispatch 1907 - 1913
Daily Mail 1935 - 1937
Evening Chronicle 1905 - 1906
1905 - 1937back to top