Gerald Scarfe was born on 1 June 1936 in St John's Wood, London, the son of Reginald Scarfe, a City banker, and his wife Dorothy, a teacher. As a child Scarfe suffered severely from asthma, and spent a lot of time in bed, being frequently in hospital - "a very lonely childhood" he recalled. During the war his father was in the RAF, and the family moved a lot, depriving Scarfe of friends and meaning that his formal education was limited. "My schooling was very, very spasmodic through my asthma", he recalled, "and a lot of the teachers...were cruel": "They would take out their own frustrations on the children."
Plasticine modelling and drawing became an imaginative outlet. Scarfe later explained the energy of his drawings as "just my way of expressing myself, as it has been since I was a sickly child, chronically ill with asthma, always at home bedridden, or in hospital.'' In 1952 he won an art competition organised by the Eagle comic for an Ingersoll watch advertisement - one of the runners-up being "David Hockney, Bradford". Scarfe began drawing regularly for the Eagle while still at school.
When he left school at sixteen, Scarfe's parents expected him to remain dependent on them. His father tried to find him a job with him in a bank, but his lack of formal education proved a drawback. He ended up working with his uncle in a commercial art studio at Elephant and Castle in London, drawing chairs and tables for the catalogue of a West End store - trying, as he later put it, to "make crappy things look luxurious''. In the evenings he attended St Martin's School of Art, and taught himself anatomy by studying medical books. He disliked working in advertising, and began drawing joke cartoons - his first published work appearing in the Daily Sketch in 1957, and in Punch and the Evening Standard in 1960. "They paid me seven guineas”, Scarfe recalled of Punch, “and if I sold 10 a week I was making a huge amount of money."
Scarfe decided to become a freelance, and became friends with the cartoonist Frank Dickens, whose work was appearing in the Sunday Times. Scarfe also studied art under Leslie Richardson at East Ham Technical College alongside Ralph Steadman, who later recalled their first encounter at an early meeting of the Cartoonists' Club of Great Britain, founded in 1960. “He said, ‘I like your line; I’d like to come see you’”, Steadman remembered: “So he came up one day in his car and he brought his drawings with him and they were awful...commercial art drawings...he showed me these things and said, ‘Can you help?’ I said, ‘I’ll introduce you to my teacher Leslie Richardson.’”
Richardson recalled that Scarfe "was less complacent than most about his work - he was never content, always striving to take the development of his style farther and farther": "I always encouraged him to think of himself as an artist and do everything in terms of art." Steadman and Scarfe used to go sketching together at the Victoria & Albert Museum, developing a close relationship and a very similar line. As Steadman later acknowledged, “we had an interchangeability about our styles”: “I know where lots of things came from and he knows where lots of things came from...Neither of us liked to accuse the other that we were copying each other, but you can’t help it when your styles are somehow similar.”
Scarfe and Steadman had a tacit agreement that they would submit drawings to publications together, and, as Steadman recalled, "we went to Punch together with our cartoons”. Then, in 1962, Steadman decided to submit a drawing to the newly-launched magazine Private Eye, but Scarfe didn’t have anything ready. “Gerry sort of got upset”, Steadman recalled, “and said, ‘I don’t see why; we said we weren’t going to do anything unless we did it together.’" When Steadman's drawing was accepted, Scarfe submitted one of his own to Private Eye without telling Steadman. It was accepted, and it became clear, as Steadman later acknowledged, that “something had started”.
Scarfe was influenced by Ronald Searle, but at Private Eye he developed a distinctively visceral style. As the editor, Richard Ingrams, remembered, Scarfe's transformation on Private Eye was "entirely a personal and natural evolution": "When he first came to us he didn't really know what he wanted to do and I do feel he responded to the feeling of the magazine." Scarfe knew very little about the British traditions of caricature, and recalled that when journalists compared his Private Eye work to that of William Hogarth, James Gillray, or George Cruikshank, "I had no idea who these people were, being ill-educated." Willie Rushton advised Scarfe to "try drawing politicians," and he began his savage attacks on those in power.
Scarfe's cover for the 1963 Private Eye annual - showing Harold Macmillan as a naked Christine Keeler - caused it to be banned by the four largest book wholesalers, including W.H. Smith. Scarfe's relationship with Steadman continued to deteriorate, and finally Steadman’s wife sent Scarfe a letter, accusing him, in Steadman’s words, "of copying and faking everything from me, and now preventing me from submitting my own work". "I wish she hadn’t sent it", Steadman remembered: "She asked me, 'Should I send it?' I said, 'I wouldn’t send it, but it’s your letter.'" Scarfe was deply hurt, and the two men "fell out." After that, as Steadman recalled, Scarfe’s career as a caricaturist took off. "He really took the line to places it hadn't been to before", he later acknowledged, "he had an extraordinary effect on caricature": "He’s taken caricature to extraordinary places."
By 1965 Scarfe was providing drawings for the Sunday Times, but, as one interviewer noted, "there is a love-hate relationship going on": "They commission work, but reject a lot of it." Scarfe thus drew one of Churchill’s last appearances in the House of Commons, after a series of strokes, but the Sunday Times rejected it, saying “Just imagine what his wife Clementine would think when that came through the letter box”. Scarfe was however growing more confident as an artist, and, with Richardson's encouragement, he got a place at the Royal College of Art. But he left after only two weeks, recalling later that he could make more money outside, and had "just wanted to know I was good enough to get in."
By October 1965 Scarfe was also working for the Daily Mail, edited by the liberal-minded Mike Randall. Randall was aiming for a younger and more up-market readership, but Scarfe was also being wooed by the Daily Express, which ran an article on "this self-effacing chap with a cow lick over one eye and a long horse face." However, Carl Giles, the principal Daily Express cartoonist, considered Scarfe's work to be "thoroughly revolting" and admitted that he was "not an admirer". Then, in 1966, Scarfe was taken to lunch by Randall and the Daily Mail's owner Vere Harmsworth, and offered £6,000 a year and an E-type Jaguar to stop him going over to the Daily Express. Scarfe accepted the offer, but his appointment further distanced him from many of his old friends, including Steadman.
Scarfe was never happy at the Daily Mail. He respected its political cartoonist, Leslie Illingworth, and there were plans for Scarfe to succeed him. But it soon became clear that Scarfe's way of working required more time than could be fitted into the newspaper's deadlines. As Scarfe later recalled, he "had a terrible struggle there for about a year trying to sort of fit into their pattern." Yet the problem was not simply one of deadlines. At Private Eye he had been free to work in his own way - "I could draw a penis, pubic hair, nipples, if I wanted to" - but at the Daily Mail things were different. "A lot of people became upset and disgusted", he later admitted: "To a lot of people the Daily Mail is like the family dog, and it was just like it got up and crapped on the table." Emmwood, who alternated with Illingworth as the Daily Mail political cartoonist, reckoned that Scarfe's pungent cartoons "lost the Mail 50,000 in circulation."
Scarfe also had problems coming up with ideas. Bernard Levin was engaged to provide him with subjects for his cartoons, but it was increasingly clear that Scarfe was not suited to this type of work. Randall's solution was to let him work out his contract on overseas assignments, including a trip to Vietnam as a war artist. But Scarfe found the war a sad chaotic muddle. "The first shock is how young the soldiers are", he later recalled: "19 or 20, just college kids who have been told to go to the other side of the world and fight, and are frightened out of their minds." He got permission to sketch in a US army mortuary, but couldn’t go through with it: “There were medics working on bits of bodies - half bodies, some without heads or limbs, others were like lumps of meat. I couldn't do it. I started sweating and had to go outside.”
Scarfe's time at the daily Mail was soon over. In December 1966, falling circulation led to Randall's being sacked, and in February 1967 Scarfe also left the paper, where his place was taken by Wally Fawkes. Scarfe concentrated on his work for Harold Evans at the Sunday Times, where he continued to draw political cartoons and to work on reporting assignments - including a trip to Northern Ireland to cover the growing sectarian violence. Scarfe recalled taking his cartoons into Evans's office, to explain exactly what was going on in them. "I think I presented him with some rather puzzling drawings," he later admitted, "which he nevertheless printed.”
In 1967 Scarfe also began contributing to the New Statesman, but he was beginning to get disillusioned with the whole process of political cartooning. As he told the interviewer David Frost in November 1967, there were pressures in cartooning for a national publication when "either the person you're going to draw is a friend of the editor, or of the advertisers." Characteristically, Scarfe's work for the New Statesman ended when the editor, Paul Johnson, protested that the chin and jowls in a caricature of Konrad Adenauer, the former German Chancellor, were obviously a penis and testicles.
By now Scarfe was also working in three dimensions, having produced giant puppets of Harold Wilson, Ian Smith and President Johnson for a CND rally in London in 1966, and making papier-mache caricature models for Time magazine covers - including a famous group of the Beatles which appeared on 22 September 1967, and which later went into Madame Tussauds. In 1969 Scarfe accepted a commission from the Central Office of Information, which led to the construction of a series of another twelve figures - including a 21ft-high scrap-metal figure of Swift's Gulliver - for Expo 70 in Japan.
Scarfe's studio at his house in Cheyne Walk was now described as "a place of physical pandemonium, spilling stuff, discarded wire and bits of clothing from the models, metal scrap and welding gear, scrolls of drawings and posters and sketches pinned to the walls, tin cans, inks, pens, brushes." As he told one interviewer, "I've moved away from drawings...first to papier mache models, now to constructions": "I'm even using electricity to make them move. I feel near to creating my own crazy world, my own mythology."
Scarfe was keen to work on film, and directed a documentary, Hogarth, for BBC TV's Omnibus series, followed in 1973 by the animated film, A Long Drawn-out Trip. This brought him to the attention of the pop group Pink Floyd, for whom he became designer and animator on their 1974 live show Wish You Were Here. He later worked with Pink Floyd on their album The Wall, and on the related animated film released by MGM in 1982. Scarfe was art director on this project, for which he also produced puppets, inflatables and animation sequences. He has also designed for the theatre, including sets for the English National Opera.
Scarfe continued to work for the Sunday Times, observing in 1978 that "Harry Evans...lets me get away with most things." The election of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister in 1979 proved a great focus for his work. "Thatcher was a big thing in my life", Scarfe recalled: "I didn't agree with her values but she was amazing material. She was a strong remarkable woman. The stronger they are, the better caricatures they make. I could turn her into anything acerbic or cutting, like a dagger or a knife, probing and vicious". In 1980 Scarfe reached an even wider audience by providing a caricature of Thatcher for the opening titles of the successful BBC political comedy "Yes Minister."
The purchase of the Sunday Times by Rupert Murdoch in March 1981 brought a change of political climate at the paper. In Harold Evans' office Murdoch saw a Scarfe caricature of Ronald Reagan, showing him as Mickey Mouse with a gun, marching out of Vietnam and into San Salvador. Murdoch observed "Poor old Ronnie - We're going to have to get rid of this pinko artist", but Scarfe managed to remain. However, there was a gradual change in the way that he saw his work. By 1998 he was calling his cartooning "just a job": "There are days when I simply don't feel like doing it but know I can fill that yawning space by falling back on certain tricks. A lot of my drawings are potboilers."
Scarfe's self-criticism was now matched by that of other cartoonists. In 1989, in the Sunday Correspondent, Martin Rowson had observed the bizarre contrast between Scarfe's "horrid" cartoons and the "irredeemable tweeness" of his home life, adding that "like all second-league artists who are never quite going to make the grade - rock musicians, journalists and most of all cartoonists - he labours under an exaggerated sense of his own importance." In 2005 Nicholas Garland further lamented that the criticism in Scarfe’s cartoons was always “at screaming pitch”, and regretted “the absence of political analysis”: “Politics is interesting when it gets complicated, and Scarfe's remorselessly simplistic approach gets terribly boring.”
Scarfe works in black Higgins ink, on large sheets of paper by Green & Stone of Chelsea, with a "very, very hard steel-nibbed pen". He stands to draw, and works from the shoulder. "I do try to be absolutely unselfconscious and spontaneous", he noted in 1998: "I have an image in my mind that's like a dream that quickly evaporates, so I have to put it down as rapidly as possible almost without looking at the paper. Then I can go back and put in the details and areas of intense crosshatching until the cows come home." "I have to unload these ideas", he told an interviewer in 2006: "I can sometimes tell within six lines of the pen that it's not going to work the way I wanted it to. I chuck the paper behind me and go on to the next. Sometimes I've got 20 or 30 sheets behind me."
Often described as secretive and unapproachable, Scarfe regards himself as "two different people", carefully polite in society, but vicious at work: "When I go into my studio, that's a different matter...I'm trying then to make a point about politics and politicians who I don't particularly like so I think I'm nasty there." Scarfe has always been an admirer of Ronald Searle, but his distinctively violent and grotesquely distorted images reflect his own attitude to his subjects. He has simplified his style over the years, to overcome the visual competition from bolder headlines and advertisements. "When I first started,” he explained in 2006, “I used to draw every single pimple, every nasal hair, every pore almost of the body. I now go for an overall shape and something fairly simple. The simpler my message, the more it whacks you in the face."
Scarfe describes himself as "a journalistic artist", whose politics are "left liberal". He sees political cartoons as able to focus ideas, but not to change events. "I don't think cartoons in any way alter anything that happens in the world", he told an interviewer in 2007: "if millions of people marched round the streets of Britain or other countries to stop the Iraq war and nothing happened, you can imagine what little impact a little scribble in a newspaper will have." Scarfe currently draws for the Sunday Times and the New Yorker magazine, and in June 2008 was appointed CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List. "I am pleased, but surprised," he told reporters, "since I've spent much of my professional life being rude to people": "When I met the Queen she asked: 'Are you still doing it?', which took me aback."
On 13 January 2013 the Sunday Times ran a Scarfe cartoon showing President Assad of Syria dripping blood, next to a pile of corpses. “It feels as if one has seen this Scarfe cartoon most weeks since the 1960s”, complained Charles Moore in the Spectator:
Scarfe has always been fearlessly against tyrants killing the innocent, especially children, and his way of showing this is to depict the tyrants covered with blood and the children, heaps of them, dead. And that is it: no gloss, no wit, no political nuance, no juxtaposition that might tell you something, just an extremely well-paid half century drawing tyrants covered with blood, and a CBE too.
A fortnight later, on 27 January 2013, the Sunday Times published another Scarfe cartoon showing the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, trapping the Palestinians in a wall which had blood for mortar. There were immediate accusations of anti-semitism, for the cartoon appeared on Holocaust Memorial Day, and the Board of Deputies of British Jews complained to the Press Complaints Commission that it looked like something out of “the virulently anti-Semitic Arab press”. However, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper distanced itself from the attacks, noting that “pillorying Scarfe and his cartoon cheapens a noble cause, as this was not anti-Semitic by any standard.”
The Sunday Times at first defended this "typically robust cartoon by Gerald Scarfe", but on the evening of 28 January Rupert Murdoch tweeted that although “Gerald Scarfe has never reflected the opinions of The Sunday Times...we owe major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon.” The following day the paper’s acting editor made a public apology for his “terrible mistake”, and Scarfe placed a statement on his website explaining that although the cartoon was not anti-semitic, he was nevertheless “stupidly completely unaware that it would be printed on Holocaust Day [sic], and I apologise for the very unfortunate timing.” On 3 February the Sunday Times further distanced itself from a cartoon which had “crossed a line”, by printing an editorial that regretted the paper's “very serious mistake” in publishing it.
- John Rydon "Ghoulish Advance of Mr. Scarfe", Daily Express, 3 November 1965.
- Michael Bateman Funny Way to Earn a Living: A Book of Cartoons and Cartoonists (Leslie Frewin, London, 1966), pp.103-6.
- The Times, 12 April 1966, p.6 col.1, “Anarchists Add Brightness to CND Rally.”
- CSCC Archive, unidentified cutting of Rodney Burbeck "Scarfe: The Paradox of a man who wishes to shock and yet to be liked", 7 July 1966, pp.16-17.
- CSCC, Giles Archive, Carl Giles to John Robertson, Daily Express, 24 September 1966.
- The Times, 13 November 1967, p.9 col.4, "Drawing a Cartoon."
- Time, 16 February 1968, "A Letter from the Publisher."
- Sally Beauman "The Distorted World of Gerald Scarfe", Daily Telegraph, 12 April 1970, pp.49, 51.
- Mark Hibbin "Jester in the Drawing Room", Wrexham Evening Leader, 7 September 1978, p.21.
- CSCC Archive, notes of Keith Mackenzie's interview with Gerald Scarfe, 30 April 1980, and his notes on Emmwood, with Emmwood's corrections.
- Michael McNay "Parable of the Fatted Scarfe", Guardian, 21 September 1982, p.9.
- Gary Groth "Interview: Ralph Steadman - Into the Gentle Darkness...", Comics Journal, no.131, September 1989, pp.46-7, 90.
- CSCC Archive, John Harvey "Stiletto in the Ink: British Political Cartoons", c.1994, p.13.
- Frank Whitford "Drawn and Quartered", Sunday Times Culture, 27 September 1998, p.2.
- Mark Bryant Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000), pp.197-9.
- Gerald Scarfe interviewed by Olivia O'Leary for "Between Ourselves", BBC Radio 4, 15 May 2001.
- Nicholas Garland “In a cacophony, no one can hear you scream”, The Daily Telegraph, 29 October 2005, Books p.6.
- Peter Ross “His Nibs”, The Sunday Herald, 6 November 2005, Magazine p.8.
- Ian Burrell “Line of attack: Gerald Scarfe at 70”, The Independent, 22 May 2006.
- BBC Politics Show, “An Interview With Gerald Scarfe...”, 7 March 2007 - news.bbc.co.uk/1/low/programmes/politics_show/6420967.stm
- Laura Barnett “Portrait of the artist: Gerald Scarfe, cartoonist”, The Guardian, 8 July 2008, p.29.
- Susan Swarbrick “His pen is dipped in acid”, The Herald (Glasgow), 20 September 2008, Magazine p.20.
- Gerald Scarfe “My mentor”, The Guardian, 27 September 2008, Work p.2.
- Elizabeth Grice “Still creating a pen and ink after all these years”, The Daily Telegraph, 7 October 2008, p.25.
- Richard Kay “PS”, Daily Mail, 17 October 2008, p.49.
- Rob Maul “My best teacher - Gerald Scarfe”, Times Educational Supplement, 25 June 2010, p.8.
- Simon Cosyns and Jacqui Swift “We’ve got to have this guy Scarfe on board.. he’s f***ing mad”, The Sun, 24 February 2012, Irish edition, features p.8.
- Helen Lewis “Ink-stained assassins”, New Statesman, 23 August 2012.
- Charles Moore “The Spectator’s Notes”, The Spectator, 19 January 2013
- Anshel Pfeffer “Four reasons why U.K. cartoon of Netanyahu isn't anti-Semitic in any way”, Haaretz, 28 January 2013 - www.haaretz.com/four-reasons-why-u-k-cartoon-of-netanyahu-isn-t-anti-sem...
- Andrew Hough and Katherine Rushton “Rupert Murdoch tonight issued a public apology over a "grotesque" Sunday Times cartoon after the newspaper was accused of anti-semitism”, published on www.telegraph.co.uk, 28 January 2013, at 11:44pm.
- Statement by Gerald Scarfe, 29 January 2013, posted at www.geraldscarfe.com/news/
- Lisa O'Carroll “Sunday Times acting editor to meet Jewish leaders over Netanyahu cartoon”, www.guardian.co.uk, 29 January 2013 2.21pm.
- Ben Webster “Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens meets Jewish leaders to apologise over Scarfe cartoon”, The Times, 29 January 2013.
- Martin Rowson “Scarfe's Netanyahu cartoon was offensive? That's the point”, The Guardian, 29 January 2013.
- Sunday Times, 3 February 2013, "Netanyahu cartoon: an apology."
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