Ralph Sallon was born Rachmiel David Zelon (or Zielun) in the village of Sheps near Warsaw, in what was then Russian-controlled Poland, on 9 December 1899. A twin, and one of eight children, Sallon was the son of Isaac Meyer Zelon, a tailor specialising in military uniforms and women's clothes.
Fleeing Tsarist persecution, the family came to England in 1904 and joined the Jewish community in the East End of London. When Sallon was about eleven years old, the family moved to Hornsey where he attended Crouch End School, recalling later that "I was always drawing the masters at school...the pupils, masters and everybody." In 1914 he won a scholarship to Hornsey School of Art, but remained for just one term, complaining afterwards that "they put me on wallpaper design or something stupid like that, which was against my nature."
Sallon left to earn money for the family by working in a canning factory, and in 1916 became a clerk in Gamages department store. Largely self-taught as a caricaturist, he was later asked if he regretted not completing the course at art school, and replied "I see the person in the face. Art schools can't teach you that."
Sallon was an unlikely candidate for the army. He was only five foot three inches tall, and wore thick spectacles from the age of six, following an attack of measles which left his eyesight badly impaired. However, he was called up in 1917 on his eighteenth birthday, and joined the Pioneer Corps, serving as a clerk in England and only being sent to France to organise demobilisation.
Sallon left the army in 1919, but could not find a job. In 1922 he was offered a Government-sponsored free passage to South Africa, settling in Durban, where he worked for his uncle. In 1923 he began contributing freelance caricatures to the Natal Mercury, and in 1925 he decided to return to London for more art training. He enrolled at St Martin's School of Art to study fine art, but left the same year to join Everybody's Weekly, producing a weekly caricature of people in the news, and becoming adept at tracking down famous people who passed through London. "I was affected by 'Spy' and 'Ape's work", Sallon recalled: "So exquisitely done without respect for anyone." Initially paid only a very small fee, he remained with the magazine for twenty years.
In 1930 Sallon started drawing caricatures for East Africa, and became resident caricaturist on the Jewish Chronicle - a relationship that would last more than thirty years. In 1932 he began contributing to the Daily Mirror as a freelance, and during this period also drew illustrations for Tatler, Bystander, Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News, Daily Mail, Daily Sketch, Reader's Digest, Observer and the Daily Express. David Low admired his work, and kept copies of his caricatures.
After the outbreak of war in 1939 Sallon produced propaganda caricatures for aerial leaflets etc, as well as drawing for Message, the newspaper of the free Belgian government in London. In 1943 he began contributing regularly to the Daily Herald, and for the first time was on a fixed salary. In 1948 he became staff caricaturist on the Daily Mirror, where he remained until 1991. His work was admired by Harry Bartholomew and Hugh Cudlipp, and the Queen Mother was a fan of his Daily Mirror work - it was said that she personally recommended Sallon for an MBE in 1977.
Sallon liked to draw from life, and often worked alongside the press photographers outside London hotels, dashing off a sketch with the stub of a pencil before his target disappeared in a taxi. He claimed to be "less interested in politics than most people," and disliked arrogance, once claiming that "the forte of my work is to have a go at people who think they rule our destinies." However, he also worked in advertising for the GPO and others, producing books of "Motor-Racing Drivers Past and Present" (1956) and "Motor-Cycling Personalities Past and Present" (1957) for Shell-Mex/BP, and two series of Vanity Fair-style full-colour caricature prints of eminent lawyers for Butterworths.
"Dad never drank, smoked, or learnt to drive," recalled his daughter , "but perhaps his weak spot was money": "He hated paying for things, so he used to persuade taxi drivers to take caricatures he had drawn of them on the way as payment." As the Daily Mirror's cartoon editor Ken Layson recalled, Sallon "had the cheek of the devil": "I once got in the lift with him and by the time we reached the fourth floor he had finished a caricature of me - which he said I could have for a fiver."
"The art of observing is to forget yourself," Sallon once explained: "The art of caricature is not to think of yourself in relation to anyone else but to think of the other person only. Your whole personality must go outwards, never inwards." Sallon retired from the Daily Mirror in 1991 after being involved in a road accident. He died in Barnet, Hertfordshire, on 29 October 1999.
- CSCC Archive, transcript of interview with Ralph Sallon by Keith Mackenzie, 10 November 1974, pp.2-3.
- CSCC Archive, transcripts and notes of undated interviews with Keith Mackenzie.
- Adrian Shaw "Our Man Sallon Dies at 99", The Mirror, 1 November 1999, p.7
- Tom Newton Dunn and Ken Layson "Ralph Sallon - Loved by the Queen Mum, Wanted Dead by the Nazis", The Mirror, 5 November 1999, p.33.
- The Times, 10 November 1999, p., "Ralph Sallon."
- Mark Bryant "Obituary: Ralph Sallon", The Independent, 14 December 1999, p.7.
- Manny Curtis, "Ralph Sallon", Cartoonist Profiles, No.124, December 1999, p.18.
- Mark Bryant Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000), pp.195-6.
1 uncatalogued original [SN0001]
2 unaccessioned originals removed from frames
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