Walter Ernest ("Wally") Fawkes was born in Vancouver, Canada, on 21 June 1924, and came to England with his family in 1931. He loved comics, and his enthusiasm was encouraged by his mother Mabel, Fawkes later recalling that "I was given a bottle of Indian ink and a pen aged ten, and I thought: Wow!" He left school in 1938, aged fourteen, with a scholarship to study at Sidcup Art School, but left after eighteen months because he could not afford to stay on. After the outbreak of war in 1939 he was employed painting camouflage on factory roofs at the Woolwich docks to protect them against bombing. As he later admitted, this did not prove to be a success: "I finished work one Friday, came back on Monday and it had been flattened. It is the harshest criticism of my work I have faced."
A bout of pleurisy kept Wally Fawkes out of the services, but in 1941 he got a job tracing maps of coal seams for the Coal Commission. Then, in 1942 he was "discovered" in a Coal Commission art competition judged by the Daily Mail's political cartoonist, Leslie Illingworth. Fawkes had submitted a drawing of a nervous boxer entering the ring. Illingworth got him a job in the Clement Davies advertising agency, and in June 1945, on his twenty-first birthday, found him a job on the Daily Mail, drawing column-breakers and decorative illustrations. In 1947 Fawkes also began studying one day a week under John Minton at Camberwell School of Art, where he was a contemporary of Humphrey Lyttelton and Francis Wilford-Smith (the cartoonist "Smilby").
Fawkes' pen name had its origins in the war. "We spent so much time in air raid shelters," he later recalled, "I used to joke we in London had become troglodytes." One of his own early jazz bands was called "The Troglodytes", and this transferred into the pseudonym "Trog". In 1947 he joined the George Webb Dixielanders, a semi-professional band of New Orleans-style revivalists, which also featured Humphrey Lyttelton on trumpet. In January 1948 Lyttelton left the Dixielanders to form his own band, and Fawkes went with him. Humphrey Lyttelton and His Band, with Wally Fawkes on clarinet, soon became the leading traditional jazz band in Britain.
On a visit to New York in 1948, the Daily Mail's owner, Lord Rothermere, was impressed by "Barnaby", a syndicated American strip by David Johnson Leisk. This had been launched in 1942, and featured a boy called Barnaby with a disruptive fairy godfather named Mr O'Malley. As Fawkes recalled, Rothermere "thought it would be a splendid idea if we could evolve a cartoon with a similar theme." Douglas Mount produced some sample scripts for a series provisionally called "Rusty and The Goop", and Rothermere approved. Fawkes was asked to illustrate it, and "Rufus" - named after the red-headed boy who featured in the strip - was launched on 25 April 1949. After Rufus discovered Flook - a magical creature that at first could only say "flook" - the strip became "Rufus and Flook," and finally just "Flook." Initially aimed at children, the Daily Mail even marketed an orange plastic Flook with a squeaker in its base.
After launching "Flook" for the Daily Mail, Fawkes arranged for his other cartoon work to be taken over by Humphrey Lyttelton, who signed himself "Humph". However, it took some time for the new strip to get established. “‘Flook’ is something unique in strip cartoons, and newspaper readers have to live with him for quite a time before they take him to their hearts”, the Daily Mail's managing director, Stuart McClean, acknowledged: "We were not at all happy about him during his first four or five months in the ‘Daily Mail’, but suddenly he became famous." Fawkes' mischievous humour was not always appreciated by the paper. At a reception soon after the launch of "Flook", Lady Rothermere came up to Fawkes and asked, "How is your lovely little furry thing?" to which Fawkes replied, "Fine thank you. How is yours?" "I quickly left," he admitted later: "It perhaps was not the best way to get on, but I couldn’t help myself."
However, the strip was soon being acknowledged as "one of the foremost attractions in the 'Daily Mail'", and in 1951 an attempt was even made to syndicate it in the United States. By 1957 "Flook" had been adopted as the mascot of 831 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, and was painted on its aircraft. Fawkes drew "Flook" for the Daily Mail for thirty-five years, assisted by various authors including Robert Raymond in 1951 and 1952, Compton Mackenzie in 1953, Humphrey Lyttleton from 1953 to 1956, and George Melly from 1956 to 1971.
Under Melly the strip moved even further away from its origins, to become a gently-satirical adult fantasy, although Fawkes was careful to maintain the air of innocence. As he once told Melly, "Don't get too socially conscious, don't get too deliberately satirical George; the best way of jumping on a target is to appear to be walking past it." In 1979 Margaret Thatcher called the strip "quite the best commentary on the politics of the day." Later writers included Barry Norman, Barry Took, and, from 1980, Fawkes himself.
Fawkes began contributing political cartoons to the Spectator in 1959, again working with George Melly, "because he knew more about what was going on than I did." From 1961 to 1964 Fawkes was also an occasional contributor to Private Eye, and in 1962 he began contributing to the New Statesman, where he and Melly pushed the boundaries of cartoons on royalty. Fawkes also began to draw larger political cartoons for the Daily Mail, but in 1965 his progress at the paper was blocked by the arrival of Gerald Scarfe, who was seen as a potential successor to Illingworth.
With Scarfe at the Daily Mail, Fawkes also began contributing political cartoons to the Observer, where his drawings of the Queen again caused controversy. A reader complained to the Press Council about one drawing from 1965, claiming it was "grossly discourteous to the Queen", but the complaint was rejected. However, by 1967 it was clear that Scarfe was not happy at the Daily Mail, and Fawkes' position on the paper became more secure. He began producing larger political cartoons although, as he recalled, the editorial staff objected to Melly's involvement, thinking him "too anarchic": "So they said I'd have to be on my own. I panicked at first but in the end I succeeded." In 1968 Fawkes stopped contributing to the Observer, handing over to Richard Willson.
Fawkes' politics did not always agree with those of his paper. "The Daily Mail once asked me to do a cartoon about Harold Wilson", he later recalled, "showing that as Prime Minister, with all the allowances the PM gets, he was actually the richest man in the country": "I thought it was so disgusting - they wouldn't do it if the Tories were in but they thought 'Let's have a crack at Harold Wilson.' I told them, 'Get someone else to do that'... So they found someone else to do it." At the end of 1969 Illingworth retired as the Daily Mail's political cartoonist, recommending Fawkes as his successor. Fawkes took over at the start of 1970, recalling that "it was great fun." However, in 1971 the Daily Mail absorbed the old Daily Sketch, whose editor, David English, took charge of the combined paper. He was given the job of transforming it into a tabloid, and in place of Fawkes chose his old Daily Sketch cartoonist, Stan McMurtry - "Mac". As Fawkes recalled, "I was dropped instantly from the political page - it was the first thing he did."
In 1971 Fawkes returned to the Observer, to draw two cartoons a week - a large political cartoon for the leader page, and a "Mini-Trog" for the front page. At the Observer the subject of the political cartoon was discussed with the editor on Friday morning, and the final version took Fawkes three or four hours to draw, for a deadline of Friday evening. At the same time his work was still appearing in Punch, where he had replaced Illingworth as political cartoonist in 1969, and had drawn his first cover. From 1971 onwards he produced a series of striking Punch covers, and in 1974 was instrumental in ending the magazine's tradition of carrying full-page political cartoons, which he felt were an anachronism.
At first influenced by Illingworth, on the Daily Mail Fawkes introduced a grisaille tonal style using gouache, and subsequently employed a variety of techniques, notable successes being his striking colour caricature covers for Punch. An admirer of David Levine - "the best caricaturist in the world" - Fawkes used either Truline or Bristol board, Higgins black ink and a dip pen with Gillott 291 nib and a brush (also using a brush for his roughs). Like Illingworth, he also occasionally used scraperboard. Raymond Briggs has noted that in Fawkes' work "there is an astonishingly sharp focus...particularly in the caricature, which makes the characters seem larger than life, as if seen under a brilliant light and a powerful lens...his blacks seeem to be blacker than black."
Fawkes ocasionally had roughs rejected by his editors, but he did not object to this censorship, for, as he observed in 1977, "it's their paper." In one case David Astor, editor of the Observer, rejected a rough of a cartoon showing Cyril Smith, the Liberal MP. "He was a big fat guy," Fawkes recalled, "and I had thought of drawing him as taking more seats in the House than was his due": "The editor said, 'All right, but he's fat because of a glandular complaint, not just greediness.' I could see the point." Fawkes' attitude was that the cartoonist should know his paper and its readership, and thus avoid editorial censorship: "After a while, you know what they want. I do all the selecting at home, before I go to the Observer...I should be the one to choose the cartoon because I know what they want."
Fawkes continued to draw "Flook" for the Daily Mail, but grew disillusioned with the paper's politics, recalling that it had been "a very different paper when I joined...much more free-thinking." In 1984 the editor, Sir David English, refused to run one strip criticising the government for rushing the South African runner Zola Budd through the registration for British citizenship. Also, as Fawkes explained, English "did not think I was respectful to Margaret Thatcher." As a result "Flook" was transferred to the sports pages and reduced in size, and in July 1984, after more than 10,000 consecutive strips, Fawkes was given three months' notice. The series ended with Flook erecting a blue plaque reading "FLOOK LIVED HERE 1949 - 1984", after which Fawkes told English that "at least my friends will speak to me again."
When the news broke that Fawkes was leaving the Daily Mail he was signed up by Robert Maxwell, who in July 1984 had bought the Daily Mirror. Maxwell advised Fawkes to take the copyright of "Flook" in place of severance pay, and it was transferred to the Daily Mirror, where it was written by Keith Waterhouse. The Daily Mirror announced the transfer in October 1984, with a Fawkes cartoon showing Flook being booted out of the Daily Mail and the comment "FLOOK OFF!" Robert Maxwell himself featured in the first "Flook" adventure, which began in the paper the following month. However, the Daily Mirror strip lasted only a year, being transferred to the Sunday Mirror in November 1985, and soon afterwards being dropped altogether.
In 1986 Fawkes joined the new colour tabloid Today, but he left again after a few months to join the new evening paper London Daily News, which finally appeared in 1987 but lasted for just a few months. Fawkes continued to provide cartoons for Punch and Private Eye, and also began a regular pocket cartoon - "Mini-Trog" - for the Observer. However, in 1996 he left the Observer for the Sunday Telegraph, another change of political tone which he joked was "like working deep behind enemy lines." In 1997 Fawkes also began producing covers for The Week, and was presented with the Cartoon Art Trust's Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2001 he received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Kent.
Fawkes is widely admired by his fellow cartoonists. "Of all his talents," observes Nicholas Garland, "there is none I admire more than his outstanding skill as a caricaturist": "Very few artists can see a likeness the way he can, and catch it so completely. He doesn't develop a hieroglyph for each politician and then simply reach for it each time it is needed. Every Trog caricature is carefully recrafted." Wally Fawkes retired from the Sunday Telegraph in June 2005, soon after celebrating his eightieth-first birthday, and following sixty-two years as a professional cartoonist.
Wally Fawkes died on 1st March, 2023 after a short illness.
- Erwin Knoll “Trog Leads More Lives Than Does His ‘Flook’”, Editor and Publisher’s Syndicate Directory, 1952, quoted in strippersguide.blogspot.com/2007/11/news-of-yore-trogs-flook-tackles.html
- The Times, 24 January 1966, p.6 col.5, "Not Discourteous to the Queen."
- Michael Bateman Funny Way to Earn a Living: A Book of Cartoons and Cartoonists (Leslie Frewin, London, 1966), pp.52-5.
- Michael Rees "The other Fawkes guy", Observer, 4 November 1973.
- CSCC Archive, Rosette Glaser's interview with Wally Fawkes, 17 September 1977.
- Peter Tory "A Star Joins the Daily Mirror", Daily Mirror, 9 October 1984, p.13.
- Peter Tory "A Star is Drawn", Daily Mirror, 16 November 1984, p.13.
- CSCC Archive, Jim Schoff's interview with Wally Fawkes, 12 December 1984.
- Mark Bryant Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000), pp.71-2.
- Nicholas Garland "Undimmed, inimitable Trog", Sunday Telegraph, 20 June 2004, Review p.7.
- Dan Carrier "Trog Calls it a Day" Camden New Journal, 21 July 2005 - www.camdennewjournal.co.uk/072105/f072105_01.htm
625 uncatalogued Trog originals [TR0001 - 0625] TR0460 and TR0463 by Humph renumbered HM0098 HM0099
2829 Trog originals and copies[WF0001 - 2829, some catalogued]
12 uncatalogued Trog originals [TM0001 - 0014] (Keith Mackenzie)
1 box Trog (misc. related items) (Keith Mackenzie, Bay 4)
9 uncatalogued originals [PU0345 - 0353]
1 unaccessioned original drawing (Muggeridge) (Drawer 15)
2 unaccessioned originals (24/4/46 & 27/4/46)
2 unaccessioned originals (Colenbrander donation)
6660 original Flook strips [FO0001-0390 catalogued]
5068 cuttings (Pearson donation)
1 framed unaccessioned original (no. 49)
'Rufus' strip cuttings, 1969 - 72
Flook plastic toy.
A3 photocopy of artwork for life size cut-out WF2830
Artwork of Flook and zimmer, dedicated to Nick Hiley WF2831
40s, 50s, 60s, 70s