Gilbert Wilkinson was born in Liverpool in October 1891. He studied at Liverpool Art School for a year, then moved with his family to London and studied at the Bolt Court Art School, Fleet Street, and in the evenings at Camberwell and the City & Guilds Art School. Wilkinson then won a scholarship which enabled him to be apprenticed to colour printers Nathaniel Lloyd. While at Lloyd's Wilkinson had his first drawings accepted by the Morning Leader, whose cartoonist Arthur Moreland was a great influence on his work. Wilkinson later deputized for Moreland when he was ill, and also began contributing cartoons to a number of publications, including London Opinion, published by Odhams Press.
During the First World War Wilkinson volunteered for the London Scottish Regiment, serving from 1915 to 1919 and reaching the rank of lance-corporal. He continued to draw while in the army, with the encouragement of John Dunbar, who in 1919 became managing editor of Odhams. After demobilisation Wilkinson returned to London Opinion, and in 1921 began drawing colour covers for Passing Show, continuing until it merged with Illustrated in 1934. Wilkinson also contributed to Strand Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Punch, Pan, London Mail, John Bull - including covers, Drawing & Design - including covers, Judge, Cosmopolitan, Nash's, Saturday Evening Post and College Humor (Chicago). He even turned down a staff job on Life magazine. In addition he drew advertisements for Kodak, J. Lyons and others.
Wilkinson's most memorable creation came during the Second World War, when he drew the daily topical sequence "What a War!" for the Daily Herald, featuring characters such as Panicky Perce, Ruby Rumour and Gertie Gestapo. This continued in peacetime as "What a Life!", and in 1959 Wilkinson completed his 6,000th cartoon. In 1963 he admitted that producing six "What a Life!" cartoons a week was essentially "trying the impossible", but on the demise of the Daily Herald in 1964 the series was nevertheless continued in the Sun. In all Wilkinson drew nearly 8,000 cartoons for these two papers.
Wilkinson worked mostly in line and wash using a Mitchell 0299 pen and Winsor & Newton No. 2 ink on paper - he disliked Bristol Board. In addition he painted landscapes in oils and watercolour and worked in charcoal and crayon. His signature was, famously, almost indecipherable. He was a member of the London Sketch Club. Gilbert Wilkinson died of a heart attack at his home in Pinner, Middlesex, on 10 June 1965. His obituary in The Times noted that "he had a highly developed comic gift which was seen at its best in social commentary": "Like the late J. R. Horrabin he knew how to depict the humours of City offices and he had a masterly understanding of life in suburbia: he could always find a new comic slant to the white collar man dashing for his train or a contretemps over a borrowed lawn mower."
- Percy V Bradshaw They Make Us Smile (London, 1942), p
- Ian J. Scott (ed) British Cartoonists Year Book 1964 (London, 1963), p.61.
- The Times, 11 June 1965, p.19 col.2, "Mr Gilbert Wilkinson."
- CSCC archive, typescript notes headed "Gilbert Wilkinson".
- Mark Bryant Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000), pp.241-2.
9 original coloured illustrations on card, torn into irregular shapes
1 original illustration "The Holy Terror"