Keith Waite was born in New Plymouth, New Zealand, on 19 March 1927, the son of Albert Waite, the owner of a coalmine. In 1936, when he was nine, Waite won a newspaper cartoon competition, and later recalled that "I just knew from an early age that I wanted to be a cartoonist": "I didn't want to do anything else." From 1948 to 1949 he attended Elam School of Art in Auckland, and began as a cartoonist on the Taranaki Daily News and Auckland Weekly News, and then Otago Daily Times from 1949 to 1951.
In 1951 Waite travelled to London, in what he later described as "a total leap into the darkness." He had been offered a job by Kemsley Newspapers, on the understanding that he would "come over for a year, and see how we got on together." After working for a time in London, he was assigned to two of the group's Glasgow papers, the Glasgow Daily Record and Glasgow Daily News, where he worked from 1952 to 1953. He was not a success, and in 1953 left to freelance for Punch, Men Only and other publications. However, he didn't like magazine work, recalling that "I didn't think it was contemporary enough." He preferred to work for a newspaper, and in 1956 got the job of Editorial/Political Cartoonist on the Daily Sketch, taking over from Ian Scott. His cartoons had running titles such as "Waite's Comment" or "Start the Day Bright with Waite".
The Daily Sketch was owned by Viscount Rothermere, and his son, Vere Harmsworth, was manager of the paper. Harmsworth liked to call into Waite's office for a chat, but Waite recalled that "I never got to know who he was": "One day, I said: 'Look, mate, I don't know quite what you do around here, but I've got a deadline by 4.30, so would you mind p*** off!'." Luckily Harmsworth didn't take offence. In 1962 Waite moved from one cartoon a day to three, run with the heading "As Waite Sees It". In 1963 Waite was voted CCGB Cartoonist of the Year, and in 1965 he left the Daily Sketch to join the Sun, newly created from the old Daily Herald. He retained the three-cartoon format he had used on the Sketch. In 1966 Waite was one of the founder members of the British Cartoonists' Association, and its first-ever Treasurer.
Waite remained at the Sun until 1969, when it was bought by Rupert Murdoch. He then transferred to the Daily Mirror, and in 1970 also began contributing to the Sunday Mirror. Waite now abandoned the three-cartoon format, producing single-frame cartoons with more political content. He spent each morning producing several roughs on tracing paper, which he then took to the editor. As he admitted in 1976, he often had roughs rejected "because they don't conform with the newspaper's point of view", and there were "quite a number of ideas I could never get across becuase they do not go along with the editorial policies of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror". The chosen cartoon was then worked up into a finished cartoon, by "smudging" the back of the tracing paper and transferring the main shapes to board, then completing in ink.
Waite left the Sunday Mirror in 1980, and in 1985 found himself "eased out" of the Daily Mirror, after it had been sold to Robert Maxwell. After a break he became business-page cartoonist on The Times in 1987, but in 1997 Waite announced his retirement from cartooning.
Keith Waite has won several international awards for his work. An admirer of David Low, he was also influenced by the work of Carl Giles. Waite's attitude to cartooning is that it must fit its audience, and work within the market. "There is a lot of competition for public attention", he noted in 1976, and as a result "a cartoonist must be an entertainer": "Anybody who thinks otherwise is misleading himself. If people are not going to find your work at least mildly entertaining, they are not going to follow you."
- CSCC archive, Rosette Glaser's interview with Keith Waite, 15 September 1976.
- Jon Ashworth "Cartoonist draws the line after 50 years in newspapers", The Times, 31 March 1997.
- Mark Bryant Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000), p.232.
225 originals and copies (KW0001 - 0225)
1 framed uncatalogued original (no. 247)
2 framed uncatalogued Morton Collection eurotunnel
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