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January 11, 2005

Strube Biography and Exhibition - Political Cartoon Gallery

Posted by Christie Davies

Strube Biography and Exhibition
The Political Cartoon Gallery
32 Store Street, London, WC1E 7BS
25th November 2004 - 20th February 2005
Monday to Friday 9am - 5.30pm, Saturday 11am - 5.30pm
Free Admission

Sidney Conrad Strube (1890-1956), 'Strube' was in his day the most popular and highest paid cartoonist in Britain. He was the editorial cartoonist on the Daily Express from 1912-1948 and even continued drawing cartoons and sending them back after he had enlisted in the Artists' Rifles in 1915. In the 1930s, when the Express was the best selling newspaper in the world he was paid £10,000 a year, far more than most people on Fleet Street. Strube was a gifted draughtsman with a good eye for caricature. Looking at Strube's cartoons is also an enjoyable way of retrieving or indeed learning the history of his times, times before most of us were born. The exhibition is well worth a visit.

Strube began his career drawing cartoons in the Unionist cause well before the First World War. In The Goalkeeper 23rd September 1913 he drew the great Sir Edward Carson, the tall, tough, blue-chinned Dublin Protestant keeping goal for Britain against a nervous looking Asquith and Redmond the Home Ruler both dressed in beshamrocked Irish football togs with a football marked 'Home Rule'. "Kick it through, Herb", says Redmond. "I don't like the look of him. Let's quit" replies Asquith.

Strube's cartoon Buy, Buy, Buy, 29th December 1913 of Asquith as a barrow boy selling coronets reminds us that Asquith had sold peerages and honours to pay for the two elections held in 1910. Lloyd George was not an innovator in this regard. Liberals from Gladstone to New Labour have all been in the business of gongs for cash.

Strube's drawing of Asquith of the 20th February 1914 just after public disgust at his Bill granting Home Rule to Ireland had led him to lose two by-elections to the Unionists is a real delight. Asquith is placed within an inner frame with his well-known quiff of hair sneaking over the edge. He has two badly bruised, completely closed eyes marked 'Bethnal Green' and 'South Bucks' for the two lost seats and beneath Strube has placed the first line of the song 'Two Lovely Black Eyes'. Asquith had tried to tell the patriotic voters of Bethnal Green and South Bucks 'they were wrong'. It is a long way from the sanitized portrait of civilized Saint Herbert peddled by his biographers.

Strube went on cartooning while serving in the army and one of his best sketches The End of a Perfect Day, 1918 shows a group of tall but dismal German prisoners being marched into captivity by two tiny Frenchmen with long rifles and even longer fixed bayonets. Their bright red képis and the red bands on the Germans' hats stand out and sharpen a drawing that is otherwise subtly subdued.

It was during World War I that Strube had his first thoughts about the character who was to become his trademark – The Little Man, the man in the street, the man who was to become so popular with the lower middle class Daily Express readers of the inter-war period. The Little Man in his high collar with spotted bow tie, weskit and watch chain, turnups and spats, baggy brolly and flat, black bowler hat is a period piece. Yet even at that time he must have been anachronistic, something of a throwback to Mr Polly or Mr Pooter. He has the supposed virtues of the English – cheerfulness in adversity, resilience and friendliness and though crushed by the pressures heaped on him by employers, bureaucrats and politicians, and above all taxes, always keeps going. He was Bristow's grandfather. His baldness with longish hair at the back to match his floppy moustache, his pince-nez that always fall into horizontal mode, the baggyness about his neatness, even his lack of inches, all place him between the fashionable, handsome members of the classes above him and the rough, muscular proles below.

The Little Man long remains a Mr Everyman with whom people of many classes could identify. Nonetheless his appearance became dated. It is difficult to imagine now why The Little Man was so very popular in his day; it is a world we have lost. We live in a post-respectable Britain where, even though a majority of the population work in offices or in service occupations, they constitute a world of resentful scruffs and sneering trendies who lack the modest, careful, formal appearance of The Little Man and the social attitudes that went with it including his resigned but cheery acceptance of his burdens.

Strube's cartoons about the economic crises of the inter-war depression are not memorable, partly because he lacked bite and partly because as an editorial cartoonist he had to follow the line laid down by a Beaverbrook enjoying 'power without responsibility'. Strube's Daniel Interpreting the Writing on the Wall, after Gustav Doré, 24th February 1930 shows contemporary politicians in eisteddfodic robes at Belshazzar's feast. The Little Man points with his umbrella at the magic words 'United Empire Party', Beaverbrook's panacea. Baldwin in bowler and pipe and Ramsey Mac in soft hat look on in shock and alarm. Lloyd George with his over-long hair is especially comic as he flings his arms wide and standing in alarm raises his left foot higher than the table. The pillars of the hall are the enormous heads of elephants marked 'Dole', 'Cobden', 'Free Imports' and 'Dole'. In the gallery sit members of the House of Lords in their coronets.

Beaverbrook wanted protective tariffs around the British Empire but just as globalisation is a fetish today, so was free trade in 1930. It had been since the time of Cobden, the Manchester Liberal whose now forgotten statue still stands in the middle of the road in Camden causing traffic jams. Joseph Chamberlain's attempt to challenge the fetish at a time when Britain was the world's lone remaining free trader had led to the Conservative Party's meltdown defeat in 1906. After 1931 the National Government was badly divided on the question as Strube humorously shows elsewhere. Contrary to what the organisers of the Strube exhibition suggest, the Empire Free Trade policy of Beaverbrook's United Empire Party would not have led to an increase in the price of food. With wheat from Saskatchewan, cod from Newfoundland, butter and lamb from New Zealand, fruit from Tasmania and Jamaica, rice from Burma, tea from Assam and Ceylon and cocoa from the Gold Coast, food would have remained cheap. It would certainly have been a better protectionist system from the point of view of Britain's poorest people than the European Union in which we are now trapped and forced to subsidise the wretched, inefficient, cheating peasants of the Mediterranean.

However, Strube is too genial to drive his points home hard enough. Even when he tried to bring the pathos and despair of the distressed areas to the doorsteps of the politicians he failed. He liked them too much and indeed the politicians liked him and begged for his original drawings; Strube was never able to anger them in the way he did Hitler and Mussolini who had the Daily Express banned in Germany and Italy because of Strube's insulting cartoons of their leaders.

Strube's general cynicism about foreign affairs was prescient. In 1925 he punctured the optimism of the peacemakers with his cartoon The Three Graces of Locarno, Daily Express 19th October 1925. A photographer is shown taking a picture of Austen Chamberlain, Aristide Briand and Gustav Stresemann the Foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany shown poking their heads through three holes in a seaside arcade screen on which are painted the bodies of The Three Graces. We, the observers at the side can also see their backs and know that their real bodies are dressed in army uniforms with backpacks and tin helmets. In the background Mars, the bearded God of war laughs in glee. Mars knew that, like all such European pacts, Locarno was a fake. Indeed Germany was already secretly rearming with help from the Soviet Union.

Mars had already appeared in Tea for Two, Daily Express 23rd June, 1925 where an equally spike-bearded, laughing Bolshevik pours an exultant Mars a cup of tea from a large pot marked 'CHINA'. Under the lid we can see tiny helpless Chinese figures struggling to get out. The Daily Express and Strube recognized the menace of Bolshevism from the start at a time when Britain was full of appeasers, together with a not inconsiderable number of Communist sympathizers, members, fellow travellers and useful idiots. Strube's picture of the Finns gallantly trying to defend themselves against the Soviet invasion of 1940, a fight which within three months cost the Finns 40,000 dead, a fifth of the army of that small country, is another reminder of the innate and immutable viciousness of Communism.

Some of Strube's targets are less justified. His cartoon The Cablegram, Daily Express 6th December 1933 shows an Englishwoman in Victorian dress marked D.O.R.A. fainting into the arms of her Victorian husband who is labelled 'Restrictions'. She has just received a cable from America saying 'Uncle Prohibition passed away'. It refers to the repeal of Prohibition in Uncle Sam's America in 1933. The unfair target of Strube's hostility is D.O.R.A , the Defence of the Realm Act of 1914 , which restricted the opening hours of Britain's public houses and forbade 'treating', the buying of drinks for other people. It had been introduced in 1914 to keep factory workers in the armaments industries sober at a time of high wages but D.O.R.A was so successful in reducing the consumption of alcohol that it was not repealed when the war ended. However, it is unfair to compare D.O.R.A to Prohibition which led to organised violence in America for the same reason that restrictions on the sale of drugs do in twenty-first century Britain. On the contrary D.O.R.A. was the most successful crime reducing piece of legislation ever enacted by a British parliament. Though its incidence was falling, drunken and violent hooliganism was still a problem in Edwardian England. After D.O.R.A. serious public drunkenness and violence vanished and only reappeared again in our own times when reductions on the sale of alcohol were eased. The more hours during which people can drink, the more drunk they get. D.O.R.A was the only time in our history when Nanny State got it right. As any victim of drunken violence being treated in a hospital casualty department can tell you, "Better Britain sober than Britain free". Strube's views were entirely self-interested, for he had inherited a pub in central London from his German (hence the name, Sh-troob-er) father and had kept the licence until 1929, providing drinks on tick for his Lunchtime O' Booze friends from Fleet Street.

Strube had already annoyed Hitler in the 1930s with his mockery among other things of the absurd Olympic Games in Berlin which led to the Daily Express being banned. Hitler's liason officer in Britain had even criticised The Little Man for looking Jewish and described him as "wearing a flat Jewish helmet". This piece of Aryan dialectics is beyond me since The Little Man's bowler does not look at all like a yarmulkah but rather resembles A.R.P. man Bill Pertwee's helmet in Dad's Army. I can only presume that The Little Man's flat 'helmet' is being contrasted with the soaring height-enhancing headgear of the S.S. However, Hitler had already expressed his dislike of the 'Jewish Little Man' of Jewish jokes in Mein Kampf. Hitler did not like self-mocking Jewish jokes; he saw them as a way of distracting attention away from Jewish power by making the Jews appear to be insignificant. Hitler seems to have lacked a sense of humour.

In World War II Strube had full opportunity to ridicule the Nazis. One of his finest cartoons of 20th March 1941, marked Acknowledgements to Bruce Bairnsfather, shows Hermann Goering and the Japanese Foreign Minister Matsuoka walking down the road from Berlin to Hamburg past a bill-board that says 'No Hostile Aircraft could Penetrate the Defence of the German Airforce'. The billboard is full of holes caused by the successful RAF bombing campaign against German cities. Matsuoka asks "What did that, Hermann?" Goering replies (in the words of Old Bill): "Mice". It was of course a standing joke in Germany that Goering had once claimed that if ever the RAF bombers got through you could call him 'Meyer'. When Molotov, the representative of Hitler's then Soviet ally visited Hitler in Berlin after the fall of France, he was assured by Hitler that Britain was finished. "Why then", asked Molotov, "are we going down to the air-raid shelter?"

It is a splendid picture counterposing the grotesquely over-sized Goering in helmet and greatcoat with big lapels with a dapper little Jap with neat moustache, spats and spectacles. We are inclined to forget today how much tensions between Japan and the Western democracies in the inter-war period were exacerbated by the failure to treat them with the same respect as Europeans. The Japanese felt that their economic and military achievements and willingness to dress up in immaculate formal western clothes entitled them to be dealt with "sincerely", i.e. not treated as Asiatic inferiors. When the League of Nations was founded, the Japanese wanted the League to make a formal statement in favour of racial equality. The Australians rebuffed the Japanese request, probably using a lot of unnecessary colloquialisms. This was much resented, in Japan, even though the Japanese had no intention of extending the idea of racial equality to the Koreans or the Chinese. The relevance of this point to the work of Strube and other Western cartoonists is that whereas the Germans all look different – the monkey-like Goebels, the bloated Goering, the smirking, screaming Hitler – the Japanese all look the same, i.e. they are not individuals but reduced to a single ethnic stereotype of hair, teeth, glasses and lack of stature. It was unfair to perceive allies in this way in 1920 and unwise to depict them in cartoons as if they were clones in the years 1939-41, after World War II had begun but before Pearl Harbor.

Strube's final caricature of the Japanese enemy, The Sinking Sun, Daily Express 11th August, 1945 shows a sun with a Japanese military cap, slit eyes behind thick spectacles, a small central moustache and big teeth sinking into the sea. An atomic bomb brighter than a thousand suns shines in the sky. The rays of the sun have become drooping tentacles marked 'Aggression', 'Treachery', 'Incidents', 'Atrocities' and Japan goes down like a dying kraken. In the foreground to the side of the sun a ship is going down.

The Little Man had his last run in World War II in uniform and he may well have been the inspiration of the much later Lance-Corporal Jones in Dad's Army. The Little Man even had one or two outings after the war, in torn and patched clothes suited to that time of Crippsian austerity but his day was over. In 1943 the Daily Express had taken on Giles and Grandma was set to oust The Little Man. In 1948 Strube was sacked on his 58th birthday and it was announced that he had retired. Strube had become The Little Man himself, dumped and discarded by the powerful despite long and loyal service during which he had refused offers from rival papers.

Strube had predicted his own fate in the cartoon Turning it Upside Down, Daily Express 25th September 1919 of Lloyd George shaking the 'Economy Sieve'. The small officials fall through into a sack and the big ones remain above it laughing. Strube had spotted the key riddle in British society that divides the little men like himself who go down through the holes whenever there is a shake-up and the fat-cats who stay where they are because they are too powerful or too expensive to get rid of. The Little Man's problem was that he did not know this and was content to be a cheerful cringer and a loyal lackey. Nothing changes. George Orwell was wrong to be dismissive of 'The Little Man'. Strube correctly saw that Britain was and is divided not by class but by a sieve.

The Political Cartoon Society is to be congratulated on another excellent exhibition and on publishing Timothy S. Benson, Strube, The World's Most Popular Cartoonist (London, The Political Cartoon Society, 2004). Long may they flourish.

Christie Davies is the author of The Mirth of Nations and The Strange Death of Moral Britain. To read further reviews of cartoon exhibitions by Christie Davies see: Grin and Blair It: Cartoons of Tony Blair, French Caricatures of Napoleon, Leslie Illingworth at the Political Cartoon Gallery, and Censored Postcards of Donald McGill.

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This posting reminds me of how I grew up with the first, 1944-5, annual of Giles cartoons. From this I did indeed learn the names of many of the Nazis and some of their collaborators. Likewise, there is a parallel in the contrast between individually drawn Nazis and the clone-like Japanese with their protruding teeth.

Giles was hardly a political cartoonist, but one political streak did appear for many years, and that was his anti-Americanism, a reaction to, so I understand, the perceived rudeness of the New Yorkers when he visited that city. The contrast in his cartoons over the years between the cheerful, teddy-bear like Russians and the grim Americans exporting beef to Great Britain can hardly have done much for cross-Atlantic understanding.

But back to the Nazis. Giles, along with Tommy Handley and Charlie Chaplin, is part of a great British tradition of finding the Nazis ridiculous. We should not underestimate how horrible they were, but since "the devil, the proud spirit, cannot bear to be mocked" (Martin Luther) why should everyone be so hard on Prince Harry?

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at January 14, 2005 07:13 PM

‘Through Spanish Eyes’ The war-time cartoons of Mario Armengol’

24 February 2005 – 19 May 2005

Armengol, born in Catalonia, Spain in 1909, first became politicised whilst attending the Madrid School of Art. Distressed by Spain’s severe poverty, be began to criticise the Monarchy and the landowners through his cartoons. Armengol was a passionate Republican and after General Franco’s triumph in the Spanish Civil War, he fled to France and swore never to return to his homeland until democracy had been restored. The French threatened to send him back to Spain if he did not join the French Foreign Legion. Given no alternative, he agreed and was posted to the Sahara where he produced a series of outstanding ink and watercolour illustrations, documenting the realities of life in the Foreign Legion. In May 1940, Armengol ended up in Narvik, part of an ill-fated Allied expedition designed to pre-empt a Nazi invasion of Norway. The expedition was a dismal failure. Evacuated from Norway, Armengol ended up being disembarked from a troopship in Liverpool.

Once in Britain, Armengol was recruited by the Ministry of Information as a graphic designer and political cartoonist. Throughout the war, his cartoons appeared in many publications, including France (the Free French newspaper), the Chicago Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph.

Armengol continued cartooning well into the 1980s, lampooning Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet ministers. He died in 1995, his funeral attended by his many friends and admirers from around the world.

The exhibition will consist of 60 original Armengol cartoons from the Second World War.

‘Through Spanish Eyes’ opens to the Public on 24 February 2005

and runs until 19 May 2005. Free to the public.

The Political Cartoon Gallery, 32 Store Street, London WC1E 7BS, is open Monday to Friday 9am – 5.30pm and on Saturdays between 11.30am – 5.30pm. Phone Dr Tim Benson on 020 7580 1114 for further details or images email him at

Posted by: Dr Tim Benson at February 17, 2005 03:53 PM

London Laughs! To be opened by London Mayor Ken Livingstone

15 September to 10 November 2005. Sponsored by the London Communications Agency

This Exhibition consists of original cartoons, featuring either London landmarks or issues affecting London, from the likes of James Gillray through to today’s leading cartoonists like Steve Bell, Dave Brown, Martin Rowson and Peter Brookes. On view, for example, will be Sir David Low’s view of Covent Garden, Strube’s take of Eros and Bert Thomas’s perspective on Trafalgar Square, alongside work by contemporary cartoonists featuring the Millennium Dome, the new Mayor’s headquarters aptly described as the ‘testicle’ and, of course, the den of all inequity, the Houses of Parliament. Cartoons on the events of 7 July, including a London bus which was blown up within hearing distance of the Political Cartoon Gallery, will also be on show in order to draw comparisons with former attacks on London by the Luftwaffe and the IRA.

The Political Cartoon Gallery, 32 Store Street, London WC1E 7BS, is open Monday to Friday 10.30am – 5.30pm and on Saturdays between 11.30am – 5.30pm. Phone Dr Tim Benson on 020 7580 1114 for further details or images email him at

Posted by: Dr Tim Benson at August 5, 2005 03:31 PM

I have a picture by jan strobe that my father bought in Holland before he came to Canada to live. it looks like a farmer in wooden shoes with a sheath of wheat standing behind him. \I saw this in a book but it was in dutch and I could not read it. can any one tell me anythi;ng about this picture as I want to insure it and do not know its value.

Posted by: patricia at January 6, 2013 05:40 PM
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