Maddocks, at his exhibition in Alhaurín el Grande. / SUR

Taking a light-hearted look at the absurdities of life

The Fleet Street cartoonist for over fifty years talks to SUR in English about his life and work and his eventual relocation to Spain

Tony Bryant
TONY BRYANT

Taking a sideways look at the news and current affairs and bringing out the absurd in it is something that British cartoonist Peter Maddocks had enjoyed doing for more than 50 years before he arrived in Spain.

The pocket cartoons by this 94-year-old Fleet Street illustrator were among the most popular in Britain from the middle to the end of the 20th century; his amusing, goggle-eyed characters with splayed-out fingers brought a ray of hope to readers. He was also renowned for his collaboration on animated children's films and short stories with the BBC.

Born in Birmingham in 1928, Peter began drawing at an early age and, in 1939, he received a scholarship to attend the Moseley School of Art. He studied under Norman Pett, creator of the Jane cartoon strip in the Daily Mirror, but he says he learnt "little about cartooning".

"He would draw naked ladies and we had to draw daffodils in a milk bottle, so it put you off a bit," Peter explains to SUR in English, bursting into laughter.

In 1943, Peter lied about his age in order to join the Merchant Navy, something he claims was "the best thing I ever did".

"It set me up for life. All of my storylines for children's films and short stories came from the adventures I had during this time," the artist says.

After leaving the Merchant Navy, Peter set up his own advertising agency, for which he designed cinema posters and wrote western series.

It was while writing a cowboy series for the Amalgamated Press in 1953 that he was informed of a position as a cartoonist for the Daily Sketch, a job he would hold for two years.

"I was working in Fleet Street at the AP when a friend told me that the Daily Sketch needed a cartoonist. I applied, even though I had not done cartoons before, and was given the job. I earned 20 pounds a week, which was a lot then. I don't know what the editor saw in those first cartoons I did, but that's where I started working as a cartoonist. I never looked back from then on," he declares.

The following year, he moved to the Daily Express, where, having always enjoyed reading comics as a child, Peter suggested the newspaper should include strip cartoons.

The Goons

It was during this time that Peter would start working on a project with The Goons, although it never got off the ground.

"I went to meet Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe during one of their rehearsals and did some drawings of their characters. The idea was that Spike would write the text and I would illustrate it. Unfortunately, he wanted too much money, so it never materialised. It was an incredible experience though," he says.

Some time after, Milligan contacted Peter to ask if was interested in illustrating his book, which Peter agreed to do. The pair formed a good working relationship over the next six months, but the project came to a grinding halt after Milligan decided, without announcement, to move to Australia. Peter never saw Milligan again.

Peter next created the extremely successful daily strip, Four D. Jones, a series about a time-travelling cowboy that ran for ten years.

Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, Peter produced pocket and sports cartoons for the London Evening Standard, along with a regular Slightly Maddocks cartoon strip for the London Evening News.

Other publications he contributed to include the Daily Star, the Manchester Evening News, the Mail on Sunday, Private Eye, the Daily Telegraph, Mayfair, and Woman's Own, for which he illustrated a cookery book, even though he confesses to not being "able to boil a bloody egg".

Peter is also a founding member, along with Carl Giles and Osbert Lancaster, of the British Cartoonists' Association.

Animated films

However, he says that the most enjoyable period of his career was when he went into animation.

"Along with two of my three sons, I set up an animation studio, which attracted interest from the BBC. We produced several cartoon series and animated films.

"It was during this time that I met Michael Bond, the creator of Paddington Bear, with whom I became good friends," the artist explains.

At the age of 72, and wanting to "escape the grey skies" and hubbub of London, Peter moved to Alhaurín el Grande in 2000.

Although he continued working as a cartoonist until he was 90, he began to suffer with his eyesight, so he decided to give up cartooning in favour of painting with acrylics on canvas, experimenting in every style with a hope of finding one of his own.

"I had had a studio in Fleet Street for around 50 years and I was the last person to put the lights out. It all suddenly started to change and ideas were changing, so I decided to move to Spain, which is when I started to paint. Working under a lamp in my studio for all that time damaged my eyesight, so I found the lighting in Spain just perfect," Peter says.

Peter's paintings can be viewed in a collaborative exhibition at the Artsenal Inoxis art space in Alhaurín el Grande until 20 September.