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Wally Fawkes, clarinettist and cartoonist.

John Robert Brown

Wally Fawkes

Wally Fawkes, cartoonist and clarinettist, celebrated his 90th birthday in June this year. Born Walter Ernest Fawkes in Vancouver, Canada, in 1924, he came to England in 1931, left school at 14, and went to Sidcup Art School.

Aged 16 when war broke out, Fawkes took a job painting camouflage on factory roofs at the Woolwich docks, to hide them from German bombers. "I finished work one Friday. When I came back on Monday, the factory had been flattened. The harshest criticism of my work I have faced," Fawkes recalled. He once joked that due to the amount of time spent in underground air-raid shelters, people living in London during wartime were becoming troglodytes (cave dwellers). He used the name for his early jazz band, Wally Fawkes and the Troglodytes. After the group disbanded Fawkes adopted Trog as his pen-name.

Fawkes got his artistic break when he entered a competition. His work caught the eye of Welsh cartoonist Leslie Illingworth (1902 - 1979), who had joined the Daily Mail staff in November 1939. In 1945, Illingworth helped Fawkes to get a job at the Mail. Malcom Muggeridge was editor of Punch from 1953 to 1957. Illingworth would sit at the Punch table between Muggeridge and John Betjeman.

When Illingworth finally left Punch in 1968 he was replaced by Wally Fawkes. From that date until he gave up cartooning in 2005 because of failing eyesight, Fawkes produced cartoons and caricatures not only for Punch but for a range of publications which included Private Eye and The Observer. Using his nickname, Trog, for the Mail, Fawkes created a comic strip about an imaginary young boy called Rufus, who had a furry animal friend, Flook. The strip first appeared in 1949.

With story-writers like Sir Compton Mackenzie and Humphrey Lyttelton, the Trog strip was aimed at children. Later, with writers like George Melly, Barry Norman and Barry Took, the stories became more satirical. The Trog strip became a hit. At a reception soon after its launch, Lady Rothermere, the wife of the Mail's owner, asked Fawkes: "How is your lovely little furry thing?" He replied, "Fine, thank you. How is yours?"
Flook ran for 35 years in the Daily Mail. Margaret Thatcher commented that Flook was "quite the best commentary of the politics of the day." However, it was cancelled by the paper in 1984.

As well as his work for the Daily Mail, Fawkes also produced political cartoons for The Spectator, working with George Melly as his author. The two also produced occasional contributions for Private Eye and, from 1962, The New Statesman. Despite producing larger political cartoons for the Mail, Fawkes' future role as Illingworth's successor was threatened by the paper's preference for the work of Gerald Scarfe.

In an article published in 2013, writer Adam Smith said of Fawkes' cartoon strip: "[Its] social veracity was reflected in the strip’s appearance; by the early '60s Fawkes’ art had achieved the perfect mean between stylisation and pin-sharp observation, at once modishly iconographic and richly illustrative. His striking use of real life London locations, filmic compositions, and carefully constructed likenesses lend every three or four panel strip a perfect cartoon realism that is both evocative of the moment and immediate to the modern reader."

Fawkes told Smith: "I was more of an illustrator than a cartoonist, certainly in the early days. I used to see Punch, and then The New Yorker, but I was really much more interested in illustration. That’s what took me to Camberwell to dig stuff like [painter and illustrator] John Minton." Thus, in 1947 Fawkes took a weekly course at the Camberwell School of Art in London. One fellow student was Humphrey Lyttelton. That year, clarinettist Fawkes joined the George Webb Dixielanders, a semi-professional revivalist jazz band that featured Lyttelton on trumpet.When Lyttelton left the Dixielanders in January 1948 to form his own jazz band, Fawkes went with him. He stayed with Humph until 1956, by which time the band had evolved from revivalism into mainstream. Not that Fawkes minded: his own bands from then on could be described as mainstream. He re-united with Lyttelton periodically until the trumpeter's death.

Though highly talented on the clarinet, Fawkes remains an amateur in the true sense of the word. He has never lost his admiration for the playing of Sidney Bechet (with whom he recorded, as part of Lyttelton's band, in 1949), but he has always been his own man on the clarinet, not merely a Bechet imitator. He played with George Melly and John Chilton in the Feetwarmers band in the early 1970s. In June this year (2014) The Oldie ran a two-page appreciation of Fawkes, Still With Us, written by fellow cartoonist Barry Fantoni.

There is a Flook page on Facebook, here: https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Flook-by-Trog/325118764250002

John Robert Brown

First published in Jazz Journal, 30th October 2014. Used by kind permission. Reproduction forbidden.
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