Master of Anglo-Saxon attitudes
The Oldie Magazine|December 2020
Eighty years after he died, aged only 32, Pont still nails the British character.
Mark Bryant

Eighty years ago, on 23rd November 1940, the great British cartoonist Pont died of polio, aged only 32.

Throughout the Thirties, Graham Laidler (Pont’s real name) was celebrated for his cartoons in Punch and his three collections, particularly his famous series The British Character. It is a mark of his genius that, 80 years after his death, they are still very funny.

The first of the series was ‘Adaptability to Foreign Conditions’ (4th April 1934), reproduced below. In all, Pont produced more than 100 variations on this single theme.

The title of a posthumous collection of his work, Most of Us Are Absurd (1946), gives the key to his crazy humour: he made observations on what he saw as the innate madness of human beings themselves.

According to novelist T H White – in his introduction to Pont’s second book, The British at Home (1939) – Pont said, ‘I do not try to draw funny people. I try very hard to draw people exactly as they are.’

The British Character ran for six years, from April 1934 until April 1940, and contained 104 drawings. A collection of more than 50 of these (plus others), with an introduction by E M Delafield (best known for her 1930 bestseller The Diary of a Provincial Lady), was published in 1938 and sold 10,000 copies before Christmas that year.

A notable example is ‘Love of Keeping Calm’ (5th May 1937), published two years before the Ministry of Information’s Keep Calm and Carry On poster campaign – so popular in a wide range of recent parodies. In Pont’s cartoon the diners on a sinking ship (the men again in dinner-jackets) continue their meal, surrounded by water.

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