The previous year we gave everyone chopsticks and made them buy their knives and forks in order to eat the dinner. The sales pitch by the girls collecting the money was that the food that year was very messy, and using chopsticks might be a little tricky. Kenneth Baker, vice chairman of the museum procured (on loan) a set of House of Lords cutlery for one table, which he then auctioned so that the winning table could ‘Dine like a Lord’ for one evening only. The winning table paid £2,500 for the privilege.
Last night ‘s game was ‘Heads and Tails’ and, in homage to one of our guest presenters on the night, everyone wore Dame Edna masks. The only downside was that Barry ducked out on tuesday night, due to commitments for his “Dame Edna Farewell Tour”. He was stuck in Milton Keynes (poor Barry), a town of many roundabouts, and his contractual arrangements meant he was rehearsing well into the night. Well, that left Steve Bell, Guardian cartoonist and I on the stage conducting the game, and confronted by 150 Dame Edna’s, looking at us (a sight we had REALLY wanted Barry Humphries to see). It was very surreal, but hey, it raised £1,500 for the museum.
The evening is very jolly and has a great sense of fun. This year’s winners included Matt (Matthew Pritchett) from The Daily Telegraph, Peter Brookes from The Times, Kipper Williams of The Guardian, Peter Schrank of the Indie, Mike Barfield of Private Eye and Nick Garland for the Lifetime Achievement Award. Harry Enfield, Patricia Hodge, Kenneth Baker and Phil Jupitus all presented the awards.
Humphrey Butler, ex Christies, raised oodles for us at the auction. He was auctioneering a very funny Matt cartoon, and spotted a bid from the girl seated at Matt’s right hand side. “I have a bid from Matt’s wife!”. Humphrey proclaimed. “Oh no, apparently it’s not Matt’s wife”, he then went on, ”…then, it must be his mistress!” ”Er, It’s not his mistress?” ” Well”, he exclaimed, ” it’s a bid from a girl who’s sleeping with Matt!” The cartoon was eventually knocked down for £1,200 – a great price and it’s a gem of a cartoon.
We have such a great tradition of political cartooning in Britain, going back 200 years to Hogarth, Gillray, and Rowlandson, (you should visit The Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury). In fact we invented the art form. And with the recent debate about the freedom of the press, one should always remember that we can publish cartoon comment in this country that would never be allowed in the USA, or god forbid, Russia, China or Zimbabwe. You’d be behind bars, or worse. Our cartoonists are world leaders, world respected, are multi award winning and have not only sublime drawing skills, but are also blessed with acerbic wit and sharp satirical comment. Steve Bell, of The Guardian draws Cameron as a condom, and Peter Brookes has mastered Ed Miliband as Gromit, or sometimes a very black eyed Panda. All politicians are invariably portrayed as hapless, and their policies and speeches lampooned with a ‘satirical bite’ that one can rarely achieve with the written word (anyway, not without being sued).
The awards moved to the Mall Galleries back in 2001, and Tony Rushton at Private Eye berated us, ”A black tie event for cartoonists? “, he said, “You’ve got to be joking. Are you mad! It’s for cartoonists. They’re penniless. I’d like to see THEM wearing black tie.” But, I had a wry smile last night when the gargantuan Steve Bell (a Hagrid look -a- like), appeared at the awards in his full black tie garb. It is quite a sight. Cartooning is a pretty isolated profession, and aside from the headline grabbing winners (Matt in today’s Daily Telegraph is lauded “A 7th time winner of the Pocket cartoon award!”), it is great to see truly funny, talented, and brilliant cartoonists being recognised for what they do. Mike Barfield, who has had a pretty challenging year, draws brilliant strip cartoons, and stood up on the stage with a nose extension with a medal on the end. “The order of the brown nose” he proclaimed, as he accepted his award. MAC, political cartoonist from The Daily Mail, who presented Nick Garland with his Lifetime Achievement Award was, at 76, the oldest cartoonist in the room. He is charming, and a stalwart of the Chelsea Arts Club, and no mean competitor on the club snooker table. The youngest cartoonist was Harry McSweeney, aged 8, winner of the Under 18 Young Cartoonist Award.
The BCA (that’s the British Cartoonists’ Association to you) Young Cartoonist of the Year Awards, (Under 18 and Under 30) are presented by Guardian cartoonist, Martin Rowson. Martin has acerbic humour, and always describes how the competition is solely organised so that we, (the working cartoonists), can identify new young talent from the crop of 2,000 entries, and then take them around the back of the bike shed and break their little fingers so that they can never draw again. This thereby protects our lucrative (if there are any) positions in the cartoon market. When we presented the certificates, and their winning £250 cheques, we discovered the U18 winner was written on the U30 certificate and the U30 on the U18 certificate. Oh dear, the judging dinner had been rather alcoholic – but what do you expect from cartoonists?
The current fracas between Ed Miliband and The Daily Mail (‘father hates Britain’ controversy) has seeded a cartoonist feeding frenzy, with most of the papers having a ‘pop’ at the Mail and its editor, Paul Dacre. The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Times and Private Eye all took tables, and sponsored awards, and as the evening went on the partisanship cheers got louder and louder. So, it was nicely bizarre, to see Martin Rowson assassinating the Daily Mail over its Miliband stance, and then ‘love-bombing’ them as a thank you for giving free adverts for The Young Cartoonist Competition. Oh, cartoonists are such a bunch of tarts.
What a great evening. As master of ceremonies, I tell you it’s quite hard to hang on to the running order. Exhausting yet rewarding. There are doubtless quite a few sore heads this morning.