Giles was drawn to Suffolk

CELEBRATED cartoonist Carl Giles is the subject of a major retrospective celebrating his love of Ipswich.

Andrew Clarke

CELEBRATED cartoonist Carl Giles is the subject of a major retrospective celebrating his love of Ipswich. Arts Editor Andrew Clarke spoke to curator Rebecca Weaver about Giles' delight at including distinctive parts of his adopted home town in his cartoons.

Cartoonist Carl Giles is Suffolk's own national treasure. He was not a native born Suffolk boy but he lived and worked here long enough to become a naturalised Suffolk resident.

Giles lived and worked in Ipswich for 50 years and now Ipswich Town Hall Galleries are staging a major retrospective of Carl Giles work celebrating the fact that in many of his national cartoons he commemorated his adopted home by featuring local landmarks - both physical and cultural.

The exhibition called Giles: Drawn To Suffolk takes 40 of his finest works of art and allows the public to view the originals for the first time.

Exhibition curator Rebecca Weaver said that they chose the 40 works out of an archive of 5,000 pictures because they all had strong Suffolk themes.

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Among the landmark occasions celebrated in Giles' cartoons are Ipswich Town's FA Cup win, Bobby Robson's testimonial, Grandma doing her very best Cardinal Wolsey impression as she emerges from Wolsey's Gate and the start of construction on The Wolsey Theatre.

Reoccurring themes include sailing - Giles was President of the Felixstowe Ferry Sailing Club - and various Ipswich pubs including the The Plough, The Woolpack, the Butt and Oyster at Pin Mill, the Witnesham Barley Mow and the Tuddenham Fountain - he regarded himself as a regular at all of these.

The exhibition in the Town Hall's main gallery will also feature the recreation of Giles' studio which has been taken out of storage at the British Cartoon Archive at the University of Kent.

Rebecca said: “Setting up his studio in the gallery gives the exhibition a unique quality - particularly as the location of his studio in Princes Street was within a stone's throw of the gallery.”

The studio will be dominated by his drawing board, littered with his sketch pads, reference books, decorated with a signed photographic portrait of Margot Fontaine and his battered old sailing cap which featured in many of his portraits.

The pictures for this latest show were selected by Rebecca Weaver and Giles expert John Field, author of several Giles books. Rebecca said the impetus for this latest exhibition was not only to celebrate the great cartoonist's Ipswich and Suffolk links but also to put his highly distinctive work before a new generation.

“Cartoons and graphic novel art is very much in vogue at the moment. It is an area of art which appeals to a new, younger generation - a generation which may not be aware of Carl Giles wonderfully witty, nicely subversive take on the world.

“We last did an exhibition of Giles work in '95 at Christchurch Mansion when Giles was still alive and we felt that he was such a local character that we needed to mark the fact that he often celebrated the town in his work. My feeling is that as new generations come through we need to revisit his work, so that new people can be introduced to his wonderfully stylised world.”

She said that he created a remarkably detailed and stable world for his characters to inhabit - many of the landmarks had their physical counterparts in and around Ipswich. “What is interesting about Giles, is if you look at the cartoons, they are very social, historical, political commentaries on what is happening in the country at the time when they were created. Not only was he a superb draughtsman, he was a very witty man and he combined those skills to great effect in his work.”

Giles, born in Islington in 1916, first moved to Ipswich in 1936 to take a job with the film-maker, Roland Davies, who was setting up a studio in Museum Street to create animated versions of his popular newspaper strip Steve The Horse.

Although he was a London lad, his family had strong links with Suffolk. His father, tobacconist, was born in Newmarket and his grandfather was a successful jockey who rode for King Edward VII.

Even though he rose to become head animator at Davies Ipswich studio, Giles returned to London in 1938 and lived there through the blitz. He married his cousin, Joan, on 14th March 1942, at St. John's Church in East Finchley, and they spent their honeymoon night in the Dickens Suite of the Great White Horse in Ipswich.

Shortly after his marriage Giles found himself being squabbled over by several leading newspapers who wanted the benefit of his warm-hearted but deceptively sharp comic observations.

In 1943 he was interviewed for a job on the Evening Standard, but was simultaneously offered a job on the Daily and Sunday Express instead, at a higher salary of 20 guineas per week. Giles later said that he never agreed with the Daily Express's politics, and felt guilty for abandoning his left wing roots the decision to work for Express newspapers made him a rich man. By 1955 he was being paid £8,060 for producing three cartoons a week.

This secure salary allowed him and Joan to start married life in a rented cottage in the village of Tuddenham, on the outskirts of Ipswich and finally settled in Hillbrow Farm, near Witnesham, in 1946 where they remained for the rest of their lives.

“This exhibition is very much about locality and the fact that he used views from across Ipswich and Suffolk in his work. There is another major Giles show on at the Cartoon Museum at the moment which explores the classic Giles world - the major characters like Grandma, Chalkie the school teacher and various members of the Giles cartoon family are all on display - and while they make appearances in our exhibition we are much more focussed on Giles' view of his adopted home town.”

She added that ultimately they would love to have a permanent changing exhibition which explored various aspects of Giles' career. The archive would continue to be held at the University of Kent but different temporary exhibitions would come and go at the Town Hall Galleries. “Giles was very much an Ipswich man and he deserves to have a permanent presence in the town.”

She said that they were delighted when the Friends of Ipswich Museums acquired Giles' Ipswich Town Grandma cartoon for the council's collection when his secretary put it up for auction last year.

She said that the success of a permanent Giles exhibit could open the doors to other cartoon retrospectives and associated works including comic book and graphic novel art.

She said that they were hoping to set-up an internet connection with the cartoon archive at Canterbury so visitors to the exhibition could explore the entire Giles archive online.

Giles also a wide-ranging friendship base which used to descend on Ipswich at regular intervals for long-boozy lunches during which tall stories would be swapped over several beers and a good meal. It was not unusual to see Carl Giles waiting on Ipswich station platform ready to welcome lunch-club regulars Eric Sykes, 'Til Death Us Do Part' writer Johnny Speight and actor Warren Mitchell to the town.

On the evening of his 60th birthday party, Giles held an impromptu pre-party drinking session at the Barley Mow pub and the locals were surprised when Giles' lunch-club regulars walked in augmented by Tommy Cooper.

Carl Giles died on August 7, 1995, seven months after his wife Joan. He was buried alongside his wife in the small village churchyard in Tuddenham, about two miles from his farm and very close to the village pub, The Fountain.

Giles: Drawn To Suffolk at Ipswich Town Hall Galleries runs until January 17 2009.

Giles Fact File:-

- The Royal Family are huge Giles fans. They own 36 originals with Prince Phillip owning 15 in his own right.

- Prince Charles and Princess Anne gave a dinner to honour their parent's silver wedding anniversary, in November 1972, and asked Giles to provide the cover illustration for the dinner programme.

- Frank Sinatra was also a Giles fan and provided the introduction to Giles 1977 annual.

- In 1970 Giles was made President of the British Cartoonist's Association.

- In 1984, he was made Life-President of the Royal Lifeboat Institute, for which he had drawn and donated Christmas cards for many years. In 1990 he was awarded Senior Fellowship of the Royal Collage of Art.

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