The political cartoonist and jazz musician Wally Fawkes, who used the pen name Trog, has died at the age of 98. He died peacefully on Wednesday following a short illness
In the 1950s, he played alongside Humphrey Lyttleton, who he met at art school soon after the war, as well as Sidney Bechet and Louis Armstrong.
He was political cartoonist for the Observer for over 20 years until its takeover by the Guardian, after which he joined the Sunday Telegraph until failing eyesight forced his retirement at the age of 81.
He was named Political Cartoonist of The Year in 2004.
His daughter, Johanna Fawkes, told the PA news agency that her father was “absolutely charming”.
She added: “He was warm, funny and thoughtful. Everybody adored him.”
His marriage to Sandy Fawkes produced four children, with Johanna, Kate and Jamie surviving.
He is also survived by his second wife Susan Clifford with whom he had two children, Lucy and Daniel.
He also had five grandchildren – Leah, Flynn, Ruby, Ivy and Jamie.
Born June 21, 1924, died March 1, 2023.
From the Guardian obituaries
(Modified on 7 Mar 2023)
The career of the cartoonist and jazz clarinettist Wally “Trog” Fawkes was an extraordinary one, a mixture of luck and perseverance. His cartoon strip Flook appeared in the Daily Mail and then the Mirror for more than half a century, while his political cartoons were a staple of the British media for just as long.
In 1948 Lord (Vere) Rothermere, proprietor of the Daily Mail, was much taken on a visit to the US by a children’s strip about a small boy and his magic uncle, and thought something similar might enhance his own paper. What was decided was that a small boy named Rufus has a dream in which he rescues from prehistoric times a furry creature being bullied by a nasty caveman. On awakening, Rufus finds the little animal has fallen through a timewarp into his own bed. Its name is Flook.
From the start, in 1949, the strip was drawn by Wally under his pen name, Trog. Douglas Mount was the first writer, followed by Sir Compton Mackenzie. (Wally sometimes expressed astonishment to think that he had the nerve to confront and correct this famous novelist, but I suspect he was not that appalled. When it came to Flook, if he felt it was going off track, he would have challenged Shakespeare.)
Flook’s fans escalated. He was quoted in the House of Commons, and Harold Macmillan admitted reading the strip before anything else. Later Humphrey Lyttelton took over as writer and sharpened up the satirical element. When Humph resigned in 1956, I was approached; I stayed for 15 years. “Money for jam,” I thought to begin with. I could not have been more wrong.
Wally may have appreciated my knowledge of contemporary mores, and my ear for accent and idiom, but if dissatisfied with my contribution he would reject it without a qualm. It was his baby; I only its hired nursemaid. The storyline and its rhythm were his main concern. I would watch his face during our weekly meetings in the art editor’s office. If he smiled – good. If his formidable eyebrows dropped – bad.
At first, Wally’s style was reminiscent of the Dandy or Beano. Rufus was dressed in the style of Just William. Flook had an unattractively long nose like a hosepipe. Later on, Rufus became quite trendy, with a proper haircut and checked trousers; Flook’s hooter became a much shorter organ. Their relationship altered, too. Flook grew wise, sophisticated, sometimes rather pompous or depressed. Rufus stayed the ingenuous pre-teen.
What was amazing, looking back, was Walt’s ability to create and develop a large cast of characters who could, as in a repertory company of old, play almost any role, according to the needs of the current plot. They could change radically, too. A certain Mr Muckybrass, at first a Lancashire industrialist, became a Labour prime minister, not in appearance, but in attitude and body language.
For those of us who were involved with the strip, the characters – a retired colonel and his formidable wife, a fashionable boutique owner, a chequebook journalist, a trendsetter who becomes a tycoon, and so on – seemed as real and recognisable as those of Dickens. Sometimes, too, Wally would include a figure well known in the jazz world or Fleet Street, but unidentifiable by the general public, as a private joke. He could be visually witty, too. Flook and Rufus pass the Royal Court during a production of Look Back in Anger where the queue of people waiting to get in are all glaring over their shoulders.
In the end, in 1984 Flook was poached by Robert Maxwell, because his children liked it. The readers of the Mirror did not share their enthusiasm. Eventually poor Flook was reduced to a two-frame joke on the back page of the Sunday edition, and soon after that, he died. Trog became instead what he had always yearned to be, a leading political cartoonist.
His true strength lay in his likenesses, which were not only intensely recognisable physically, but equally reflected their subject’s characters, especially when dodgy or hypocritical. An example chosen at random: chancellor Nigel Lawson, brush and paint tin in hand, has vandalised a poster that asked us to “Help the Aged” by adding, very messily, a huge “W” in front of Aged.
Wally had no political bias: all parties were open to his barbs, but real venom was directed at some, especially Ian Smith or any other advocate of racism. He changed newspapers often. As well as the Mail and Mirror, he drew for the Observer and the Sunday Telegraph. A keen opponent of political pressure, whether from the right or left, he never pulled his punches.
Wally was born in Vancouver, Canada, to Mabel (nee Ainsley) and Douglas Pearsall, a railway clerk. After that marriage ended, Mabel and her children left for Britain with Wally’s stepfather, Charles Fawkes, a printer, in 1931. Wally was educated at Sidcup Central school in south-east London, but left early to go to the local art school, where they thought highly of him and were disappointed when he left to take a number of unsuitable day jobs to help out his family. When the second world war began, he was set to work mapping coal seams.
He had, like many of his generation, fallen for the recorded jazz of the 1920s, and taught himself the clarinet. He soon showed a natural talent, and in 1946 became a founder member of the George Webb Dixielanders, one of the first British bands to play (rather than just listen to) the music of King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and so on. At a certain point Humph turned up to sit in, and after his demob he, too, joined the band.
Wally’s clarinet and Humph’s trumpet were so superior that in 1948 they handed in their notice, and Humph, with Wally, formed his own band. Later, the addition of Keith Christie completed the best revivalist jazz frontline in the country. The Monday and Saturday sessions, eventually housed at 100 Oxford Street, later known as the 100 Club, were sacred occasions. Humph and Wally were our gods.
The Lyttelton band’s fame spread. Sidney Bechet, the New Orleans-born supremo of the soprano sax, got to hear Wally and declared that, not only was he the best clarinettist in Europe, but in the world. Wally could have taken off internationally.
He had, however, another option. While working for the Coal Commission he had submitted a drawing for a competition and won first prize. The judge was the political cartoonist Leslie Illingworth, who was so impressed by Wally’s talent that in 1945 he landed him the offer of a job drawing “column breakers” in his own paper, the Daily Mail.
From the Telegraph obituaries
March 5, 2023
Wally Fawkes, who has died aged 98, was a cartoonist and jazz musician renowned in particular as the artist – under the pseudonym “Trog” – of the long-running Daily Mail “Flook” comic strip.
Formerly titled “Rufus”, “Flook” was created by the writer Douglas Mount for the Daily Mail in 1949 as a strip for children similar in style to “Barnaby” in the US. Wally Fawkes was the original artist and drew the strip for the next 35 years.
In the strip’s earliest days, Rufus was a small red-headed boy living with his oppressive Victorian uncle when he met Flook during a prehistoric dream. In the 21st episode of the strip, both Rufus and Flook tumbled out of a dream balloon and into reality.
Flook was a strange, bear-like animal with a short trunk of a nose which possessed the magical ability to change its owner into different objects at will. While the earliest episodes were fanciful whimsy, as the years progressed “Flook” evolved into Britain’s foremost satirical strip, developing a cutting edge that scythed its way through the nation’s more pompous institutions.
Walter Ernest Fawkes was born on June 21, 1924, in Vancouver, British Columbia, and moved to England aged seven with his family in 1931. They settled in Sidcup, then in Kent, where he attended Sidcup Central School and Sidcup School of Art before moving on to the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts.
During the Second World War, Fawkes drew military maps and painted camouflage, and some of the work he produced during the war years appeared in an exhibition attended by the Daily Mail political cartoonist, Lesley Illingworth. Impressed by Fawkes’s obvious talent, Illingworth got him a job on the art staff of the Mail in 1945 doing small spot illustrations as well as cartoons and illustrations for the paper’s children’s annual.
In 1949 the Mail decided it needed a new children’s strip to compete with the other dailies and Fawkes was chosen to draw it. “Rufus”, later to become “Rufus and Flook” and eventually just “Flook”, was an instant success.
Fawkes had chosen his pseudonym “Trog” based on the name of his jazz band, the Troglodytes, which specialised in playing in cellars. As an accomplished clarinettist and soprano saxophonist, Fawkes was a co-founder of the Humphrey Lyttelton Band in 1948, and Lyttelton later joined him as a writer for “Flook” from 1952 to 1956.
The strip’s line-up of writers over the years was impressive: Robert Raymond took over from Douglas Mount, followed by Sir Compton Mackenzie. After Humphrey Lyttelton’s stint, George Melly, the journalist and jazz singer, wrote the scripts until 1971, injecting a satirical maturity which combined his own brand of anarchism with a brilliant ear for the dialogue of the times. Under Melly, Flook spent less time turning into odd objects and more time knocking the stuffing out of British pomposity in all its forms. Utilising the splendid cast of characters to their full extent, Melly had Mr Muckybrass, the plain man’s prime minister, imposing sanctions on the Isle of Wight while in real life Harold Wilson was censuring Rhodesia.
The inspiration for the scripts was derived from the news of the day and the characters Scoop, Bodger, Lucretia and Moses Maggot all played their parts in an iconoclastic spirit of satiric celebration. Fawkes’s accurate portrayal of the standard figures and the consistent quality of his artwork, combined with Melly’s distinctive line in social comment, raised the strip to cult status in the 1960s.
In 1971, the film critic Barry Norman took over Flook’s plots until 1974, followed by Barry Took (the Points of View presenter) until 1976, when Fawkes took on the writing as well as the drawing.
In 1968, after the retirement of Lesley Illingworth, Fawkes was asked to provide the principal weekly political cartoon for the Mail as well as the “Flook” strip. This was far from his first foray into political cartoons: he had been producing them for The Spectator from 1959 and later drew for Private Eye, New Statesman and The Observer.
When the Mail was reduced to tabloid size in 1971, “Trog” moved to Punch, for whom he drew brilliant full-colour covers and the weekly political cartoon. In 1984 he transferred to the Daily Mirror. After contributing to Today from 1986 to 1987, Fawkes took up work for the London Daily News, and also worked for the Times magazine, The Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Express, The Oldie magazine and The Week.
Numerous collections of “Flook” strips appeared over the years, including Rufus and Flook Versus Moses Maggot, World of Trog, Trog Shots and Trog: 40 Graphic Years.
In 1962 Fawkes illustrated an “autobiography” of his character, I, Flook, and Flook’s 25th anniversary was celebrated with gusto in a BBC Edition programme in 1974, while Flook at 30 (1980) carried pieces by Sir Compton Mackenzie, Humphrey Lyttelton, George Melly, Barry Norman, Barry Took and others. An exhibition of Fawkes’s original Flook drawings was held at the Centre for the Study of Cartoons and Caricature at the University of Kent in the early 1980s.
Aside from his cartooning, Fawkes’s life centred around his other two principal enthusiasms, jazz and cricket. He was a member of MCC and Middlesex CCC.