Take me to your leader

Late in 1984 I was granted my own space in New Statesman. At first it occupied one quarter of the Leader Page: a very prestigious position. This was my first opportunity to choose my own subject.

As so often in newspaper publishing, this came about for rather oblique reasons. New Statesman always hoped to sell that space for an advert. it was a prime position for which they could charge quite a bit, but the selling of advertising was all about brinkmanship.

If you wanted to advertise, you would hold out for a discount, and as the deadline drew near, you’d know there was a good chance of it because the paper wouldn’t go to press with a blank space, would it? So the New Statesman hatched a nifty plan to have my cartoon up their sleeve to fill the space at short notice, rather than being forced to sell an Ad too cheaply. Frustrating for me, because my drawings often never appeared at all, or if they did, they were held back a week or two, which meant it was risky for me to be too topical.

Anyway, I called the space Take Me To Your Leader because it was on the Leader page

Here’s one, with Mrs T clearly displeased with her education secretary, Sir Keith Joseph:

And here’s chancellor Nigel Lawson, trying to talk up the recovery, but unable to ignore the unemployment figures:

And this one about the sinking of the Belgrano:

Tam Dalyell MP and the whistle-blowing civil servant Clive Ponting accused Thatcher of ordering the sinking the Argentinian cruiser Belgrano in order to scuttle an incipient peace process. A furious commons debate ensued, yet somehow the matter was never settled. I was extremely chuffed that Tam Dalyell bought the original.

After a bit, with several out-of-date cartoons piled up unpublished, the New Statesman did the decent thing and gave me a guaranteed weekly space of my own, to do a strip cartoon.

Strip cartoons really are fun, but they have a life of their own. It’s not at all like having a blank canvas, because the seeds of this week’s episode are already there in last week’s. Most of the job was thinking. Because it was about current affairs I couldn’t commit too early to the ideas, and once I did, I had to draw fast. Technically, the pace did me a lot of good in loosening up my rather stiff drawing style.

For this strip I called myself Moanin’ Minnie, a phrase Thatcher used for her critics. (Minnie was my nickname at junior school.) I kept the title Take Me to Your Leader and made the little alien creature a main character. Titus Blurb, I called him: he was a political correspondent from a distant planet, and he just went round interviewing politicians, trying to make sense of it all. Very earnest little fella.

Here’s one. You will notice Titus has a bow-tie, because he was deeply influenced by the broadcaster Sir Robin Day:

In case you don’t immediately get the point, at that time the mushroom cloud was an ever-present fear. The spectre of the nuclear bomb grew in people’s minds as President Reagan and his Soviet counterparts increased their stockpile of warheads.

The elderly and apparently doddery President Reagan was a perpetual subject for satire.

Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeine was another good subject

The new year began with a lot of hype about Halley’s comet. I sent Titus up to see if it contained life as we know it, and it did – sort of. A population of four anarchic wide-boy halloids called Biggles, Ruggles and Babbit and Boss.

The three Halloids joined Titus on his adventures. I hadn’t intended this but it’s the sort of thing that happens when you do a strip cartoon. The first thing I had to do was to get them back to where the news was happening – on this occasion Libya…

As the 1987 election loomed I thought it best to concentrate on the Liberal/SDP Alliance which was bigging up its chances. The wonderfully arrogant David Owen and straight-man Steel worked well as a comedy duo.

The polls gave disappointing odds on the Alliance. But the two Davids insisted there would be a late surge of support…

…but the Tories won another term, with Mrs T announcing, ‘Yes, I hope to go on, and on.’

This episode turned out to be on the right lines. Steel took action and formed the LibDems. Owen stuck with the SDP and sailed it into the dustbin of history.