Copyright Greaves & Thomas/McGill Archive
That saucy old salt Donald McGill continues to cause a stir, nearly 50 years after his death. For the first time, the full collection of 21 postcards which were banned after an Obscene Publications Act witch-hunt in 1953, have gone on display.
They can be seen in the perfectly appropriate seaside surroundings of the recently opened Donald McGill Museum and Archive in Ryde on the Isle of Wight.
There is little option for the modern mind but to see them as cliché-ridden, pre-feminist, pre-60s snapshots of the suppressed British libido. But the sexual innuendo still has resonance. Despite the 60s and beyond, many of us Brits still have a “policeman inside all our heads” and the simple rudeness is appealing. Why do we still laugh at them? Well, because they’re funny.
Even George Orwell was a fan. A short essay of his (“The Art of Donald McGill”) in 1941, written at the height of Britain’s isolation, flattered McGill’s egregious talent and his essential Britishness, but Orwell the Old Etonian couldn’t help but warn readers that the “first impression is of overpowering vulgarity”.
Orwell points out that the viewpoint in McGill’s postcards is essentially safe and conservative – that of the aspirational working class. “They express only one tendency in the human mind, but a tendency which is always there and will find its own outlet, like water. On the whole, human beings want to be good, but not too good, and not quite all the time.”
Where the cartoonist’s view might differ from Orwell’s is that they are not “ill-drawn” – they are rather well drawn cartoon art of a certain period. Certainly better than the dozens of imitators he spawned.