Andrew Birch pops behind the banners to explain how the annual event The Battle of the Cartoonists works:
The huge space was milling with people when, at 1400 hours each of the seven teams of cartoonists was allotted one of the seven Raphaels to inspire, parody or ignore, according to their whim. An actorly type gave a stirring imitation of Raphael to entertain the crowd as seven long trestle tables were prepared, seven long banners stretched out, water-based felt tip pens distributed – so as not to damage the tiled floor, you understand – and the battle commenced!
It started, as battles should, with military intelligence: cartoonists wandered around the other team’s tables, trying to work out what they were up to, under guise of introducing themselves – although most of us knew one another anyway, at least by repute.
Then back to the tables, and to work. Some teams had elaborately planned sketches to work to, others just winged it. Some banners resembled the allocated Raphael, others not at all. The spectators were spellbound, commenting freely, taking part, chatting to the participants: children were encouraged, to win the youth vote. As one perceptive infant said: “The cartoonists all smell of drink, Mummy!”
Despite problems with the markers – everyone’s hands were soon covered with ink – and the subdued lighting, this was the most successful Battle I can remember, with no barriers between cartoonists and public. Simultaneously and in the same room was a hugely successful cartoon workshop, run by Cathy Simpson and Wilbur Dawbarn, who lived to tell the tale.
The Battle ended at 16.30, and the completed banners were held aloft by lots of V&A people. And what masterpieces they were! The marvellous Libby Purves and equally marvellous Sue Grayson Ford informed us that as shouting and cheering wasn’t permitted, the voting system consisted of standing next to your favourite banner. After lots of shuffling around and attempts of bribery, there was a long tense silence. Then: “The winner of this year’s Battle of the Cartoonist is … Private Eye!”
Wild cheers, whoops and whistles rent the air, as the disturbed dust drifted down and coated the excited throng.