Cartoons and contraptions


Engines of Enchantment: The Machines and Cartoons of Rowland Emett is at the Cartoon Museum in London from this Wednesday (July 29) until November 1.

The exhibition brings together for the first time in Britain the eccentric genius of Rowland Emett both as a cartoonist and as an inventor of bizarre machines.

The show includes five of his whirring and winking “Gothick Kinetic Things”, including three created for the children’s film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 1968. Emett built his machines using antique doorknobs, umbrellas, lamp shades and any other bits and pieces he found around the house. The results were like cartoons come to life.

The Fairway-Birdie Mk. 1: fully automated airborne self-golfing golf machine, by Rowland Emett

The machines will be displayed alongside originals of many of Emett’s best cartoons, some on show for the first time. Emett first submitted a drawing to Punch in 1939. It was rejected but he was told that it was “ingenious” and was encouraged to try again. Soon his work was appearing regularly in the magazine.

During the Second World War he worked as a draughtsman at the Air Ministry but continued to supply drawings to Punch, increasingly of trains, trams and boats which appeared to be nostalgically humorous relics of a bygone era.

In 1951 someone had the idea of turning Emett’s spidery railway cartoons into reality and he was invited to construct three child-sized engines for the Far Tottering and Oystercreek Railway at the Festival of Britain. They were a huge success. The Cartoon Museum exhibition includes the original model train, complete with driver, which Emett presented to the festival committee.

The Cartoon Museum, at 35 Little Russell Street, Bloomsbury, London is open Tuesday-Saturday 10.30am to 5.30pm and Sundays 12pm to 5.30pm.

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