The ghost editor and the cartoonists

Alan Coren, ex-Punch editor and PCO patron (Art: John Roberts)

Bill Stott is a cartoonist. A rather good one, actually. Even the great Alan Coren thought so. But then he loved cartoonists generally.

Like many cartoonists, Bill doesn’t change his trousers with unseemly regularity. It’s a working-at-home thing. Why bother when the ones you’re wearing have a perfectly serviceable extra few weeks in them … and probably a healthy supply of mints and pocket fluff? However, the recent change of season occasioned a re-trousering, whereupon one of the pockets yielded a piece of gold dust.

It was a short note from Mr Coren, penned a short while before he died, which Bill had rammed into the pocket for filing; a paean to cartoonists intended as an introduction to the website of the Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation, of which he had just accepted the title of inaugural patron. Bill hadn’t the heart to publish the piece because Coren died shortly after sending it.

In it, having left Punch, Coren mulls over what he misses. The limos, the yachts, the voluptuous assistants? No, he says, “None of these. What I miss most is those Tuesday mornings with the sadly late and very great Bill Hewison, my brilliant Art Editor, when we would sit at a huge leather-topped desk overlooking the complete absence of central heating, pull off our generously lent company mittens, and sift through the hundreds and hundreds of roughs submitted by the extraordinary numbers of extraordinary cartoonists which – and, remember, I speak as a writer – made Punch the brilliant and, most important of all, hilarious magazine it was.

“I miss the six hours of those golden-era Tuesdays when Bill and I would struggle – handicapped by constant helpless laughter – to choose, from 20 times as many, the 50-odd cartoons we needed to lift the readers’ spirits and break their ribs in next week’s magazine.”

He continues:

“Cartooning is the toughest art of all. A freelance cartoonist lives and works alone, staring out of the window in the fervent daily hope that something will begin to draw itself on the sky, then murmur its caption in his ear. He needs this to happen several times a day, every day, because he has not the faintest idea whether the editors who pay his rent will laugh at the same thing he laughs at, and therefore has to send them lots and lots of things, praying that they will laugh at at least one of them, and the cartoonist can get his shoes mended.”

Coren concludes that his greatest struggle was that “we couldn’t put a thousand gags in the paper, so how to select the best when ten are equally funny?” Enough, enough already. We cartoonists couldn’t possibly be so immodest about our talents. But … thank you, Mr Coren.

Declaration of Interest: Andy Davey is chairleg of the Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation which runs The Bloghorn (Editor: Matt Buck) and the print magazine Foghorn (Editor: Bill Stott).

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