Alfred Ambrose Chew Leete (1882-1933) Already a prolific cartoonist, his work during the First World War allowed Alfred Leete to establish a reputation as one of the country’s leading graphic artists, responsible for one of the most iconic images of the twentieth-century: His portrait of Lord Kitchener, with the caption ‘Your Country Needs You!’
Alfred Leete was born in Thorpe Achurch, Northamptonshire, on 28 August 1882 to John Alfred Leete and Harriet Eliza Chew. Aged 11, he moved with his family to Weston-super-Mare, where he was educated at Kingsholme School and the School of Science and Art.
Apprenticed at the age of 12 to a Bristol surveyor’s office, Leete was self-taught as an artist and had his first drawing accepted by the Daily Graphic in 1897. He also contributed to the Bristol Magpie, before moving to London in 1899 to work as a draughtsman for a furniture company and later a lithographer. Between 1899 and 1907, he produced a series titled ‘Play Titles Travestied’, published in the periodical Pick-Me-Up. In 1905, the publication of his first drawing in Punch encouraged him to go freelance, beginning an association with the magazine that lasted until his final cartoon was published on 28 October 1931.
He began contributing to the comic Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday, a commercial success, followed by regular commissions for the Pall Mall Gazette.
By the outbreak of the First World War, Leete was producing cartoons and drawings for The Strand Magazine, The Tatler, The Sketch, The Bystander, Punch and London Opinion. It was his design for the cover of the 5 September 1914 edition of London Opinion that would become his most famous work and one of the most iconic images of all time. His portrait of Lord Kitchener, with the caption ‘Your Country Needs You!’, was adapted as a recruitment poster that was displayed on hoardings around London in 1914. The design would become the inspiration for numerous versions around the world, such as James Montgomery Flagg’s 1917 portrait, Uncle Sam Wants You! The same year, Leete also created the character ‘Schmidt the Spy’ for London Opinion and, in 1916, a film version of Schmidt and a book, Schmidt the Spy and his Messages to Berlin. Joining the Artists’ Rifles, he also saw active service during the First World War, serving on the Western Front in France. While there he produced realistic illustrations of his experiences.
Following the Armistice, Leete produced posters for post-war recruitment campaigns for the army and tank corps, whilst undertaking commissions for brands such as Pratt’s Petrol and Connolly Leather. In the 1920s, he also contributed to campaigns for Guinness, Bovril and Rowntrees Chocolate amongst others. Between 1915 and 1928, he produced his most famous commercial designs for Underground Electric Railway Company (now London Underground).
In 1921, Leete joined the London Savage Club and was a prominent member of the London Sketch Club, becoming its President in 1928. In his final years, he continued to write and illustrate numerous publications. His final book, A Book of Dragons, was published in 1931. After being taken ill on a trip to Italy, he died on 17 June 1933 at his home in Kensington, London.