Russell Brockbank (1913-1979) To say Brockbank is to think CARS. In cartoon art it takes a great cartoonist to become inseparable from their subject; to have that special ability that combines the qualities of idiosyncratic but accurate drawing, with a humour that explores and defines a genre. Russell Brockbank, art editor of Punch from 1949 to 1960, chronicled the twentieth century’s obsession with the motor car and will be forever placed in its driving seat. He is joined in this collective memory of the Age by a small and special band of artists: Heath Robinson (1872-1944) made the Machine Age manageable by domesticating it, and his name and inventive genius have passed into the English language. H M Bateman (1887-1970) recreated the ever excruciating moment of public embarrassment with the dynamic staging of that minor slip in etiquette that results in graphic overwhelming shame; the social gaffes of The Man Who... lives on in our fears. Pont (1908-1940) displayed the English Character and found it eccentric, ... nothing changes.
Giles (1916-1995) gave us The News and every fad and fashion, but gave it a sense of proportion by demonstrating the sweetly dysfunctional, that lurks in every extended middle England family. This roll call of great cartoonists is also the index to a social and psychological history of the century. The generation within which each artist worked, will recognise themselves easily enough through the jokes, insights and gentle satire but years later, despite huge political and social change, the humour is rediscovered as funny and relevant. Human nature and its pre occupations remains the same and is revealed again and often by the rare essence of universal humour. Brockbank knew well that his cartoons had a wider appeal than just car jokes for car nuts. In an introduction to the famously popular Motoring Through Punch 1900-1970, he pointed out that it ‘centred on a great invention of our times which for good or ill has revolutionised the lives of us all’. There was no doubt what he personally felt about cars, for he was a happy man with his business as his hobby, never happier than driving fast on the Queen’s highway, tweaking variously under the bonnet or closely mingling at Silverstone type race meetings. The resulting technical accuracy of his cars is justly acknowledged – a Brockbank Mini, Bugatti, Mercedes Benz or Rolls Royce is the real thing. His observational skills were not, however, just chrome deep, for no one has chronicled every new development or trend with more insight. In particular throughout his work from the first cartoon for Punch in 1938 to the celebrated weekly cartoon strip for Motor Magazine in the 1960s and 1970s we see new alignments of the English social classes. The class struggle was no longer fought in the upstairs downstairs of country houses but on the open road between gentry and working class, sporting car enthusiasts and scattered pedestrians, between Rolls Royce and family run about, between the flash money and the stolid traveller, between the romantic and the functional. And when internecine strife was exhausted Brockbank took the Englishman Abroad for a bit of assertive rest and recuperation. For here was the subtle renewal of our age old relationship with the French, with the car as the new long bow and the road as the new battleground with Brockbank of course as the most impartial war correspondent. No nuance of driving or technical innovation escaped Brockbank’s incisive pen line. Trends and types were recorded in the then hugely influential high circulation Punch, as through the bemused and accident prone hero in the episodic adventures of Motor Magazine’s Major Upsett. Brockbank showed us how husband and wife shared the car - a new space for battle of the sexes, and he showed us how the countryside accommodated the cars and often fought back. We were given hitch hiking tramps, saluting AA men, beset bubble cars, menacing new motorways, the first speed traps , the perils of overtaking, caravans, bank holiday queues, motor shows and car salesmen, the learner driver and at the other end of the rainbow Brockbank’s own pot of gold the Grand Prix moment...
‘What a blessing for all mankind - except, that is, for outdated hoodlums like myself who positively adore the clatter of overhead camshafts, the Wagnerian symphony from the exhaust as one slices through the gears, the smell of warm oil, the bite of good brakes before the screech of the tyres through the next corner, the arc of the rev. counter needle racing round the dial, the whistle of the wind, the low moans of one’s wife crouching in embryonic posture under the dashboard’ (Russell Brockbank)
Key works written and illustrated: Round the Bend (1948); Up the Straight (1953); Over the Line (1955); Bees Under my Bonnet (with R Collier, 1955); The Brockbank Omnibus (1957); Manifold Pressures (1958); Move Over! (1962); The Penguin Brockbank (1963); Motoring Through Punch (1970); Brockbank’s Grand Prix (1973)