During the years following the Second World War, the name of Russell Brockbank became synonymous with his cartoons of cars and planes. Grounded in his obsession with his favourite subjects, his delightful drawings are always completely accurate in detail, so can be enjoyed equally by all, from the non-motorist to the petrolhead.
Russell Brockbank was born at the Municipal Hospital, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, on 15 April 1913, the second son of English parents from Birmingham, in England. His father, Clarence Brockbank, was a chemist and engineer, and his mother, Caroline (née Partridge), a teacher. Though they had been living in the United States, ‘his mother wanted him to be born on Commonwealth soil’ (Mark Bryant, ONDB), so they moved to 12 Hunter Street, Niagara Falls. His father became manager and joint owner of Exolon, an industrial ceramic factory in Thorold, Ontario, a few miles west of Niagara Falls, and also served as mayor of that town.
Russell was educated at Ridley College, a private school in St Catherine’s, Ontario, and studied for a while at an art school in Buffalo, New York, which is just over the border.
In 1929, the Brockbanks moved back to England to avoid the worst of the depression. They settled at Bartons Mead, Harriotts Lane, Leatherhead, Surrey, which was already a family home by the time of the birth of Russell Brockbank’s birth. Russell studied under Harold Sandys Williamson at Chelsea School of Art until 1932, when his father discovered that he had skipped classes to see a motor race at Brands Hatch, and refused to continue to pay his fees. So then – still only 19 years old – he became a manager at the factory of the family firm, the Brockbank Crucible Company. A year later, in 1933, he married the bank clerk, Eileen Hames, and they settled in Ewell, first at 12 First Avenue, and then from 1937 in 3 West Gardens. They would have one son and one daughter.
From 1935, Brockbank began to contribute cartoons to the magazine, Speed, and by the following year, aged 24, considered himself a professional artist, writing in his entry in Who’s Who that he ‘forsook Industry for Art’. However, as late as 1939, he is listed in the Register as a ‘Technical Engineer (abrasives)’, and it was in that year that he really became a full-time artist. He sold five drawings to Prince Bira of Siam, to be used as Christmas cards, and began to contribute cartoons to Punch. During the Second World War, he served as lieutenant in the Navy Volunteer Reserve, both on Northern Convoys and with the British Pacific Fleet. In his spare time, he contributed to cartoons to The Motor and other periodicals, and drawings to the Ministry of Aircraft Production’s magazine, Aircraft Recognition. By 1946, he and his family had moved to 43 The Rise, Ewell.
Brockbank established himself properly in the post-war period with his cartoons of motoring and aviation subjects, and he created a number of trademark characters, notably ‘Major Upsett’, who appeared regularly in his contributions to The Motor. In 1949, he became Art Editor of Punch (under the editorship of Kenneth Bird, or ‘Fougasse’), a position he retained until 1960. From the late 1940s, his cartoons were collected in volume form, from Round the Bend (1948) to The Best of Brockbank (1975). He also illustrated Ronald Collier’s Bees Under My Bonnet (1955) and Basil Boothroyd’s Motor if you Must (1960), and edited Motoring Through Punch, 1900-1970 (1970). He was a member of the Society of Industrial Artists, the British Automobile Racing Club and the Savage Club.
In 1951, the Brockbanks moved to ‘Badgers’, Back Lane, Thursley, Surrey. By the late 1960s, they had settled at their final home of ‘Zephyrs’, 14 Goulds Ground, Frome, Somerset. He died in the Mendip Hospital, Wells, on 14 May 1979.
His work is represented in the collections of the British Cartoon Archive, University of Kent (Canterbury).
Mark Bryant, ‘Brockbank, Russell Partridge (1913-1979)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1093/odnb/9780198614128.013.57142