Charles Mark Edward Boxer (1931-1988), known as ‘Marc’ and ‘Mark Boxer’
As one of the greatest caricaturists of the twentieth century, Mark Boxer satirised the country’s social elite – a world of beautiful, fashionable, metropolitan figures which he himself was very much a part. Equally adept as a social cartoonist, he effectively captured the lives of the upper-middle classes, continuing this great tradition from the likes of Pont and Osbert Lancaster. Charles Mark Edward Boxer was born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, on 19 May 1931. The son of Steven Boxer, an army officer, he was educated at Berkhamsted School. In 1950, he went to study at King’s College, Cambridge, becoming editor of the undergraduate magazine, Granta, in 1952. It was here that Boxer first discovered a talent for cartooning, submitting a few cartoons successfully to Punch as well as publishing them in Granta.
However, under his stewardship, the magazine was supressed after he published a series of blasphemous verses, for which the Vice-Chancellor wished to see Boxer sent down without a degree. Though the college did succeed in getting his punishment reduced to a week’s suspension during May Week, Boxer did eventually leave Cambridge without a degree. After leaving University, he briefly worked at the Sunday Express and as editor of Lilliput, before joining a fashion magazine called Ambassador, whilst also drawing occasionally for Tatler. In 1957, Mark Boxer was approached by Jocelyn Stevens, whom he had met at Cambridge, to become art director at his new magazine, Queen. Stevens had purchased the magazine, founded in 1861 as The Queen, earlier in the year and charged Boxer, along with new editor Beatrix Miller, to create a magazine designed for the ‘Chelsea set’ of British society.
The reputation that Boxer began to develop for employing talented photographers for the magazine brought him, in 1962, to the attention of Sir Denis Hamilton, editor of The Sunday Times, who offered him the editorship of its magazine. In his three years as editor, he was able to establish a unique identity for the magazine, recruiting Michael Rand as art editor from the Express, Francis Wyndham from Queen and employing artists such as Peter Blake and David Hockney, photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Montgomery and Don McCullin and writers such as Angus Wilson, Robert Kee and John Mortimer. In 1965, he left to become editor of a new listings magazine, called London Life, which had been created out of the ailing Tatler. London Life was short lived however, and the following year Boxer returned to the The Sunday Times as assistant editor, where he remained until 1979. In 1956, at the age of 25, Mark Boxer married the cookery writer, Lady Arabella Stuart, and together they would have two children, Charlie and Henrietta. However, they endured a tempestuous relationship, marked by Boxer’s numerous affairs. Boxer was handsome, witty and charming, and his compulsive womanising was described as ‘a way of life’ by Lucretia Stewart, with whom he had had an affair in the 1970s. Boxer and Lady Arabella separated twice but reconciled after a few months on both occasions. For their final nine years together, they had an open marriage arrangement, and during this period Boxer met the newsreader Anna Ford, for whom he eventually left Lady Arabella. They married in 1981 and together had two daughters, Kate and Claire.
Throughout his life, Boxer moved easily in fashionable circles and had a trained eye towards social nuances that would influence his work. The satirist and critic, Craig Brown, described how Boxer’s ‘art fed off his absorption in, and his ambivalence towards, high society’. His views on social conventions influenced the creation of his cartoon characters Simon and Joanna Stringalong. Based on characters from Alan Bennett’s 1966 BBC series, On the Margin, this trendy upper-middle-class couple from North London first appeared in the strip ‘Life and Times in NW1’, written by Peter Preston, which began in The Listener in August 1967. Simon and Joanna also began to appear in a pocket cartoon in The Times from 1969. A variant of the strip, in colour, also ran in Nova as ‘Tinderbox Green: An Everyday Story of Estate Living’.
Boxer was self-taught as a cartoonist. He once told a colleague that ‘once he had got someone’s hair right, the rest of their face tended to fall into place’. When creating his caricatures, he needed to observe his subjects in their natural habitats and off their guard, which frequently meant following them to their offices or viewing them at parties or in restaurants. Of his own work, Boxer once said, ‘I don’t draw particularly well, but I have an observant eye’.
Despite his own misgivings about his cartooning, Boxer was named Granada TV’s What the Papers Say Cartoonist of the Year in 1972, and received the Glen Grant Social and Political Cartoonist Award in 1981. Bill Hewison remarked that he possessed ‘the best qualities of the untrained amateur drawing at the peak of his ability ... That, coupled with a sharp sense of observation, can sometimes make a Marc caricature particularly devastating’.
From 1970 to 1978, Boxer produced caricatures for New Statesman, The London Review of Books, The Spectator and the Observer, and continued to produce work for The Times until 1983, when he moved his cartoons to the Guardian. As he grew older, Boxer moved further left politically and his views became increasingly at odds with those of The Times, and his move to the Guardian reflected his developing views. In 1986, he joined the Telegraph, where he continued until his death. He also drew cartoons for the Observer from 1983. In 1987, he objected to a reference that the paper made about his wife, and moved his weekend cartoons to the Sunday Telegraph.
In the final decade of his life, Boxer did not focus solely on cartooning. In 1978, he designed the covers for a new edition of all 12 novels in Anthony Powell’s cycle, ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’, for which he won a D & AD Silver Award. He worked on a number of advertising campaigns, most notably for Smirnoff Vodka, and in 1980, he became director of the publishing company, Weidenfeld & Nicholson. In 1983 he was invited to edit the relaunched Tatler, and in 1987 became both editor-in-chief of Vogue and editorial director of Conde Nast. He died of a brain tumour at his home in Brentford, Middlesex, on 20 July 1988, aged 57.
His work is represented in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery. Further reading Mark Amory (rev), ‘Boxer, (Charles) Mark Edward [pseud Marc] (1931-1988)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 7, pages 8-9