William George Rushton (1937-1996) One of the architects of the 1960s satire boom, Willie Rushton co-founded the magazine Private Eye, producing its first cartoons and its layout from his mother’s home in Kensington. He achieved fame as part of the 1962 BBC series, That Was the Week That Was, alongside the likes of David Frost and as a regular panelist on the BBC Radio 4 game show, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, from 1974 until his death. He was the author and illustrator of a number of bestselling books, such as How to Play Football: The Art of Dirty Play and Pigsticking: A Joy for Life.
Willie Rushton was born in Chelsea, London, on 18 August 1937. He attended Shrewsbury School from 1950, where he met his future Private Eye colleagues Richard Ingrams and Christopher Booker. A talented cartoonist from a young age, he produced cartoons for the school’s official magazine The Salopian and its satirical counterpart, The Wallopian, which he produced with Ingrams and Booker.
Failure to achieve a Latin O-Level prevented Rushton from joining his friends at Oxford University, and instead he served his two years of national service, returning to civilian life as a solicitor’s clerk in 1959. During this time he regularly sent cartoons to Punch, none of which were accepted. After quitting his job as a clerk, he worked at the Liberal News, producing the weekly strip, ‘Brimstone Belchers’, between June 1960 and March 1961, and a weekly political cartoon until 1962. The first issue of Private Eye was published on 25 October 1961, with Rushton producing all the illustrations.
Willie Rushton’s reunion with his friends from Shrewsbury also reignited his taste for acting. He had accompanied them in a well-received revue at the Edinburgh Fringe, and made his stage debut in Spike Milligan’s The Bed-Sitting Room in 1961. A cabaret appearance in an Ilford nightclub brought Rushton to the attention of a BBC producer and, from November 1962 to December 1963, he appeared in the BBC programme That Was the Week That Was, which drew in audiences of up to 13 million, making stars of its cast. Rushton continued to work regularly on television, appearing in Not Only… But Also with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore and episodes of popular series such as Up Pompeii! and The Persuaders! For 22 years, he was also a regular panelist on the BBC Radio 4 show, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, appearing in 27 series. In 1990, he teamed up with fellow-panelist, Barry Cryer, in their own show, Two Old Farts in the Night, performing to full audiences at the Edinburgh Festival, Royal Albert Hall and Royal Festival Hall.
Having not been involved in Private Eye since the later years of the 1960s, Willie Rushton returned in 1978 to illustrate ‘Auberon Waugh’s Diary’. When Waugh moved to the Daily Telegraph in the mid-80s, Rushton followed. In 1985, the Victoria and Albert Museum recognised his achievements and commissioned 24 large colour illustrations that were collected as ‘Willie Rushton’s Great Moments of History’. When Waugh became editor of the Literary Review in the late 1980s, Rushton provided the monthly coloured covers, while at the same time producing fortnightly caricatures for Private Eye’s literary review page. He contributed a regular contents-page illustration to the Independent Magazine, and from 1993 to 1996 drew cartoons for Channel 4’s television series Rory Bremner… Who Else?. A passionate cricket fan, Rushton received coaching at Lord’s as a boy, and was a regular team captain on BBC Radio 4’s quiz show, Trivia Test Match, running from 1986 to 1993. He also played for the Lord’s Taverners, a charity celebrity cricket team.
He died from complications after heart surgery at Cromwell Hospital, Kensington on 11 December 1996, aged 59.