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Nightmare and Insomnia

David Low (1891-1963)



Pen and ink with crayon

9 ¾ x 16 inches

Evening Standard, 20 October 1928

The Illustrators.The British Art of Illustration 1900-2018', November 2018-January 2019, No 100

‘Col. Ashley apparently lies awake of nights working out schemes of dealing with the traffic, and shuddering at the thought of what will happen when his daring conceptions are revealed. Meanwhile, not far away, Sir William Joynson-Hicks, not wakeful, but the next thing to it, and far less comfortable, is troubled with nightmares.’

This cartoon, published the year after Sir David Low had become political cartoonist for the Evening Standard, imagines the night-time tribulations of Colonel Wilfrid Ashley, Minister for Transport, and the Home Secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks (‘Jix’ as he became known). Though in Low’s cartoon he is kept awake by the thought of London’s traffic congestion and buses, Colonel Ashley achieved a great deal during his five years as Minister for Transport. As traffic greatly increased in the 1920s, he introduced one-way traffic schemes and the introduction of roundabouts and arterial roads, first in London and then in other large cities, greatly improving congestion as the number of cars and buses on London streets grew exponentially in the early twentieth-century.

Alongside Colonel Ashley sleeps the Home Secretary, disturbed by nightmares, possibly caused by the amount of vice and sin he believed pervaded the world around him. Joynson-Hicks was puritanical and prudish in his beliefs and made great attempts during his time as Home Secretary to suppress what he described as ‘the flood of filth coming across the Channel’. The publication of Radclyffe Hall’s novel The Well of Loneliness in July 1928 caused him to threaten the publishers with criminal proceedings if they did not withdraw it. When this cartoon was published, the publishers’ obscenity trial was just a few weeks away. As Home Secretary, Joynson-Hicks variously attempted to suppress the works of D H Lawrence, ban publications on birth control, challenge the Anglican Church over the 1927 Prayer Book and through regular police raids, shut down and sanitise London’s nightclubs –certainly enough to give anybody nightmares.

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