Old Bill by Bruce Bairnsfather
"Well, if you knows of a beter ‘ole, go to it"

Bruce Bairnsfather was one of the most prominent British cartoonists during World War I, thanks to his cartoon character 'Old Bill'. He was born as Charles Bruce Bairnsfather into a British military family in Murree, British India (now Pakistan). He began selling his drawings back in England from the age of 17. He tried his hand at poster art, but also worked as an electrical engineer and performed as a female impersonator in variety acts. He got his first break as an artist when he was hired to draw advertisements for Lipton tea.

He served in a British machine gun unit during World War I, but was hospitalised with shellshock and hearing damage after the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915. By then, he started to make a series of cartoons about life in the trenches, called 'Fragments from France'. The cartoons starred Old Bill, an elderly British "tommy" with a walrus moustache and pipe, as well as his pals Bert and Alf.

Old Bill by Bruce Bairnsfather

The cartoon series ran on a weekly base in The Bystander during the war, and 'Old Bill' soon became an icon. The character is known for raising the morale of the Nation during the Great War, and has since appeared on pottery, on postcards, playing cards, in books, plays, films, etc.

Already in 1917, the first of several musical adaptations was made, called 'The Better 'Ole'. Two silent films based on the play were made in 1919 (Britain) and 1926 (USA). Furthermore, 'Old Bill' served as the origin of the slang name The Bill for the British police, since many officers had moustaches.

Bairnsfather made a series of comic strips called 'Old Bill and Bert' for Laughter, the pull-out section of Passing Show magazine in the mid 1930s, and also featured the character in the Daily Graphic, The Illustrated and Judge. He became the official cartoonist to the American forces in Europe during World War II, and published in Stars & Stripes and Yank magazine. Despite his impact between and during the two wars, Captain Bruce Bairnsfather died in obscurity from the results of bladder cancer in 1959.

Old Bill and Bert by Bruce Bairnsfather

Postcards by Bruce Bairnsfather
Bruce Bairnsfather at guide-books.co.uk

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