Born in Hornsey, Charles Keene initially studied law and architecture, but was eventually apprenticed as a wood engraver. After employment at the Illustrated London News, he became a regular contributor to Punch magazine. By 1852 he became a staff artist at the magazine. Upon the death of John Leech in 1864 Keene took on illustrations of street life, which was previously the domain of Leech. Keene also had a large number of drawings published in Once a Week. Keene was a fanatical Tory, and was hostile to the members of staff who supported the Liberal Party.