Schmidt the Spy

Alfred Leete was a British graphic artist and cartoonist, best known for his advertising posters. His most famous contribution to popular culture was the iconic 1914 army recruitment poster, which depicts British Minister of War Lord Horatio Kitchener pointing at the audience to "join your country's army". Lesser known is that Leete was also the creator of two text comics named 'Schmidt the spy' and 'Bosch the soldier' during World War One. Both were Allied propaganda ridiculing the German army.

Alfred Ambrose Chew Leete was born in 1882 at Thorpe Achurch, Northamptonshire. He studied at the School of Science and Art in Weston-super-Mare. In 1897 he published his first cartoons in The Daily Graphic, which led to more publications in magazines like Punch, Strand Magazine, Pall Mall Gazette, The Sketch and Tatler. Two years later he moved to London. Leete gained fame as a commercial artist and created numerous advertisement posters for products like Guinness, Bovril, William Younger's Scotch Ale, Lever's shaving sticks, Rowntrees chocolates and the London Underground metro system. In 1915 Leete made an advertisement to promote the London underground system. It features six moments in the history of transport, all with the speed per hour it took back then. The final image shows the underground trolley as the fastest way to travel. The images are drawn in silhouette form and are notable for telling their message in illustrated sequences, much like a comic strip.

Speed poster by Alfred LeeteBrittons Wants You poster by Alfred Leete

In 1914 the First World War broke out, which made Leete even more in demand as an artist. He designed various propaganda posters to keep the British war spirit up and to recruit new soldiers. His most iconic poster was first published on 5 September 1914 in the London Opinion: 'Lord Kitchener Wants You'. It depicted the British Minister of War Lord Herbert Horatio Kitchener pointing directly at the viewer asking them "to join their country's army". The poster was quickly syndicated all over the British Empire and stuck on many people's walls. Although his name was not mentioned on the poster itself, it made Kitchener such a celebrity at the time that everyone instantly recognized him. When the politician died at sea in 1916, it didn't diminish its enormous impact. Other countries copied the idea for their own propaganda posters, most famously James Montgomery Flagg's 'Uncle Sam Wants You' poster, when the United States entered the First World War in 1917. Today 'Kitchener Wants You' remains a relic of The Great War and one of the most iconic army propaganda posters of all time.

Leete gave the good example himself by serving his country during the war. He fought with the Artists' Rifles on the Western Front. Around the same period he also created a text comic named 'Schmidt The Spy And His Messages To Berlin' which was published in the London Opinion. Schmidt is a stereotypical German spy who is just awful at his job. He fails in disguises and can't obtain any useful information. His only victory was entering the United Kingdom in the first place, though even this is portrayed farcically. Schmidt hides himself in a crate of Dutch cheese, which causes him to smell badly afterwards. Eventually Schmidt ends up in a British POW camp. To boost up British morale the comic strip was published in small oblong-format books too. In 1916 Leete created another propaganda comic which ridiculed the enemy. 'The Bosch Book' featured a bumbling German soldier named Bosch who looked virtually similar to Schmidt. His misadventures were set to verse by Reginald Arkell. Once again it was published in small oblong-shaped booklets too.

Alfred Leete passed away in 1933.

Series and books by Alfred Leete in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

X

If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.