Flook by Trog

Wally Fawkes is well known in the United Kingdom for two – as he put it himself – "minority pursuits": jazz music and cartoons. He was a clarinetist in several British jazz combos, among them Wally Fawkes and the Troglodytes. The latter group also inspired his pseudonym as a cartoonist: "Trog". For 62 years, Fawkes was also active as a political cartoonist. His sharp and left-wing cartoons sometimes went directly against his papers' official ideology. The same could be said about his most well known work, 'Flook' (1949-1985). The adventures of a little boy and his furry animal friend started out as a children's comic, but eventually evolved into something that appealed more to mature readers. Storylines made frequent allusions to current events and both British as well as international politics. In this sense it provided a veritable time capsule of three decades worth of post-war events. 'Flook' is also praised for its extensive portrayal of London. Nearly every street and location has been captured in Fawkes' poetic drawings. Naturally 'Flook' has always remained a British phenomenon, despite efforts to translate it to other countries. While the series is overly reference-overdosed, highly dated in some aspects and never made available in its entirety, 'Flook' is nevertheless fondly remembered by many British newspaper readers.


Caricatures of British comedian Max Miller and jazz musician Duke Ellington

Despite being a British citizen from the age of seven, Walter Ernest Fawkes was in fact born in Vancouver, Canada, in 1924. In 1931 his family moved to Great Britain. At the age of 14 he left school to study at Sidcup Art School. Lack of money and the outbreak of World War Two prevented him from finishing his education. He found a job as a camouflage painter on the roofs of factories to prevent German airplanes from bombing them to smithereens. While it provided him with a good salary it wasn't the most rewarding job. Fawkes remembered how he once returned to take another look at a building he just painted the week before. Nazi planes had bombarded it to the ground: "It was the harshest criticism of my work I have ever faced," he jokingly reflected. A bout of pleurisy made Fawkes unsuitable for the draft, but thanks to his drawing talent he still proved himself useful for the Coal Commission. He designed many maps of coal seams for them.

Flook Digs Jazz
Flook Digs Jazz (1959)

After the war Fawkes took a weekly course at the Camberwell School of Art in London, where future cartoonists Francis Wilford-Smith and Humphrey Lyttelton were his class mates. Lyttleton shared a similar interest in jazz and often performed in local clubs. Fawkes played as a clarinetist in his own band, Wally Fawkes and the Troglodytes, as well as George Webb's Dixielanders, where Lyttelton played the trumpet. Through these contacts Fawkes also met other fellow cartoonists with a jazz career like George Melly, for whom he illustrated the cover of his 1965 autobiography 'Owning Up'. Fawkes also designed his own album covers. He remained active in the British jazz scene for over half a century, but as his daily deadlines as a cartoonist grew stronger it became more difficult for him to continue touring. From 1956 on he focused predominantly on cartooning, only performing in local pubs and clubs in London and occasionally going to a gig in the North of the country during weekends. Fame or succes didn't interest him anyway. He just wanted to play on stage once in a while.

As a cartoonist, Fawkes counted David Levine, Rowland Emmett, Leslie Illingworth, Graham Laidler (aka Pont), James Thurber, Charles Addams, Saul Steinberg and John Minton among his influences. In 1945 the Daily Mail organised a cartoon competition with their cartoonist Leslie Gilbert Illingworth as the juror. Fawkes' entry depicted a nervous boxer entering the ring. It got him a job in the Clement Davies advertising agency and later a contract as the Daily Mail's new cartoonist. At first he was a mere illustrator, but in 1949 the chief editor, Lord Rothermere, asked Fawkes whether he would be interested in making a comic strip aimed at a juvenile audience? He agreed and left all his other cartooning jobs over to his friend Humphrey Lyttelton. Rothermere wanted something in the style of David Johnson Leisk's 'Barnaby', which featured a young boy and a fairy godfather. Journalist Douglas Mount became the comic's scriptwriter, while Fawkes provided the illustrations.

The strip made its debut on 25 April 1949. It centered around a little boy, Rufus, who wishes he had a pet. One night he dreams about the Stone Age and rescues an odd creature from a group of cavemen. When he awakes the strange animal sits on his bedside. They quickly become friends. The creature – which looks like a cross between a piglet, a bear and a baby elephant - was originally named 'The Goop', but eventually Lyttelton came up with the name 'Flook'. Readers quickly learned that Flook had all kinds of hidden talents, such as shapeshifting and speaking "seven languages fluently". Rufus and Flook soon had all kinds of magical adventures all across the world. Fawkes drew all episodes personally, but the comic saw different scriptwriters over the years. In 1951 Douglas Mount was succeeded by Robert Raymond, followed two years later by Compton Mackenzie - most famous for the novels 'The Monarch of the Glen' (1941) and 'Whiskey Galore' (1947). Between 1953 and 1956 Humphrey Lyttleton penned the scripts. The longest-running contributor was George Melly, who provided storylines between 1956 and 1971. The final writers were film critic Barry Norman, comedian Barry Took and – from 1980 on – Fawkes himself. Between 1984 and 1985 novelist Keith Waterhouse, best known for the novel 'Billy Liar', crafted ideas.


The meeting between Rufus and Flook

By using different scriptwriters 'Flook' managed to keep fresh and original during its entire 36-year long run. It also had a notable impact on the tone. During its early years the comic was basically a child-oriented fairy tale. Yet Fawkes wanted it to be a "bit more reflective" of current events. The first glimpse of this occurred in 1953, when Flook and Rufus visit Tibet where they meet the Abominable Snowman. The legendary creature turns out to be an actual snowman, whose tribe is in war with another tribe of snowmen, one of them fat and the other skinny. Flook advises the fat tribe to throw snowballs at the thin ones. As a result all of them suddenly have an equal amount of snow in their bodies. Fawkes and Robert Raymond intended this as a satire on Communism, but their editors didn't catch on to this. Slowly but surely 'Flook' evolved into gentle political satire, particularly when Fawkes' friends Lyttleton and Melly took over writing. While Rufus remained an innocent child and rather flat character Flook became the strip's real star. He became less of a whimsical magical creature and more of a snarky, yet witty commentator on all the absurdities taking place around him.


Flook meeting Millstone Dixon (1972)

Many plotlines mirrored real-life events and trends. In one episode Flook and Rufus travel to the Stone Age where they meet two groups of cavemen. One of them invents a club with a nail through it, but Flook tries to make this weapon forbidden, as it may end in their self-destruction. The Cold War metaphor was quite obvious. Several characters the heroes met on their journeys were caricatures of well known politicians and celebrities. In a 1972 cartoon, Flook and Rufus meet an American sherrif, Millstone Dixon, who is basically U.S. President Richard Nixon with a moustache. The characters criticize him for reporting about a bank robbery, which he "surely knew [about] ages ago. It was his sherrif who did the robbing" - a thinly disguised reference to the Watergate Affair. Some satire was even quite daring. In 1965 critic Kenneth Tynan became the first person to say "fuck" on British television. This was lampooned in a storyline where Flook becomes a food critic on TV. Disgusted by the amount of people who guzzle down food rather than eat it properly he decides to abolish it. Even the mere mention of that "four-letter word which starts with the letter 'F'" makes him angry. When a caricature of Tynan nevertheless says it on TV Flook is of course furious! Another 1968 narrative targeted extreme-right politician Enoch Powell as 'Ethelred Clotte', leader of the "League of Insular Morons". Yet the most astounding fact about 'Flook' was that it was left-wing in nature, yet published in the very conservative and right-wing Daily Mail. This often caused friction between him and his editors, even though Fawkes and his scriptwriters didn't mind ridiculing the Labour and Communist Party either. More amazingly, some of their targets actually liked 'Flook'. Two of the strip's celebrity fans were British politician Kenneth Clarke and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who in 1979 named it "quite the best commentary on the politics of the day". She too was spoofed in a 1975 storyline where Flook and Rufus encounter a medieval queen caricatured like her.


Rufus and Flook meet Margaret Thatcher

The satirical tone made 'Flook' far more popular with adults than with children. In 1957 Flook became the mascot of 831 Squadron Fleet Arm. Much like Marc Sleen's 'Nero' in Flanders, Belgium, 'Flook' took full advantage from the fact that it was a newspaper comic. Its satire was easily recognizable since readers could actually look it up in the papers' articles of that day. Some episodes even directly referenced events surrounding the Daily Mail itself. A 1955 newspaper strike was reflected by having Flook and the other characters play cards until they can resume their adventure. Even the villain joins in! When the storyline continues Flook even literally has to ask Rufus "what were we doing, now?" since he doesn't remember what happened in his own series before the strike. Another celebrated aspect of 'Flook' was its setting. Rather than draw vague backgrounds Fawkes took great care in depicting actual locations in London. He copied photographs and personally went down to certain streets to sketch everything out. He felt that readers would enjoy it when they saw and recognized their own neighbourhood in the paper. Fawkes attributed his attention to detail to the fact that he considered himself to be more an illustrator than a cartoonist. The comic also stereotyped Londoners from every possible class and profession, down to their use of language. No comic before 'Flook' ever managed to capture the British capital which such broad versatility. While 'Flook' was quintessentially British and mostly based on people, events and phenomena that wouldn't be understood by readers outside the United Kingdom it did see some overseas publications and translations. Between 1952 and 1979 it was published in the Otago Daily Times in New Zealand. It also ran as 'Jumbo L'Aventurier' in the Quebecan paper Le Petit Journal and in the United States it was distributed by General Features between 1951 and 1954.

Flook by Wally Fawkes
Flook (Jumbo L'Aventurier from Le Petit Journal, Quebec, 9/3/1952)

Fawkes also remained active as a political cartoonist for The Daily Mail. He excelled both in black-and-white and colour and used various techniques to bring his targets to life, including scraperboard and grisaille. In 1959 he joined The Spectator, where he collaborated with George Melly. His work could also be seen in Private Eye, Punch and The New Statesman. Halfway the 1960s, The Daily Mail hired Gerald Scarfe, causing Fawkes to move to The Observer, where his cartoons targeting Elizabeth II often caused controversy. Yet Scarfe only stayed with the Daily Mail for a year. As the paper's other home cartoonist Leslie Gilbert Illingworth retired as well in 1968, it made room for Fawkes' return. Fawkes also took over Illingworth's position at Punch around the same time. While Fawkes liked his job he refused to just slavishly obey to The Daily Mail's conservative ideology. One time his editors asked him to make a cartoon criticizing Prime Minister Harold Wilson for no other apparent reason than the fact that they disliked a Labour Party member in charge of the country. Fawkes recognized the hypocrisy and refused the offer.

Flook by Trog

Remaining true to his beliefs didn't make him popular with his bosses, though. In 1971 the Daily Mail fused with the Daily Sketch. Under the new management Fawkes was quickly retired and replaced by Stan McMurtry. He returned to the Observer, where he drew two cartoons a week, with the one on the front page titled 'Mini-Trog'. Yet Fawkes still remained tied to the Daily Mail through 'Flook'. He continued the comic for another decade, the only place in its pages where he could still express his political views. However, he grew tired of the constant arguments with editor David English. In 1984 Fawkes came up with a joke he knew would result in his resignment. It made fun at the decision to naturalize South African runner Zola Budd as a British citizen so he could compete for the U.K. during the upcoming Olympics. In the comic Flook comments: "Budd just broke a new record (…) She's just jumped five years in three weeks." Since David English was closely involved with Budd's naturalisation he refused to publish that particular episode. 'Flook' was moved to the sports pages, where it was reduced in size. The same year the comic was also removed from the paper. Luckily 'Flook' found a new spot in The Daily Mirror, which had just been purchased by billionnaire Robert Maxwell, whose wife was a fan of the comic strip. He also adviced Fawkes to take the strip's copyright in place of severance pay. Keith Waterhouse became the new scriptwriter. The first episode of 'Flook' in the Daily Mirror showed a big cartoon where Flook is kicked out of the Daily Mail with the accompanying text: "Flook Off!" Not afraid to bite the hand of his savior, Fawkes ridiculed Maxwell in the very first new episode of 'Flook'. Unfortunately the comic only lasted a few months. It was eventually transferred to the paper's Sunday edition in November 1985 and discontinued soon after. As popular as 'Flook' once was there are unfortunately not many book collections available, let alone a chronological one.


Tony Blair's Millenium Dome (2000)

After 'Flook' came to an end, Fawkes remained active as a cartoonist. He joined the papers Today and London Daily News, but only for a few months each. In 1996 he left the Observer in favor of the Sunday Telegraph, again because of changes in political ideology. A year later he became a frequent cover artist for The Week. Throughout the decades he was also active as an illustrator. He designed the cover of 'Max Miller Blue Book' (1975), a comedy book by British comedian Max Miller. In June 2005 Trog retired from cartooning due to failing eyesight. His work has often been exhibited and received many awards throughout his career, such as the Cartoon Art Trust's Lifetime Achievement Award (2001) and a honorary doctorate from Kent University (2001). The British Press Awards also named him "Cartoonist of the Year" in 2004. Wally Fawkes was a huge influence on Steve Bell, Nicholas Garland, Raymond Briggs and Barry Fantoni. 'Flook' was also the main inspiration for the character Jeremy in The Beatles animated cartoon 'Yellow Submarine' (1968) by George Dunning and Heinz Edelmann.

Series and books by Wally Fawkes 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.