Mr Toad by Peter Woolcock
Mr. Toad (Playhour, 1978)

Peter Woolcock was a British comics artist who most notably drew funny animal comics for the nursery comics magazines Playhour and Jack & Jill from the 1950s until the 1980s. He was the fifth and final artist to continue Julius Stafford Baker II's series 'Tiger Tim'. As for his own comics series he mostly drew series about frogs and toads, including 'The Funny Tales of Freddie Frog' (1954-1969) and 'Teddy Toad' (1956). Woolcock later settled on Bermuda, where he began a second career as a political cartoonist for the Bermuda Sun and The Royal Gazette.

Woolcock was born in 1926 in Argentina into a British family. He grew up passing his school days by sketching farm animals. At age 15, he made a couple of striking satirical depictions of Adolf Hitler and at eighteen, he joined the British army's Royal Tank Regiment. He served in Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, while chronicling his experiences in his sketchbook. Despite an early desire to become a cartoonist, he first held a marketing job at the advertising department of Lever Brothers in Buenos Aires. In 1953, he worked his passage on a cargo boat to England, where he applied for a job with the Amalgamated Press. He was hired by editor Leonard Matthews, who mostly typecast him as an animal artist for the company's nursery titles and children's books. He remained with the company after it was bought by the Mirror Group and renamed to Fleetway Publications in 1959. Over a period of 38 years, his art appeared in such magazines as Tiny Tots, Film Fun, Look and Learn, Treasure, Disneyland Magazine, Toby, Dickory Dock and Storyland.

Freddie Frog by Peter Woolcock
Freddie Frog

Strange enough, a large portion of Woolcock's output dealt with amphibian characters, predominantly frogs and toads. His first creation for the company was 'Anthony Rowley', based on the frog from the British children's song 'A Frog He Would A-wooing Go'. The title was however changed to 'The Funny Tales of Freddie Frog' (1954-1969) by the time it began appearing in Jack & Jill in 1954. Woolcock continued the feature until 1969, with an interlude in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when it was drawn by Antonio Lupatelli, Sergio AsteritiJim Turnbull and Gordon Hutchings. He also created a character called 'Teddy Toad' for Playhour. During a period of 25 years, he drew several features built around Mr. Toad from Kenneth Grahame's 1908 children's novel 'The Wind in the Willows'. His first series with the character carried the title of the novel and appeared in Playhour in 1955. Mr. Toad later returned in the pages of Harold Hare's Own Paper in 1959 and in Playhour once again in 1964.

Willow Wood by Peter Woolcock
Willow Wood (9 January 1965)

Other characters Woolcock drew for Playhour were 'Winnie the Pooh' (1955, a character originally created by A.A. Milne in 1926 and illustrated by E.H. Shepard), 'Mimi and Marmy' (1957) and Wally Weasel, Sammy Stoat and Harry Hamster from 'The Wonderful Tales of Willow Wood' (1957), often in alternation with Turnbull. Woolcock was also the final artist to draw the adventures of 'Tiger Tim and the Bruin Boys'. The long-running feature was created by Julius Stafford Baker II in 1904, and it had been continued by artists such as Herbert Foxwell, Bert Wymer and Julius Stafford Baker III in several of the AP's children's titles since then. Some sources state that Woolcock's involvement already began in the 1950s; other credit him for the stories published in Jack and Jill and its annuals from the 1960s until the strip's end in 1985. In addition to his comics work, Peter Woolcock provided illustrations to a variety of children's books. These included several works by Leonard Matthews, such as 'One, Two, Three: A Book of Numbers' (1981), 'Big and Small: A Book of Opposites' (1981), 'Busy People: A Book of Work and Play' (1982), 'Busy Days: A Book of Time' (1982).

Cartoon by Peter Woolcock

The artist did his final comic strip work in 1987. By then, he had already begun on his second career as a political cartoonist. Not particularly a home-lover, Woolcock had lived in England and Spain before settling on the British isle of Bermuda in the Atlantic Ocean in 1981. Triggered by the events in the election year 1983, he submitted some of his funny drawings to the daily newspaper Bermuda Sun and was hired. He quickly established himself as one of the island's leading (and few) political cartoonists, especially after he transferred to the Royal Gazette in the early 1990s. Woolcock's political caricatures and wry single-panel commentaries were loved by the small island's population, including the politicians he satirized. Especially former M.P. Alex Scott (2003-2006) was a great sport. The politician counted the number of times he was drawn by the cartoonist, and was proud to say he was caricatured the most. Woolcock confirmed this, and said he could draw the man by heart. In a 2013 interview, Peter Woolcock said he was satisfied with his role commenting on the conservative politics of Bermuda's gentler society, knowing he couldn't be as vicious as his colleagues from the mainland.


Caricatures of Premier David Saul (1996) and Chief of Staff Colonel David Burch (2000)

Much of his work for this paper was collected in the annual 'Peter Woolcock's Woppened' books. The 26th and final installment was published posthumously in 2015. The artist also worked regularly with his friend Andrew Stevenson. From 2001 onwards, he illustrated Stevenson's 'Family Man' columns in the Gazette's sister magazines Bottom Line Magazine and RG Magazine, and later also his children's books 'The Turtle Who Ate a Balloon' (2007) and 'The Adventures of Bermuda's Toad with One Eye' (2008).

Peter Woolcock continued to work on his weekly Friday cartoon until the very end, well into his eighties. He never missed a single deadline, except at the time when his wife passed away and when he had to undergo heart surgery. On 4 December 2014 the 88-year old cartoonist was on his way to deliver his weekly cartoon to the Gazette, when he was struck by a car. He died in the hospital later that afternoon.

Peter Woolcock on Peter Gray's blog

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