Hold the Front Page

Mark Bryant describes how the Daily Mail nearly became the first national daily in Britain to feature large political cartoons on its front page, fifteen years before Dyson’s huge drawings appeared in the Daily Herald.

It is quite unusual nowadays for a full-scale political cartoon to appear on the front page of a national daily newspaper in Britain. Since the Second World War there have often been topical single-column or ‘pocket’ cartoons on the front page by the likes of Osbert Lancaster (Daily Express), Jon (Daily Mail), Belsky (Daily Herald), Mark Boxer (The Times) and more recently Matt (Daily Telegraph) and others. The one notable exception was the Guardian from the 1950s to the 1980s when drawings by, successively, David Low, William Papas and Les Gibbard frequently appeared under the masthead, but when Steve Bell took over in 1990 the paper began to follow the more common practice of printing its main political cartoon close to the editorial page.

However, this was not always so. This month marks the 110th anniversary of the launch of the Daily Mail on May 4th, 1896, and though it did not carry a political cartoon on the front page of its first issue, it might well have done. The reason for this is that no less than sixty-five experimental four-page issues were produced before publication, including a remarkably modern-looking design printed on April 16th that year which contained a half-page political cartoon featuring Joseph Chamberlain (then Secretary for the Colonies) and Boer leader Paul Kruger in the tense period before the outbreak of the Boer War in South Africa. Drawn by Rip (Roland Hill), it showed Chamberlain in the guise of Svengali (from the novel Trilby) who is seen trying unsuccessfully to hypnotize Kruger (as the young girl singer, Trilby O’Ferrall) into singing ‘Rule Britannia’. In the event, the first published issue of the Daily Mail followed the more common practice of the day by printing advertisements over the whole front page.

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