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A Hopeless Dud or The Man Who Kicked the Kaiser

Mark Bryant introduces the man who drew the British Establishment at its most shockable.

George Melly called H.M. Bateman ‘the reluctant poet of Metroland, the Cassandra of Clapham’ and it was as the resident artist of Edwardian Clapham, acknowledged in 1905 as ‘the capital of Suburbia’ – that commuter district ‘outside the four-mile radius’ of central London – that he first became best known. As the chronicler of that perennial Everyman figure ‘The Man on the Clapham Omnibus’ Bateman later produced a book of cartoons entitled Suburbia (1921) and the celebrated illustrator John Hassall even called him the ‘Suburban Artist’. However, the advent of the First World War – and what was perceived as the very real threat of attacks by Zeppelins and long-range German bombers – forced him to move out of Clapham and opened up a new chapter in his career.
Henry Mayo Bateman (known to his family as ‘Binks’) was born in Sutton Forest, New South Wales, Australia, on February 15th, 1887, the son of an English farmer. His parents returned to England when he was eighteen months old and at school he soon showed an ability for drawing – producing some sporting postcards aged thirteen and beginning to contribute to children’s comics aged fifteen. Encouraged by the great cartoonist Phil May (1864-1903), he left school aged sixteen to study at Westminster School of Art, Goldsmith’s and Charles van Havenmaet’s London studio.

After war was declared on August 4th, 1914, the family moved to Bromley in Kent (although in his late twenties Bateman was still living at home) and he enthusiastically volunteered for the 23rd London Regiment. However, in January 1915 he contracted rheumatic fever and, as a result, ‘the army realized me for a hopeless dud and thoughtfully fired me back again into civil life’ (H.M.Bateman by Himself, 1937). He drew his disappointment later as ‘The Dud’ (1918).

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