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Pint-Sized Punch

Mark Bryant takes a look at a pioneering magazine that acted as a school for a whole generation of cartoonists. 

This year marks the seventieth anniversary of the launch of a pocket-sized literary and humorous magazine which was so successful that within six months it was outselling its larger rival Punch and during the Second World War had a record-breaking circulation of more than a quarter of a million copies. Founded by a Hungarian refugee from Nazi Germany who later set up Picture Post, it revolutionized the magazine world in the way that Allen Lane’s Penguins had transformed book publishing two years earlier and its list of distinguished contributors reads like a Who’s Who of the twentieth century. As well as stories, articles, poems and photos it also published cartoons, including the first drawings by Gerard Hoffnung (then a schoolboy), and the first St Trinian’s cartoon by Ronald Searle amongst many others. Its name was Lilliput.

The idea for the magazine was born in a café in Bandol, a small town on the south coast of France between Marseilles and Toulon. A previous customer had left a copy of the popular American pocket magazine Coronet on one of the tables and when a group of refugee writers arrived for their regular daily meeting it was passed around. The group comprised the German poet and dramatist Ernst Toller, the Austrian writer Arnold Zweig, the German novelist Leon Feuchtwanger, and the thirty-six-year-old Hungarian journalist, photographer and film-maker Stefan Lorant, former editor of the Münchener Illustrierte and the Weekly Illustrated. Also present was Alison Blair, daughter of the editor of the Calcutta Statesman and then married to a wealthy businessman. When Feuchtwanger suggested that Lorant should start a similar but more upmarket pocket magazine in the UK, Blair offered £2,000 of her own money to fund it.

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