New College of the Humanities

Low and Churchill

Timothy Benson analyses the evolution of the love-hate relationship between Britain's greatest cartoonist and the outstanding politician of the age.

The proprietor of the Evening Standard, Lord Beaverbrook, said of David Low’s cartoons that as ‘comments on contemporary events they stand triumphantly the test of time’. Who then better to capture with humour Sir Winston Churchill’s illustrious career than his contemporary Sir David Low? From 1919 to 1962, working for the Star, Evening Standard, Daily Herald and the Manchester Guardian, Low drew with what AJP Taylor called a ‘savage realism’ to portray Churchill in whatever guise he saw fit.

The colourful Churchill, with his egocentric personality and his capacity for political misjudgement, offered a tempting target for Low. From his futile attempts to persuade Lloyd George to intervene in the Russian Civil War in 1919, through to his retirement in 1955, Churchill was taken to task by the cartoonist at every available opportunity.

Yet while Low may not have cared for Churchill’s demeanour or politics, he was prepared to champion his cause when justified. He was totally in sympathy with Churchill’s warnings over Hitler’s intentions in the late 1930s. When war eventually broke out, Low’s cartoons portrayed Churchill as the only man capable of offering Britain the stoic leadership that it needed. When he became prime minister, it was Low's cartoon ‘All behind you Winston' that captured the public support for Churchill. Throughout the war Low upheld Churchill's role as war leader without once denigrating or ridiculing him.

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