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30-10-2014, 01:14 PM
1

The Pages of Punch

This posting is part of a series that I ran on another forum, the Mature Cheese, which was closed down some time last year. The active membership was vey small – about a dozen. I would now like to offer it to a much larger readership. So I admit that the following is not original, but I am only copying from myself. I hope people will like it.

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For more than a century Punch had a special place in the nation’s cultural life. The jokes were seldom of the rib-tickling kind. More often they led to a quiet chuckle or the realisation that here was a witty and timely comment on contemporary life. Inevitably it reflected the opinions and indeed the prejudices of its readers who belonged to the comfortable middle classes. Today we look with distaste at the attitudes of the jokes towards foreigners, especially those of African and Asian origin and also to what were then known as the ‘lower orders’.

In spite of this (and indeed also because of this) many of the Punch cartoons provide a useful historical record of the times in which they were printed. Here is my first example which is dated 1880.



We see here several things at work. In the first place here is an instance of the very important part that matters ecclesiastical played in the nation’s affairs. Bishops were very grand indeed. A bishop’s official residence was called a palace and this was often no misnomer. Punch’s readers would all know that there would have been a veritable army of servants and the page in the picture would have been the very lowest in that army.

At one level the joke revolves around the boy’s lack of religious knowledge. What can you expect from the ignorant rabble? On the other hand his native wit has enabled him to understand the power structure within the palace. Education is not everything, we may surmise.

Also exposed is the well-observed fact that some women did not regard themselves in need of any emancipation. To the early advocates of feminism (including those demanding votes for women) people like the ‘bishopess’ were an affront. They did not regard her as an acceptable role model. Her importance was based simply on having married an important man and then bossing him about. She had not branched out in her own right and achieved her position by her own efforts. She, and women like her, was bitterly opposed to the suffragettes and their allies. They liked to keep things as they were - a situation which suited them very well.

The bishop and page cartoon was drawn by George du Maurier, a stalwart of Punch at the time.
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30-10-2014, 01:24 PM
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Re: The Pages of Punch

How lovely - thank you for sharing the cartoon and the interesting comment on the content. As you say - a wonderful slice of social history. Am looking forward to seeing more!
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30-10-2014, 01:32 PM
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Re: The Pages of Punch

As you say an historical record - interesting ......
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30-10-2014, 07:26 PM
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Re: The Pages of Punch

Thank you Mr Magoo - look forward to more of the series.

Punch was great fun right up to its demise, and not just for the splendid cartoons - some wonderful writers and editors - Alan Coren and the lovely Miles Kington spring to mind immediately.
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30-10-2014, 08:30 PM
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Re: The Pages of Punch

Seen 'em on Mature Cheese Mr Magoo but would make an excellent addition to this forum.
Keep up the good work.
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31-10-2014, 01:01 PM
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Re: The Pages of Punch



This cartoon is dated 1915 and is very much of its time. The dog’s owner feels unable to call him by his real name because it is not only a German name, but also the one name that is popularly supposed to be quintessentially German.

This joke sits alongside an uncomfortable truth. At the most obvious level the humour is that a frisky little animal can hardly be a spy. So isn’t the owner being needlessly cautious? But that would not really have been the case. By 1915 there was a frenzy of hatred of Germans and all things German. I was reminded of this not long when watching an episode of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ In it the celebrity cook Rick Stein was confronting his father’s mental health problems. These were related to having endured universal hostility to his family as a child during World War One. They were not spies, as were many others who suffered from this frenzy of hate. (This was a feeling fervently reciprocated in Germany towards all things British. We remember the slogan ‘Gott Strafe England.’)

It would have been safe enough to confide in the nice respectable gentleman with his top hat and spats. But it would be quite another matter to reveal the dog’s embarrassing name to the world at large. Ordinary people influenced by the Northcliffe Press could not be expected to understand that the lady was not a German sympathiser. They would ask why has she called her dog ‘Fritz?’

A further truth was that she might very well two years earlier have chosen this name for her puppy. Before the war broke out there was much friendly travelling between the two countries. Sir Frederick Ponsonby who was secretary to three monarchs was known to everyone as Fritz. There had been plenty of examples of British people who had married Germans. After the outbreak of war this was all ‘forgotten’ and replaced by unthinking hostility.
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01-11-2014, 12:33 PM
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Re: The Pages of Punch



Here is the famous Curate’s Egg cartoon which has come down to us in the language. I would guess that the phrase is being used today by people who are unaware of this, its origin.

A curate was the lowest form of life in the ecclesiastical world. His income was pitifully low, as the bishop’s was extravagantly high. The purpose of the breakfast invitation was for the bishop, busy as he no doubt was, to identify likely candidates for preferment. The curate would have been very well aware of this. Confronted with the undoubted fact that his egg was indeed off he tried to make as light of this fact as possible.

The artist was again the versatile George du Maurier, the founder of a dynasty.
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02-11-2014, 10:50 AM
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Re: The Pages of Punch

1916: An Unconventional Picture



Here is another World War One cartoon. I suspect that the artist has had first hand experience of trench warfare. Fritz has just been captured as a prisoner of war. He is being escorted behind the British lines by Jock, who does not have a speaking part in this tableau. Tommy’s arm is in a sling which means that he has received a ‘blighty’ which is a wound serious enough for him to be sent back to Britain for a spell in a British Military Hospital.

Tommy shows absolutely no hatred for Fritz. He draws attention to the fact that they will both be leaving the frontline behind. Fritz is not depicted as a sub-human monster. Instead, he is shown as an amiable buffoon. He has clearly said to himself ‘for me the war is over’. He also draws attention to the fact that Tommy is going to a place that has every intention of getting him fit again as soon as possible so that he can be returned to his unit.

Below the surface we can see two things standing out. It is all right for the German to be openly glad not to have to risk his life any more. In 1916 this could not be the stated opinion of a Tommy in similar circumstances but that it is the German who has no more wish to fight would chime in well with the civilian readership of Punch. But to the artist and the military readership it would be clear that Fritz is the lucky one. Some things are better not openly stated.
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03-11-2014, 07:55 AM
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Re: The Pages of Punch

These are really wonderful and informative. Please keep them coming !!
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03-11-2014, 11:38 AM
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Re: The Pages of Punch

1880: Exquisite Taste



The aesthetic movement arose in reaction to living in what was then the world’s industrial superpower where nearly everything new was mass-produced. In response there were those who wanted things to be beautiful and hand made.

This cartoon exactly captures not only the actual forms but also the sentiment of this movement. The Arts and Crafts group was a famous exponent of this drive. The other trailblazer was the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood and the bride in the picture closely resembles their famous model, Elizabeth Siddal. The bridegroom is based on Oscar Wilde – this drawing precedes Wilde’s fall from grace by 15 years. The clothes and the furnishings of the time are accurately reproduced in du Maurier’s brilliant sketch. It goes without saying that you had to be quite rich in order to indulge in such passions.

The aesthetes became exceedingly precious and laid themselves open to caricature not only here but also in Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta Patience.
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