The World of Pont

New, Revised Review

By Graham Laidler, with an introduction by Richard Ingrams (Nadder Books 1983)
ISBN: 0-90654-038-0

Graham Laidler was born in Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne-on July 4th 1908, son of a prominent painter and decorator. Educated at Newcastle Preparatory school and Glenalmond in Perthshire, he was 13 when his father died and the family relocated to Buckinghamshire. Always captivated by cartooning he channelled his artistic bent into more traditionally profitable avenues to support his widowed mother and trained as an architect at the London School of Architecture from 1926-1931.

Always dogged by ill-health Laidler moonlighted as a cartoonist and in 1930 began a long-running domestic comedy strip entitled The Twiffs for the Women’s Pictorial. In 1932 he was diagnosed with a tubercular kidney and advised to live in healthier climates than ours. In August of that year he sold his first cartoon to that prestigious bulwark of British publishing Punch.

He was so popular that editor E.V. Knox took the unprecedented step of putting him under exclusive contract. With financial security established and his unique arrangement with Punch in place Laidler travelled the world and drew funny pictures, mostly of The English both at home and abroad generating 400 magnificent, immortal cartoons until his death in 1940, aged 32.

A charmingly handsome and charismatically attractive young man, Laidler visited Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, America and many other places. He won his nickname and nom-de-plume in Rome during an incident with two “Vestal Virgin” travelling companions after which he was forevermore “Pontifex Maximus”…

His greatest gift was a surgical gift for observation of social and cultural minutiae: gleaning picaresque detail and broad attitude which translated through his gently humorous graphic commentaries into simultaneously incisive and gentle, baroque and subtle picture plays encapsulating the funniest of moments on every subject pertaining to the great Enigma of Being English in Public and Getting Away with It…

His work was collected into a number of books during his lifetime and since, and his influence as humorist and draughtsman can still be felt.

Although he excelled in the strip cartoon format Pont’s true fully mastery was in telling a complete story with a single perfect drawing. His cartoons exemplified the British to the world at large and to ourselves.

During World War II the Nazis, with typical sinister efficiency, used his drawings as the basis of their anti-British propaganda when they invaded Holland, further confirming to the world the belief that Germans Have No Sense of Humour.

As Pont, for eight too-brief years, Graham Laidler became an icon and global herald of English life and you would be doing yourself an immense favour in tracking down his work. If you like Ealing comedies, Alistair Sim and Margaret Rutherford, St Trinian’s and the Molesworth books or the works of Thelwell or Ronald Searle, you won’t regret the search.

Unbelievably, despite his woefully small output there still doesn’t seem to be a definitive collection of his work. One again I implore any potential publisher reading this to take the hint, but until then, for the rest of us there’s just the thrill of the hunt and the promised bounty in seeking out The British Character, The British at Home, The British Carry On, Most of us are Absurd, Pont and this magical compendium The World of Pont, which comprises the perfect primer by sampling the best of his drawn divinations from his themed Punch series’ ‘The British Observed’, ‘The British at War’, ‘Popular Misconceptions’, ‘The British Woman’ and last but certainly not least, ‘The British Man’.

If you love good drawing and sharp observational wit you’ll thank me. If you just want a damn good laugh, you’ll reward yourself with the assorted works of Pont.
© 1983, 2007 the estate of Graham Laidler.