‘There’s a Lot of it About’

By Geoffrey Dickinson (Columbus Books)
ISBN: 978-0-86287-253-3 (PB)

The government are keen on co-opting and channelling the “Blitz Spirit” these days to embody the nation’s resistance to adversity, but it wasn’t our dogged determination that pulled us though our darkest hours. It was the national ability to find humour in the most appalling circumstances that kept us going…

Since we’re all absorbed by snot and sniffles and sudden death, I thought I’d cheer myself up for a moment with this handy handbook of ailments and medical mis-practice from one of Britain’s best and most influential cartoonists and a time far less fraught.

Geoffrey Dickinson was a veteran mainstay of Punch, Time, The Financial Times and many other periodical venues. This is probably his best collection of gags but his second opinion on medical matters ‘Probably Just a Virus’ is almost as good but a lot harder to find these days…

British cartooning has been magnificently served over the centuries by masters of form, line, wash and most importantly clever ideas, repeatedly poking our funny bones, pricking our pomposities and feeding our fascinations, and nothing says more about us than our rocky relationship with the beloved yet criminally underfunded National Health Service.

Award-winning scribbler Geoffrey Samuel Dickinson was born on May 5th 1933 in Liverpool and studied at Southport School Art (1950-1953) before graduating to the Royal Academy Schools. Set on a career as a landscape painter, he taught art in Croydon, at Tavistock Boys School and the Selhurst Grammar School until 1967.

To supplement his meagre income – governments have never reckoned much to the value of teachers either – he freelanced as a graphic designer and animator for the BBC and began selling gags to Punch as early as 1963.

In 1966, his famous cover for the April 15th issue of Time Magazine was deemed to have officially launched “the Swinging Sixties” and London as the capital city of cool. A year later he took a staff position with Punch as Deputy Art Editor under the legendary Bill Hewison, but still found time to freelance, working for Reader’s Digest, Which?Esquire, Highlife, Hallmark Cards and many more.

In 1984, Dickinson left the humour standard to take up a position at the Financial Times, drawing cartoons for the daily and producing illustration material for the weekend supplement. He died far too young in 1988.

Within the pages of ‘There’s a Lot of it About’ – and following a pithy introduction from much-missed master of acerbic wit Alan Coren – the fit, the fat, the festering and the foolish will all learn the truth about the health of the nation in such chapters of chilling encounters and dodgy diagnoses as ‘The Waiting-Room’, ‘In the Surgery’ and ‘Sharp Practice’, before meeting stroppy secretaries, seen-it-all sawbones and formidably starched matrons, as well as the puling punks, cadaverous clerks and clerics, cocky kids, goofy old gaffers, loony little old ladies, brusque businessmen and other tedious time-wasters all abusing valuable visiting hours ‘On the Touchline’, ‘At the Barbers’ and ‘At the Dentist’

Moreover, as well as warning of ‘Student Doctors’, ‘Showbiz Doctors’ and the ‘Bogus Doctor’, we follow fully-rounded physicians into their private lives ‘On Holiday’, ‘At the Wheel’, in the garden with ‘Doctor Greenfinger’, at the ‘Doctor’s Wedding’, over ‘The Festive Season’ and on ‘The Morning After’, before examining doctors in love undergoing ‘Affairs of the Heart’

These kinds of cartoon collections were once ubiquitous best-sellers available everywhere, but these days are perennial library and jumble sale fare – in fact, I actually found this brilliant cure-all for the blues at a Hospital charity shop in the days before they became so frantically overburdened – but if you ever see a Dickinson (or indeed, any cartoon collection) in such a place, do yourself a favour, help out a good cause and have a healthy horse-laugh with these all-but-forgotten masters of illustrative mirth.

They’re really good for what ails you…
© 1985 Geoffrey Dickinson.