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Times cartoonist Peter Brookes: ‘I show the anger that I feel’

Gerald Isaaman talks to Times cartoonist Peter Brookes, subject of a new exhibition

26 October, 2017 — By Gerald Isaaman

DRAWING cartoons for living may seem something of a joke. And the more so if you can explode your hostility at our confused. divided and crisis-filled world by taking pot shots at the very politicians you hold responsible.

Yet Peter Brookes considers the almost daily routine hard graft, even working in a soundproofed den looking out on The Times newsroom on the 11th floor of the “Baby Shard” tower at London Bridge.

The celebrated cartoonist – he has been awarded a CBE and named Cartoonist of the Year some six times – is now 74 and feels the strain of a long day that begins listening to Radio Four’s Today programme, attending the morning editorial conference and then producing an immaculate finished cartoon by 7.30pm.

But he has no intention of retiring. “I am going on working for as long as I can,” he insists. “There is no doubt that I find it harder now than I did because the week is a bit more knackering than it used to be. But it’s a way of life and, once you stop, what do you do?”

That’s why admirers will still have a chance to buy some of his hard-hitting cartoons, hilarious ones too, at an exhibition of Brookes’ work opening at the Chris Beetles Gallery in St James’s today (Thursday).

And they can see that age hasn’t softened his often-vicious attitude towards his political victims, especially President Donald Trump, a frequent subject for him, although Brookes’ admits: “It’s not always easy to make a joke about a joke!”

This year and last, he says, have provided much grist to the cartoonists’ mill.

“I am very anti-Brexit and make how I feel pretty obvious with the main protagonists like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Theresa May herself,” Brookes declares. “I show the anger that I feel. And that’s because I think they’re taking the country to hell in a cart basically, and that’s not a good thing.

“Yes, I am a Labour supporter but Brexit doesn’t fall into an easy political label like that. Jeremy Corbyn is very much a Leaver himself, very much a Brexit supporter, although he tries to put it across as something slightly different.”

Nevertheless, he believes that Corbyn’s turbulent career will result in him entering No 10 as prime minister, adding: “It depends how he plays it and it depends how difficult things get for Theresa May. And they’re certainly not getting any easier.

Indeed, Brookes’ own peripatetic life and career could have been different. Born in Liverpool, the son of an RAF pilot, he went to boarding school in Cumbria, and grew up in atmosphere where art at home and school wasn’t considered a serious subject, although it was Brookes’ personal passion.

So he trained unsuccessfully to become a pilot before ending up in art school, first in Manchester, then at St Martin’s, in Charing Cross, while living in digs in St John’s Wood. Subsequently, he lived for two years in Steeles Road, Hampstead, before eventually finding an affordable home for himself and his newly-wed wife in Greenwich.

He was unaware that Steeles Road was once the home of the late post-war cartoonist George Weisz, otherwise Vicky, and that Hampstead too was the home of David Low, another post-war political cartoonist whose black and white jibes he acknowledges for their skill.

“But they are not really the same sort of cartoonist I am,” explains Brookes. “What we do now is, strangely, governed by an awful lot of different things in what is a very different digital world compared to the drawings they were doing back in the 1950s and 60s.

“Television and the celebrity age has made a huge difference nowadays and the look of cartoons is totally different, as we all work in colour now and they never did. People too are so much more visually attuned these days because of television.”

While his work has appeared in the New Statesman, the Spectator and the Radio Times, Brookes has been devoted to The Times since 1992 and has only praise for its much-criticised owner Rupert Murdoch.

“If I had any problem working for Murdoch, then I wouldn’t be at The Times,” he says. “He’s a Trump supporter, for example. He’s a Brexiteer. To me, he saved the newspaper that I love and work on. For me, he is not the bogeyman he seems to be for most people.

“He loves newspapers. I have had nothing but good dealings with him when I’ve seen him, which has been quite often.

“I applaud him for the fact that he is perfectly happy to tolerate people like me working on his newspaper when I don’t believe half the stuff said about him. He’s not the dragon he is made out to be, telling everybody what to do and how to do it.”

Hence Brookes’ popularity with his past shows at Chris Beetles Gallery totalling 823 so far. At the new exhibition his coloured daily cartoons sell at £1,450 and his noted Nature Note cartoons for £1,750.

Interesting Times: Peter Brookes is at Chris Beetles Gallery, 8 & 10 Ryder Street, St James’s, SW1Y 6QB, until November 11. Details: 020 7839 7551/www.chrisbeetles.com

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