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It’s a mug’s game

Martin Rowson’s devastating caricatures are the best antidote to today’s culture of slick spin, writes Lord Kenneth Baker

Mug Shots by Martin Rowson
Politico’s, £25


Former Labour leader Michael Foot drawn in March 2000


Jon Snow TV presenter and journalist drawn in May 2002


Former deputy leader of the GLC and the New Journal’s literary editor Illtyd Harrington drawn in December 2001

IN the 18th century Charles James Fox made Brooks’s Club in St James’s the rallying point for the Whigs. In the late 20th century Michael Foot made the Gay Hussar Restaurant in Greek Street, Soho, the rallying point for Old Labour. You could find Michael there with Nye Bevan, Tom Driberg, and Sidney Silverman tucking into delicious goose and good Hungarian red wine. Utopias were dreamt up; plots hatched; manifestos written; and faint hearts coruscated. As a Tory I enjoyed dropping into the Gay Hussar from time-to-time to have a peep into the enemy’s camp.
The Gay Hussar was founded by one of the great bon-viveurs, Victor Sassie, and it is now under the imaginative leadership of John Wrobel. John had the idea of having his most celebrated clients cartooned by Martin Rowson. From 1999 to 2005 journalists, editors, Trades Union leaders, spin doctors, TV interviewers and politicians have all been captured by Rowson and the result pinned to the walls. Most came from the Labour Party – there are only five Tories of which I am very proud to be one – and no Liberals. It is a remarkable gallery that captures a generation of political activists.
Martin Rowson, who draws for the Guardian as well as several other magazines and papers, was an inspired choice as he is one of the most gifted cartoonists in Britain today. He can quickly capture the characteristics of his target whom he then makes unforgettable. There is Greg Dyke with his pugilist hands; Jeremy Paxman unusually covering his mouth with his hand before he talks; John Mortimer re-telling old anecdotes; Michael Portillo with his large lips and less recognised, rather hooded right eye; Lord Longford looking like an Old Testament prophet and spilling his food onto his trousers; and the caricaturist’s bad dream, Charles Clarke, whose appearance is naturally so exaggerated – beard, big ears, balding and fat – what more can a caricaturist do?
Rowson has also provided very interesting comments on his targets. Robin Cook admired his caricature with large, exaggerated forehead as it implied there was behind it a large, exaggerated brain.
On a smiling Norman Lamont Rowson managed to affix a pro-Europe cufflink which the ex-Chancellor didn’t notice. Michael Howard will not thank Martin Rowson for his caricature which captures the eyes and lips in a sinister way. Michael Heseltine boasted of his collection of caricatures hanging up on the stairs of his home but complained about how much cartoonists charge for their work.
Ken Livingstone complained that Rowson always drew him too fat but that did not prevent the Mayor appointing Rowson as the Cartoonist Laureate for London so that he could ‘follow him everywhere whispering in his ear, “Stop looking so f***ing smug”.
Rowson’s fee is a pint of London Pride per annum – he’s owed two pints.
When a politician is caricatured it means he has ‘arrived’ – a sign of recognition. The vast majority of MPs in this present parliament will never be caricatured in a national newspaper, or even in their own local paper, but I bet they would love to be. However unfair the portrayal it is a form of public recognition.
My comment on my caricature was ‘A truish likeness.’ Roy Hattersley had perhaps the best defence of any of us by saying to Rowson: “there’sh more of you than me in thish cartoon”. A nice way of disowning the image but the fact is that the cartoons are there, lining the walls of the Gay Hussar Restaurant.
I would urge you to go there and while having an excellent meal try to spot if any of those cartooned on the walls are dining there too. In Brown’s hotel in Mayfair there is a room filled with pencil drawings of the politicians of the early 19th century who used to meet there for dinner. This book is result of the Rowson-Gay Hussar version and it will provide endless
entertainment for generations to come.

• The Rt Hon Lord Baker of Dorking is a former Conservative MP and collector of political cartoons. He served as Home Secretary, Education Secretary, and Environment Secretary during the 1980s and early 1990s. He was Chairman of the Conservative Party at the time Margaret Thatcher resigned in 1990.
   
   
 
All content © New Journal Enterprises, 2005