Osbert Lancaster - much loved British cartoonist, illustrator and theatre designer - is celebrated in a centenary exhibition





Revered as the greatest pocket cartoonist to have graced the nation's newspapers, Sir Osbert Lancaster (1908-1986) was a man of many talents. He published sketches of architecture, illustrated book covers and was a successful theatre designer. As such, he was considered one of the most important artistic personalities of his generation. This week a major exhibition will celebrate the centenary of his birth by bringing together lesser-known and unseen sketchbooks, theatre sets and photographs.

Lancaster's love affair with illustration started at a young age and it was during a teenage trip with his mother to France that he got the idea for pocket cartoons. Drawn in a single column and published on the front page of the local newspapers, the small sketches had captured his imagination.

While reading English at Oxford (where he studied for four years and ended up with a 4th class degree), Lancaster met the poet John Betjeman, and the pair became lifelong friends. Later, after Lancaster had trained at the Slade School of Fine Art, Betjeman helped him get a job on the Daily Express, where he soon befriended the features editor, John Rayner.

The aspiring illustrator suggested introducing the small cartoons, so named after pocket battleships, and was given the go-ahead by Rayner. Following the publication of the first sketches in January 1939, Lancaster's work became an instant success.

In a career spanning 40 years, he drew thousands of cartoons which ranged from Second World War propaganda to class satire, epitomised by his most famous character, the socialite Maudie Littlehampton...

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