Rowland Emett’s Ramshackle Poesy in Motion

« The whistle of the old steam trains … could conjure up visions of bleak distances with one solitary wail. » — M.C. Beaton

A couple of years back, I gave our readers an introductory sample of the genius (hardly too strong a word in his case) of Rowland Emett (1906-1990), and vowed I would return with a fuller, more lingering look.

Since I got the biographical trimmings out of the way that time, today, I’ll merely offer you an even dozen of my favourites.

Can’t tell a trébuchet from a catapult from a ballista? This handy guide will steer you right!
Prof. Lightning’s moniker is evidently well-earned.
Another inventive step in the harnessing of solar power.
While this particular train route sadly does not exist (as an editor once wrote, “the great Emett, whose crazy world seems so much saner than our own…”), there are some lovely birding tours available throughout that green and pleasant land, from Land’s End to John o’Groats.
Said nationalisation took place in 1948. Here’s a bit of background on that historic endeavour.


Anton’s Spivs and Scoundrels, Baronesses and Beezers

« I was told a couple of bishops had given up Punch when I started drawing for them. » — Beryl Antonia Botterill Yeoman

Ever since I featured my very favourite of her cartoons, way back in October of 2019 — how different the world was then! — I’d intended to return to the topic of Australian-English cartoonist Beryl Antonia Botterill Yeoman (1907-1970) for a more sustained and substantial look… and now I have.

The Anton nom de plume has a rather storied history: at first — their professional collaboration began in 1937 — Beryl and her brother Harold were a two-headed cartoonist who signed ‘Anton’. In 1949, Harold dropped out of the partnership, owing to the rigorous demands of running an advertising agency, and thereafter Antonia and Anton were one and the same, a left-handed (not by birth or choice, having lost two fingers on her right in her teens), female cartoonist in a decidedly male-dominated field.

All of today’s selections first saw print prior to 1952 in the august pages of Punch (1841-2002); it’s entirely possible that Harold had a hand in some of them.

Ah, that reminds me of a certain song: « And tomorrow’s show will say / what they left out yesterday / And that gives me one good reason I should live. »
In case you’re puzzled, this one requires knowledge of a certain English nursery rhyme, which went:
Jack Sprat could eat no fat,
His wife could eat no lean;
And so betwixt them both,
They lick’d the platter clean.

Should you find yourself down Somerset way, drop by The Crown at Wells, a 15th century inn (featured in 2007 in Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz!) that houses Anton’s Bistrot, whose venerable walls are adorned with some choice Anton original art.

This must be the place — order us a couple of pints, won’t you?


Hallowe’en Countdown V, Day 3

« Changing from the ghosts of faith to the spectres of reason is just changing cells. » — Fernando Pessoa

Today, let’s transport ourselves to the foggy, boggy British Isles, where every crumbling castle holds its lot of revenants and spectres within its mouldering walls.

The great cartoonist, tinkerer and beloved eccentric Frederick Rowland Emett (1906 – 1990) was evidently quite at ease within this spooky world, as you shall see. He first came to prominence as a prolific Punch cartoonist, beginning in the late 30s. In the 1950s, though at the height of his powers, he found himself struggling with waning eyesight (an exacting style was his!), so he brilliantly shifted his creative focus to building what he had hitherto been drawing. You may have encountered some of these creations in the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Emett and Roald Dahl… fancy that!).

Scores of his cherished kinetic sculptures — trains (“Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Branch Railway“), flying machines (“Featherstone-Kite Openwork Basketweave Mark Two Gentleman’s Flying Machine“), mechanical computers (“The Forget-Me-Not Computer“), musical hydraulic clocks (“Aqua Horological Tintinnabulator“), musical instruments and nonpareil assemblages… are scattered far and wide across the world’s museums, many of these works restored and in fine functioning order. For instance, Toronto’s Ontario Science Centre owns ten or so (see them in action here!), and the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum possesses a choice few.

Obviously, there is much to discuss about this astonishing creative soul (watch him at work!). In the spirit of manageable narrow focus, I’ve kept it to three of his spookiest Punch cartoons from the late 40s-early 50s. Just consider it an amuse-gueule, an opening salvo. We shall return with a more panoramic view, you just wait.

« But Sir Bedivere always walks the battlements at this hour. Can’t think what’s keeping him. »
« Some say it’s haunted by the First Earl AND the Ninth Earl… I wonder how they’d get on together… ? »
« Go on! You ask Him!… Ask him if he’s on essential business ». This magnificent scratchboard creation was completed in 1947.
In a similar mood, here’s an excerpt or, as the Brits would say, an extract, from Far Twittering or The Annals of a Branch Line, being Some Interesting and Unusual Aspects of the Far Twittering and Oysterperch Railway Presented by Emett (1949, Faber and Faber, London). The caption tells us: « Locomotive No. 3 (Hector) at Mrs. Bristow’s Folly, now used as a water-tower. »
« I TOLD you never to take the 11:50 round by the Witch Hollow loop… ! »
A portrait of the artist, circa the mid-1950’s. Oh, he’s a wily one, all right.

« It is a well known fact that all inventors get their first ideas on the back of an envelope. I take slight exception to this, I use the front so that I can include the stamp and then the design is already half done. » — Rowland Emett


Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 18

« There is nothing new under the sun but there are lots of old things we don’t know. » — Ambrose Bierce

Here’s an unusual specimen: a two-headed, twin-gendered Australian cartoonist. Beryl Antonia Yeoman (1912-1970, b. Brisbane, Queensland) formed, in 1937, a cartooning partnership with her brother, Harold Underwood Thompson (1911-1996, b. West Kirby, Cheshire) when they adopted the nom de plume of Anton.


From the sound of it, Beryl was the power behind the throne, as she produced the Anton cartoons on her own during Harold’s active duty in the Royal Navy during WWII. The pair reconvened after the war and created wonderful cartoons for such publications as Punch, Lilliput, Men Only (ha!), Tatler, The Evening Standard (solo Harold!) and Private Eye. Beryl was the only female member of Punch’s exclusive Toby Club.

Today, a charming bistro named in honour of the artful siblings still operates in Wells, Somerset; it features Anton’s art on its walls. How’s that for posterity?

This slyly cozy cartoon made the cut for the splendid 1952 anthology The Best Cartoons From Punch.

And while we’re on the subject of ghostly radio stories, give one of these a try.

– RG