GALLERIES by Leigh Hatts
DAVID Hughes' 150th anniversary version of Mr Punch is in suitably celebratory mood but many still wish that Punch magazine had never changed its cover. It is a view held even by some not born in 1956 when the traumatic decision was taken to have a fresh look for every issue.
The original wooden block for the front page is on show in Punch 150 at the Royal Festival Hall (daily until November 17; free). Occasionally there was a Christmas version (by Illingworth in 1947) and for this year's anniversary edition Ralph Steadman replaced Mr Punch's drawing board and easel with a "new technology" screen.
The famous cover, which lasted 113 years, was by regular contributor Richard Doyle who every week received by cab delivery a block of box wood on which to draw a cartoon in reverse. He had worked for Punch since he was 18 but in 1850 he suddenly resigned in. protest at the increasingly brutal attacks on his Catholic faith.
Punch was also rather rude about his home country of Ireland but it did publish Doyle's sympathetic image of the potato famine in 1846. As son of a Dublin political illustrator, young Richard was happy depicting Mr Punch giving advice to Louise-Philippe or Mr Punch in the Royal Box at the theatre with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
Doyle's departure coincided with the restoration of the . hierarchy but the anti-Catholic bias was to continue for the next 30 years. The adoption of Catholic customs by the Church of England only provided more scope for essays and drawings which seemed to delight in depicting vestments and church ornaments in great detail.
One cartoon, featuring Disraeli at the height of the
Church of Ireland disestablishment row, employs a then rare pumpkin face. Although November 5 was a seasonal favourite, Hallowe'en was normally ignored. Tile persecution of Father Mackonochie, Vicar of St Alban's, Holborn, for ritualism was avidly followed by Punch readers. His mysterious death on a Scottish mountain in 1887 was an even greater sensation than Gary Bennett's death during the Crockfords affair a century later in Oxford.
Exactly 100 years also separates two versions of the much parodied "Dropping the Pilot". On show is a printers' proof of the first signed by both artist Sir John Tenniel and the engraver.
Accuracy was everything and the print run had to be halted when someone noticed that the Kaiser was wearing the wrong crown. Paul Thomas's "Dropping the Pilot 1990" features Mrs Thatcher.
Punch 150 is a wonderful free event. Even the famous Punch Table is having a rare public showing. The exhibition's size and comprehensive character is due almost entirely to Punch Collection Curator AmandaJane Doran who sifted through over half a million drawings. Her Punch Cartoon Album (Grafton £9.99) has an even wider selection and quite rightly a Richard Doyle cover.