28 January, 2009

Sir David Low

Sir David Alexander Cecil Low was a New Zealand political cartoonist who lived and worked in the United Kingdom for many years. Low was a self-taught cartoonist. Born in New Zealand, he worked in his native country before migrating to Sydney, Australia in 1911, and ultimately to London (1919), where he made his career and earned fame for his Colonel Blimp depictions and his merciless satirizing of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini and their policies. Such stinging depictions led to his work being banned in Italy and Germany.

Low received a knighthood in 1962, and died in London in 1963. Upon his death in 1963, Low was described in the press as "the dominant cartoonist of the western world".

Low was born in Dunedin, and attended primary school there. His family later moved to Christchurch, where Low attended Christchurch Boys' High School. Low's first cartoon was published in 1902, when he was 11 years old, in the Christchurch Spectator.

Low began his career as a professional cartoonist with the Canterbury Times in 1910. In 1911 he moved to Sydney, Australia to join the Bulletin. During his employment at the Bulletin, Low became famous for a 1916 cartoon of William Hughes, then the Prime Minister of Australia, entitled The Imperial Conference. A collection of Low's cartoons of Hughes entitled The Billy Book, which he published in 1918, brought Low to the notice of Henry Cadbury, part-owner of the London Star. In 1919 Cadbury offered Low a job with the Star, which Low promptly accepted.

In England, Low worked initially at the London Star (1919–27), which sympathized with his own moderately left-wing views. He then accepted an invitation from Max Aitken to join the conservative Evening Standard (1927–50) on the strict understanding that there would be no editorial interference with his output. Later he moved to the Daily Herald (1950–53), and finally the Manchester Guardian (from 1953).

In 1937, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels told British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax that British political cartoons, particularly those of Low's, were damaging Anglo-German relations. In 1937 Low had produced an occasional strip about "Hit and Muss" (Hitler and Mussolini), but after Germany made official complaints he substituted a composite dictator, "Muzzler". After the war, Low is said to have found his name in the The Black Book, the list of those the Nazis planned to kill in the aftermath of an invasion of Great Britain.

Generations of New Zealand school students were, and are still being, taught the origins of the Second World War in textbooks illustrated with Low's cartoons and were told that Hitler had a personal hatred of the cartoonist. His works are also featured in many British history textbooks.

One of Low's most famous cartoons, Rendezvous, was first published in the Evening Standard on the 20th of September, 1939. It satirizes the cynicism which lay at the heart of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, depicting Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin bowing politely before each other after their joint invasion of Poland, but nevertheless greeting each other respectively as "the scum of the earth" and "the bloody assassin of the workers".

In 1998, a PhD by Timothy S. Benson was published examining the relationship between David Low and his proprietor at the Evening Standard, Lord Beaverbrook. Benson found that Low's complete autonomy on the paper was not all it was cracked up to be.

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