Monthly Archives: November 2014


The very name was sent from Heaven…

Snow WhiteMy dear departed brother was seven years older than me, so consequently never talked to me, and only recognised my existence when he smugly smiled if I got into trouble. When he died far too early I remembered the time, almost the moment, when we became friends.

Family holidays were always at Bembridge in the Isle of Wight, where he had his jolly band of rumbustious friends who sailed round the bay at high speed, played beach cricket, and won all the regatta races. On the other hand I had my little collection of mates who were content with chatting on the sea wall, looking at Jenny Southwell’s legs, and building sand castles. When I was twelve the brother turned up, still in army uniform on leave, and found that none of his jolly good chaps were there. Um…now what? Make friends with that strange curly haired child that he frequently saw around at home.

We got on wonderfully. We walked, and sailed, and built award winning sand castles. And when it was time for him to return to his National Service I accompanied my Dad to see him off on the ferry from the end of Ryde pier. He stood on the back and waved, and I cried.

When he died, I told the funeral assembly this story, and said that I had exactly the same feeling as he left us all at that moment.

And before I get too maudlin, let me tell you that the reason I mention him now is that, on the rare occasions he talked to this tiresome little brat, he introduced me to the joys of Walt Disney. We were fascinated by the fact that this wonderful man, the father of modern animation, had a name and a signature that was so relevant, so perfect. His oeuvre couldn’t have suited his logo more. The joys of Snow White, still one of the greatest movie achievements, through Cinderella, a short called Ichabod and Mr Toad, Sleeping Beauty, right on to One hundred and one Dalmatians, and the Jungle Book were seen, enjoyed, discussed and criticised by these two diehard Disney fans.

So thanks for that Mike. Whenever I see new generation productions, I think of you every time. Today they are brilliantly made, they maybe concentrate more on technique than perfect storytelling, but it would be lovely to talk to someone who is turned on and excited by the very word Disney.

Maybe he’s up there now, waiting for a screening of a new animated classic that hasn’t even reached our world yet…


Robert Duncan meets a stranger on a train…

The GamblerDead of night. On a train going nowhere, I sat in silence in a dimly lit, near empty carriage. Having nothing more to occupy me than staring at my own reflection, I took out my flask and enjoyed the warm nectar burning my throat.

At that moment my only fellow traveller, a wizened old timer, said ‘Howdy.’

Oh God, I thought. Will he get off at the next stop?

‘What’s troubling you, son?’ He asked, obviously spotting that I was becoming hysterical. ‘For a swig of that whiskey I’ll tell you my life story. I told him I’d rather stand head down in my own vomit, but the old boy continued. ‘You’re a gambler son,’ he continued, ‘Lady Luck been mean to you lately?’

I passed over my flask to shut him up and he drained it in one. Bastard. He belched deeply, momentarily steaming up the window he was staring through. ‘You know son, you’ve got to know when to leave the table. Know when to pretend you’re going to the john when you’re really getting the hell away from a bad situation.’

He got out a deck of cards and laid them out carefully on his battered suitcase. ‘Call,’ he said in his rusty baritone, so I called ‘Guard.’ But nothing happened. ‘You’ve got to know when to roll ‘em…’ I pointed out that you actually don’t roll cards, but the aged gambler continued. He got out some dice, rattled them in a gnarled hand, and gave me a toothless grin. Then he got out a roulette wheel, a craps table and finally a large fruit machine.

‘I can see that Lady Luck has been mean to you lately…’ I pointed out that he had already said that, but he continued.

‘Take a card, then throw it in.’ I did and he told me what it was. ‘The ace of spades,’ he said. I pointed out that it had landed that way up, which must have made it easier for him.

As the train rolled on through the night I got to thinking. Would I end up giving useless advice in exchange for a few swigs of cheap whiskey? Would I be forced to carry the tools of my trade on midnight trains? In my case a bricklayer…

Would I make rude noises when there was no one else to blame?

At that moment the gambler he broke even, and passed on to that great card game in the sky.

Silly old fool. I was grateful for the silence.


A children’s story by Storysmith…

Snow God talks to penguinNow as all children know, the Snow God lives just round the corner from wherever you happen to be. And that’s why you never see him. In his more playful moods he will drop snow off a roof as you are passing by, or form some snow into such a tempting lump that you can’t help picking it up and throwing it at somebody. In his more serious moods he plays snowy tricks on adults so they can’t get out of their houses and get at best angry about it and at worst slip over in it. But here’s the thing. He always makes sure that the children love it and are excited by it – and secretly smile when the adults get cross. That’s when the Snow God knows he’s got it right.

But it has not always been the same. Millions of years ago when he was just a young god he played wonderful and terrible tricks with his chilly invention. The most famous one was when he was at a party with some penguins, and made a bet with one of them. ‘I bet you can’t roll this snowball more than a mile.’

He said ‘This snowball? Bet I can…’

So it was arranged. The Snow God went a mile away and settled down to wait for the penguin.

Now penguins don’t like to appear fools, so this one made an arrangement with some friends to pop out at various intervals on the way to the Snow God and help to push.

Halfway there, with about twenty penguins pushing, they were convinced that the snowball was getting bigger. Three-quarters of the way there they knew this to be true because it was taking about thirty of the little chaps to even move it.

Penguins caught in giant snowballNow the end of the mile where the Snow God was waiting happened to be at the bottom of a steep hill and as the snowball appeared, now being pushed by two hundred penguins, he saw to his horror that they had panicked as the snowball began to roll down the hill, and had all run round to the front to try to stop it.

But it was no good. The mighty snowball bounced down the hill getting bigger and bigger, and collecting many more penguins on its way. As the Snow God leapt out of the way the gigantic snowball roared past him and didn’t stop for three days, by which time it had collected millions more penguins. Finally at the bottom of the world it did one more mighty bounce and ended up on the Antarctic.

It’s still there today…


Robert Duncan discusses the serious challenges his week brings, although this exciting article should have appeared ages ago, as many avid readers will notice…

Only for the birdsThere are times when I realise I’m sitting at my desk with a daft grin on my face. Like yesterday, when I was drawing two chunks of cheese giggling, because one was saying “Bottom…she said bottom…” (Immature cheddar.) I’m not saying I spend my life doing that sort of thing but, dear reader, how often can you get such simple joy from your job? Take a look at the attached cartoon. see what I mean?

I spent a few hours last Friday doing a series of cartoons for a South African company because they had to make a presentation to delegates from around the world who only shared one thing in common. Not their friendship, because there wasn’t any. Not their careers, because they differed enormously. Not their skills, because they took in anything from science to technology to marketing. Not their territory, because they were spread all over the place, like a rash. No, what they shared was a mutual distaste for inter-relating with each other. My client thought that cartoons would make the point rather better than the dreaded PowerPoint, and would make these stroppy delegates see each other in a more friendly light. I did eight cartoons that underlined how close they really were, although they were worlds apart geographically. It worked. I had a lovely email telling me how well it had all gone, and they would use Duncan Cartoons again at the very first opportunity. I like that. Can’t think why…

Yesterday I was in a studio doing the drawing bit of one of my speed animations – a two minute film of my hand drawing, seen at such high speed that it keeps perfectly in time with the script, which I wrote. And if you think I’m going on relentlessly, it’s only because I am.

Next week I’m going to Holland to draw more silly pictures at a conference, which could be good, and staying nearer home to paint a great big river boat on a wall. Don’t ask…

Over the weekend I spent far more time than I should have done drawing a cartoon card for a dear friend’s birthday, and then a thoughtful sketch of a small boy trying to get in his bedroom, which is blocked by a giant and very angry pea. So keep reading these bloggy things, because that exciting story will appear soon – under the general banner of stories by Storysmith, a strange character whose one aim in life is to tell daft tales. And what better use could there be for a blog? Don’t even bother to think – there isn’t one.

A long time ago I spent an evening with a friend who was trying to tell me how super it was working on the money market, and how much satisfaction he had got that day. “And what about you Rob? What have you done?”

I told him that the Incredibly Bad People had been pelting my hero from space with exploding doughnuts in an effort to take over the world.

I don’t see him much any more…


Robert Duncan remembers a Beatles connection…

???????????????????????????????Because Gordon, who was the Gordon part of Peter and Gordon, was one of my best mates, I got to meet far more than my fair share of v famous people. And if I’d got to number one in 1964 with Lennon/McCartney’s World Without Love I would have been far less generous than he was, feeling that my old Pinner chums weren’t nearly cool enough to introduce them to the likes of Marianne Faithfull, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and the Beatle himself, Paul McCartney. But not him. He took me with him constantly, proudly introduced me as his friend, and raved on about my dubious talent as a painter and cartoonist. Bless his memory.

The reason I mention it now is that it reminded me of another slightly tenuous Beatles connection. A great friend of mine, later to become my first best man, was a film editor – getting good gigs like Summer Holiday and …um…can’t remember. Anyway, we started a little film company and the plan we had in place to raise the necessary doe to make our low budget gritty black and white British movie was to sell 35mm spacer stock to film directors – who obviously stood in line to buy our fine product.

This is what we did: in those days, my child, they used to have sound tape which was sprocketed and the same size as the 35mm film stock. The mighty film men would then watch the rushes (are you keeping up with this?) in their viewing theatres with the sound and vision running together but separately, if you see what I mean. No? Never mind..

During long silent moments in the soundtrack it made financial sense to splice bits of old film into it, rather than waste expensive sprocketed recording tape.

There you are. You can relax now. Complicated bit over… What my friend and I did was to collect 35mm out-takes from wherever we could find/pinch them. Then we would take a cutting room at Pinewood every Sunday afternoon, and splice all the material together to make up finished reels of spacer stock.

One Sunday, preparing to drive through the Pinewood gates and wave at the gate man in true John Mills/Jack Hawkins/Diana Dors style, I noticed a box of film stock casually sticking out of a rubbish bin. I placed it in the boot, and the very next week I watched it on the Moviola in our cutting room.

Outtakes from the Beatles blockbuster A Hard Day’s Night.

I took the boxes home, and there they stayed, moving with me several times, and gathering dust. Then the Chris Evans show chose as their subject of the day Beatles memorabilia. Mine came in at number five, and shortly afterwards a BBC reporter contacted me for the story. He was wonderful. We sent a CD copy of the material to Apple (the Beatles company, not the other one whose doings escape me at this moment) and they paid me a tidy sum for some junk I’d found in a bin nearly fifty years ago.

Good eh? Who’d have thought I could have had an interesting subject to talk to Paul McCartney about, instead of standing there gorping at him in wonder. Afterwards Gordon said “He liked you.”

Attached a picture of what this likeable lad looked like at the time.



Robert Duncan draws a big paddle boat (and a big crowd)…

Paddle_BoatPart of my illustrious living is going to conferences and drawing whatever gags I can come up with concerning the subjects of the day. I normally manage to produce about thirty conference cartoons, full of wit and wisdom, for the delighted audience. Or something like that…

So last Tuesday was a bit different. For a start I only had to do one drawing. One. Wonderful. Only snag was that it was to be on a wall, about 10ft x 4ft and my every move would be observed by dozens of people.

In a previous meeting with the truly wonderful client, Hedges Law, we established that a form of transport would be a good metaphor for the company moving forward, avoiding potholes, and taking their clients towards the wonderful sunset of success. Coo…waxing lyrical there.

I suggested a boat because I thought I could get more scenarios on a deck than in, for example, a bus. Then I suddenly thought about Gordon MacRae (I’m like that) and came up with Showboat. Bingo! (Or whatever the expression is.) we were on course, heading for calm waters, and the wind was behind us. Enough of that…

My client Nikki, who is a lively young lady who happens to run this well established historically famous law firm, started off the proceedings by telling the assembly about the boat analogy, and asking for suggestions for what the craft should contain. In the meantime I started drawing the river boat as they came up with ideas as diverse as ‘It must have a sat nav’ and ‘How about a casino?’ to spare boats, jetties, worried clients with piles of cases (legal cases), crocodiles, loudspeakers, music, rapids, maps, spotlights and anchors.

As they talked in their positive and very lively way, I kept adding little vignettes to my enormous cartoon. A drawing I had started at 8.30am was only half finished by lunchtime, so I missed that and let all the jolly delegates get on with it. They came flocking back after reviving themselves, and gathered round to look at my efforts. I enjoyed being told how clever I was, and how they wished they could draw like that, and all that was better than any lunch to revive me, and spur me on to the triumphal conclusion. By 3.30 I had completed my task, which included little group shots of their typical client types – and was ready to take my leave, and head home where I was due to pick up my darling Cathy to take her to a charity performance of Matilda. And that was the most disappointing part of what was a very satisfying day.

The previously mentioned wonderful Nikki sent me an email after the event: “Thank you so much for another awesome contribution to our team offsite. Your talent for capturing the essence of who we are, and the ideas and proposals coming from the team, is just incredible. You really add a special something to us all, and your artwork will take pride of place in our office as a great aide memoire of how we are ‘making the difference’.”

I like that. Can’t think why…


Robert Duncan tries that writers challenge of talking about anything (or nothing) at all…

Buzz off - you're underdressedHaving spent the morning with a favourite client I needed time to sit somewhere and make notes about the resulting subjects. That done, and still a half glass of wine to go, I accepted the challenge and am about to write about what I see around me, the atmosphere, and maybe what individual things remind me of.

I have always loved hand lettering, and consider myself quite good at it. In fact I have over 3000 greeting cards to my name that feature that very thing. Not calligraphy exactly, more cartoony scribble. Over there, no there, is a sign announcing that Christmas bookings are now being taken (and there’s a cracker too.) all very nicely done, and looking just like some bloke had come along with a big floppy brush and a pot of white paint and just done it, in a sure and experienced hand. But I bet no such bloke was here at all. Probably low tack vinyls or something…

Anyway, old style pub feeling established we move on to barrels that stick out of the wall at the back of the bar, containing really cool wines. How do they do that? My suspicion is that inside these wood-type containers is some sort of fridge unit that dispenses preset doses of the boudoir of the grape (to quote Fawlty Towers.) I digress. Carpets that you wouldn’t find anywhere else in the world, chairs that are a trendy mixture of styles, beer pumps that look icy cold with condensation but probably aren’t, mono prints of the area in early tymes, rustic wooden tables, the inevitable combo of ketchup sachets and mayo, old brick-style fireplace and…several fruit machines. How quaint. The hostelry of old still exists…

The bar staff are really friendly though. I rebuked the barmaid for not following the instructions on her badge and checking if I was under age, and she roared with laughter coarsely, and slapped me on the arm. Maybe the medieval bar wench still exists…

In any case it’s time to go – I can’t make this small glass of wine last any longer. Eventually they’ll ask me if I want to order something to eat, and I’ll say ‘got any peanuts?’ And they’ll probably chuck me out, ignorant of the fact that I have written the warmest, most personal and glowing review of their establishment ever.

Put me down! I’m Robert Duncan I tell you! Cartoonist! Speed drawing artist! Book illustrator! There, that should secure me top billing in Google’s search engines…


The Duncan family hit the city…

Jamie & and Lego QueenWhat we needed was a bit of time away from being and stop reading about amazing offers from Amazon on and head for the fair city of London.

Cathy had got it all organised, which is her way, and it promised to be two days of delights. Breakfast at Beaconsfield Services, and a quick visit to the pharmacy for indigestion tablets. Parking in a car park that wasn’t near the hotel which was my fault because I cannot be corrected on London knowledge.

We walked the length of Oxford Street which was fun, and educational for Jamie, who was more interested in not stepping on the cracks in the pavements. Our little latter day Christopher Robin showed off the sort of energy I said goodbye to in about 1948, and kept us going at a heady pace. First stop Hamley’s, and I felt my Barclaycard trying to edge itself into the corner of a pocket where it would never be found. We saw some people making rock candy and tried some. We saw loads of Lego and bought a fire engine which broke Jamie’s budget. And some wacky speakers with bubbly water in them for Sam.

And just in time for a glass of wine before The Lion King. My sixth time and Jamie’s first. The fact that I knew exactly what was going to happen didn’t stop me from blubbing through the first ten minutes. Tim Rice and Elton John’s finest moment could be The Circle of Life, with all the truly brilliantly conceived animals heading towards Pride Rock from all directions, including down the aisles right next to us. Wow…

All followed by pizza, hotel, sleep of the just, and rescuing the car (and buggering up one of its alloy wheels) before driving to Westminster and the London Eye, where Jamie distinguished himself in usual style by pushing the emergency button and making the mighty wheel grind to a halt.

Onwards to the Tower (to see the poppies, not to have him locked up) and join the half million people who seemed to be gorping at this truly wonderful thing, tens of thousands of poppies in commemoration of our brave and patriotic boys, without even having to pay to get in. We did though, and it was just as crowded inside. One and a half hour queue to see the Crown Jewels so we didn’t. Bought postcards instead.

Tired but happy, as these sort of stories go, we returned to the car, drove away from the milling millions, and hit the A40 towards home. One Macdonalds happy meal later and we were back in our cosy cottage.

Time to relax, thank God that we didn’t live in London, and drink large glasses of wine as we examined the photo that the Eye had taken of us. Was it any good? Suffice to say the picture that accompanies this article isn’t that one.

Oh, and at some stage I drove them past where the display design agency I worked for in the 60s used to be. Pink flares, hair band, poncing around Mary Quant shops creating ultra trendy windows deep into the night. Gorgeous I was. Still am…