Monthly Archives: June 2015

CONFERENCE CARTOONING

Robert Duncan invests a little time…

Scary-RidesI don’t know about you (well I might do a little) but I have certain words and expressions that throw me into bewilderment so consequently I turn off rather. Examples: sealed unit, fiscal year, cam shaft, lattice work, keyboarding and anything to do with sausages. The last one doesn’t actually fit into the category under discussion, it was just the first thing I thought of.

Anyway, a lovely conference cartooning job turned up which boasted one of these worrying phrases – investor relations. Now I have handled most of these gigs, which are important to Cathy’s lifestyle, quite easily – even road building and colostomy care, but this one struck me as the sort of thing that might need a crammer course in finance, a lengthy teach-in on company law or something, or at least fighting my way through a few dozen puzzling acronyms to discover the truth.

But time was short, and the wonderful society who had seen something in me that I didn’t even see in myself, gave me the job of (b) turning up at their seminar, and (a) making one of my speed drawing films to promote it on their website, YouTube, and anywhere else they could think of.

So it was arranged. A fantastic London marketing co agreed to sponsor me, have their name printed on every cartoon I did, and promote my results on their stand at the event, and a great big television that was to be constantly updated – as I rapidly provided wise, intuitive and witty takes on how the day was unfolding.

And that is why I was creeping around my lovely house, trying hard not to wake up my lovely wife or my lovely boys, at 5.30 in the morning. And that is why I got the 6.23 from Haddenham which took me nonstop to Marylebone just thirty seven minutes later. And (bear with me) that is why I was in Kings Cross, set up, pen in hand, ready to go, at 7.45am.

I attended the first meeting in total bewilderment. They showed my little speed drawing film big screen in front of about five hundred people (and it looked totally fab) and the creme de la creme of the investment industry started to spout on about where the investor relations business is today. And you know what? I began to understand it. It was pretty much you go to someone, tell them about your idea, and they back it (or don’t). So I started scribbling away at high speed, and by lunchtime had produced fourteen apparently funny, quirky and useable single frame mono cartoon gags. Inspired and driven forth by many complimentary reactions I worked through lunch, stopping only briefly to demolish a Danish and a cappuccino, and by 5pm had finished about twenty five drawings. Throughout the day these had been taken away every ten minutes by a nice bloke called Graham, and the next time I saw them they were on a big screen TV for all to see, and catch the admiring glances of the wealthy and friendly delegates.

I had spent a great day on the exhibition stand of MerchantCantos, with two ladies, Amanda and Olivia, who spurred me on to great things.

At the cocktail session afterwards I happily plied them with Prosecco (which was free anyway) and welcomed loads of people who told me how clever I was, and how I could see a situation from a new, interesting and obtuse angle. I liked them all, can’t think why…

I have done these conference cartoon days on obvious subjects, like Volkswagen and World Wildlife, with all the visual opportunities they present – but it’s also great fun to turn up, not knowing what the hell you’re doing, and make it work.

71? Why don’t you retire? No way – I’ve only just started…

PORT OUT, STARBOARD HOME

Mr and Mrs D stow away on the Queen Mary 2…

Queen Mary 2As much as I love our boys, a few days away from them is a guilty pleasure. So when my gorgeousness suggested that we were very nearly old enough to dip our toes into cruising I couldn’t help but agree. And when she said the spanky new Queen Mary 2 was a possibility, well, my boater flew off my head and the deck shoes began to dance.

Regular readers will know that the Duncan family decamp to Spain for several weeks in the summer, and to get there we put the car on the Bilbao ferry, followed by a considerable drive to our lazy haven.

Well, we have always considered that the ferry was a fitting start to this annual event, and food and accommodation isn’t half as bad as it could be. But compared to going on a liner like the QM2? Maybe no contest.

So it was arranged. My wonderful in-laws took over the enormous responsibility of looking after the boys, and we were off. Down to Southampton where smartly dressed people took away our large suitcases (full to the brim with the sort of haute couture that Cathy assumed would be the norm on such a marine adventure. Turns out it was far too smart, as people wandered round the deck in jeans and trainers, not looking in the least like the privileged nobs we saw in Titanic) and drove away our car for safe storage. Onto the wonderful ship, with its staggering eight floor atrium, approached by gorgeous sweeping staircases and glass lifts leading to the delights of beautiful restaurants, stylishly inviting bars, a tempting casino and art nouveau lifts taking you to your stateroom. A complimentary bottle of Champagne waiting, a chap called Chris who promised to do anything to help, and a balcony promising the setting for preprandial drinks as the sun set over the ocean.

Cathy-on-the-Queen-Mary-2I was with Cathy don’t forget, so the first port of call was the shops. Now with all this promise of unashamed luxury seeping from ever gold doorknob, piano playing Cole Porter lookalike and ruched curtain, you could justifiably expect the shops to contain all things wonderful. Not so. I haven’t seen such a bunch of overpriced badly chosen thoughtlessly displayed crap since I last visited…oh I don’t know…somewhere. The Bilbao ferry was ten times better. If I was in charge of selling QM2 souvenirs I would make sure there were beautiful little models of all the ships in the line, including the original Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary (which we used to see enviously from our beach in the 1950s Isle of Wight), sets of coasters featuring posters from Cunard’s proud history, a cut out and colouring model of the craft we found ourselves on, or even a tea towel or two with an emotive design on it. There was nothing apart from a box of fudge with a photocopy of a picture of the ship on it. (The in-laws got that.) Big disappointment. What could we take home for Jamie? Not that he’d care as long as there was an iPad nearby. If anyone knows the powers that be at Cunard, send this on to them, with the name of a very nice man who could design and supply all these wonderful things, who can be found on www.duncancartoons.com

But us British can get over such trials, and several dinners, served next to a window in the most delightful restaurant, with dear friends Peter and Margaret, soon made up for that. Caring service, an inventive menu, and overpriced wine soon made us forget all that. And besides, a day in the wonderful city of Hamburg was on the cards.

The Venice of the North. This was the biggest surprise. The sun shone all day without interruption, and the many waterways glittered as these four excited travellers visited church towers, drank wine in lovely alfresco cafes, caught up with some much missed shopping, and cruised round the city’s pretty lakes. Tired but happy, as the saying goes, we returned to the QM2 in time for a Jacuzzi, some sunbathing, a gin and tonic or two, a visit to the incredible theatre and another seriously good dinner before we were due to sail back towards Southampton.

Imagine a warm perfect evening. Further imagine a group of happy people assembling on the stern deck of one of the most beautiful ships in the world, as a Dixieland band played us on our way. Champagne glasses chinking, the lights of Hamburg twinkling, a heartwarming rendition of Land of Hope and Glory as we sailed up the Elbe estuary. A few tears, loads of badly taken photos, and we were on our way.

Time to explore the ship a little further because we weren’t tired enough to hit the stateroom. Instead we found a late night spot where everyone was eating cookies and drinking cocoa. I may be a simple lad, but to me it doesn’t get much better than that.

Last day at sea. More of the same. Still lots of very nice gin and tonics in the bars, and awful offers in the shops. Packing. Settling up the bill, because everything had been paid for, including the casino chips, on the mandatory card. Aaaaaagh! Big hugs for Peter and Margaret and promises of other adventures in the future.

Off this extraordinary floating town, where every day we had clocked up a mile by walking round it three times, and back to reality. Driving home. Unpacking. Looking at the two hundred or so photos we had taken to bore some unfortunate audience at some future date.

The boys come bouncing in, looking gorgeous.

As Frank Sinatra put it, it’s so much nicer to come home…

THE DAY I LOST MY WALLET

And it was all going so well…

AaaaaghI am proud to be a member of the Cartoonists Club of Great Britain, and even more proud to be best mates with the chairman Ian Ellery. With great energy, and putting all his paying work aside, he not only chairs the meetings, but also arranges get-togethers in such diverse places as Margate, Belgium and Malta. He designs and edits our monthly magazine Jester – a fine organ indeed (and I’ve cut the next line). We all search through our archives, or just put pen to paper, to grab space in Jester, and try to stick to the topic of the month. Ian is a committed follower of cartoonery – worldwide.

So as I got on the train to London to meet him, with promises of lunch, gossip, chat, cartoon stuff and many drinks, I felt strangely happy that I had skipped a day of drawing and actually left my studio. Gin and tonics were ordered almost before we’d said hello, and lunch was arranged. A change from our usual scheme of cheap and cheerful (and wonderful) Chinese nosh – we went for pub grub on the grounds it didn’t involve moving.

After taking rather a long time over this we headed for an exhibition of the work of a friend of ours, Rosy Brooks, in a seedy nightclub in Soho. Her work was lovely, and I was waxing quite lyrical until I discovered I had been separated from my wallet.

It’s the most depressing feeling, mixed with some of the following thoughts: How dare someone reach their foul hand into my pocket? Sod them for using my money to fuel their useless drug habit? Why was I such a twat that I didn’t notice? Have I lost my lovely picture of my family in Turkey? Aaaaaagh – which credit cards did I have? How do I cancel them? Will I make sense on the phone after several drinks? Etc…

Ian suddenly became the most sensible person I’d ever met. ‘Sit down. Think it through. Where were we last? Try looking in your shoulder bag. We’ll retrace our steps. Ring Cathy – she’ll cancel the cards. Have another drink. I’ll pay…’

We were back at the pub which so recently had been a haven of happiness, and host to our jolly lunch. And now here was I, sitting on a cold seat outside, telling my gorgeous wife all my woes. Ian asked the barman, the waitress and anyone else he could find if they had seen a wallet, and they all said no – but if it turns up we’ll ring. One of the most depressing reactions you can imagine.

I carried on giving Cathy more woes when Ian, who had disappeared again, came back and put my wallet on the table. We had left the pub an hour before, walked the streets of London, seen Rosy’s exhibition, and all the time the wallet had been on the floor in the Gents. And nobody had noticed it, walked round it, or pinched it.

Ian got a pat on the knee and a pint of lager for that.

The rest of the day was truly back on the fun mode track, but we didn’t get to the second exhibition that we had planned, Simon’s London Experience, because he finished at five. If he ever reads this I’m sure he will understand that lost wallets surpass almost everything, and drinks afterwards to celebrate finding of same, is highly important. Simon should be comforted by the fact that we were in London to see his work in the first place. So don’t hold it against us.

Star of the day? Ian Ellery, chairman of the Cartoonists Club of Great Britain. What a man…

PUBLISHERS

in a world of their own…

PublishersCurious things, publishers. I am convinced that they actually don’t want to publish books at all – and when they do it’s grudgingly, with a proviso or two, including ‘We’ll totally rewrite your precious manuscript for you.’

Up to 1976 my main claim to fame, apart from designing window displays for Mary Quant and Harrods among others, was that I had had a children’s book published. It was a struggle because (a) I wanted to use my own cartoon illustrations, and (b) they didn’t seem particularly convinced that it would sell. Luckily it did. About 80,000 copies.

Fresh from this dizzy success I put pen to paper again (older readers will understand this expression) and again, and again. To cut a long story short, I now have enough unpublished manuscripts to hold up the leg of the largest and wobbliest table in England.

But maybe I don’t fully understand. Or maybe they don’t. Richard Adams was turned down by ten publishers before he found someone with enough faith in his seminal work Watership Down to push it out to that dodgiest of all audiences, the public. J.K.Rowling struggled a bit before meeting with the sort of modest success that can stop you writing in the corners of seedy cafes and become one of the richest women in history. If I was a publisher I would have turned down Harry Potter by about page ten, labelling it as a silly bit of nonsense on that ridiculously overused theme – magic. So it’s probably lucky I wasn’t in that job, because I may have been kicked unceremoniously onto the street, as my publisher boss flounced back into his Regency style Bedford Square offices.

Incidentally I think J.K.R. is one of the finest authors we have (apart from my friend Sharon.) Under a pseudonym she wrote a brilliant gumshoe detective tale that showed how clever she is, how unmoved she has been by her gigantic success, and how much she still loves her craft. What a woman.

Anyway, back to me (it never drifts far does it). Over the years I have supplied cartoons for loads of books, including a delightful series of hilarious volumes under the banner heading of Curiosities of….cricket, golf, football and politics. Neat little drawings that still look good to this cynical eye, even though they could be as much as twenty years old now. Other subjects that have benefited from my quirky line style include sport generally, psychology, teaching, whisky, teenagers and Martians. But not necessarily in that order.

But my dream is for a publisher, or a smarmy film producer, or anybody really, to step across my portal and offer to take my comic novel A Rum Do to the stars. I have been accused many times of getting so much satisfaction out of actually writing things that I promptly forget to try to get them published afterwards. I have sent copies out to a few of these strange professional book refusing people, but I know what their answer will be, so I stop bothering.

Unless you, you gorgeous publisher, who has just read this article with enormous interest, know any different. You’ll easily find my number. It’s in the book. (You know the things – those lumps of paper you try to ignore…)

HEARTACHES BY THE NUMBER

How Robert Duncan got a unique gig lasting nearly forty years…

Cricket

Firstly, you’ve got to accept the fact that I am namedropping in this article. If you can’t bear it, look away now…

One of my dearest friends in my strange teenage years was a fab Elvis lookalike (who seemed to get every single girl he fancied) by the name of Gordon Waller. In our early years it was privilege enough to grab any birds he left in his wake, but when he became the Gordon bit of Peter and Gordon (World Without Love. Number one in April 1964) the babe trail was almost endless. Celia Hammond, Joanna Lumley, Sharon Sheeley, hints of Elizabeth Taylor.

Gordon was always a wonderful friend. If I had left my Pinner roots for great things and taken up with the likes of Marianne Faithfull, Brian Jones and Paul McCartney I may have been embarrassed by my simple old friends. Not him. He introduced me to all of them. Jane Asher even taught me how to dance the Madison.

So when I moved to Oxfordshire in the mid seventies Gordon was determined that I should meet an up and coming lyricist by the name of Tim Rice, who lived not five minutes away. I’d heard of him. He’d done something to do with Superstar.

The first meeting took place in the Plough in Great Haseley. Gordon was as amiable as ever, buying drinks until we all felt ill, and telling us graphic details of his louche lifestyle. As I fell out of the door, with Gordon’s adventures with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in Australia still ringing in my ears, I thought I had blown it.

However, Tim and I got over this hiccup, and over the following months I got to some great parties at his manorial home, edged my way into several first nights in London, New York and Vienna (the subject of another blog sometime in the future), played bar billiards with him on a regular basis, and on one occasion joined him in a bacon and eggs breakfast at about 1am at my place. On that night he told me the two best jokes I’ve ever heard…

And I got involved with his cricket team, Heartaches CC. Although professing not to be a star side, there were still the likes of David Essex, Peter O’Toole, Mike d’Abo of Manfred Mann fame, Mike Read and John Frieda playing.

All this lead to a yearly publication he produced, the Heartaches Almanack. Starting in simple Wisden form, this slim A6 volume has grown over the years and, 40 years later, boasts perfect binding, 136 pages, and full colour throughout. I have been responsible for the production of all of them apart from the first two, and have drawn hundreds of cartoons, designed loads of ads, and added the occasional witty caption to the photographs I have always taken. You can find some fab Heartaches cartoons on www.duncancartoons.com

One of the highlights of the year is my almanack meeting with Tim, where we weed through all the photos we have gathered over the year, and discuss cover topics, pavilions, teas and all that stuff.

This year’s was finished on the very day it was to be launched – over champagne and canapés at the Oxo Tower, in May. Lovely evening. Almanack and cartoons much appreciated. Mike d’Abo and I had a chat and…oh I’m sorry, I’m namedropping again…