Robert Duncan reflects on his big one.

This girl phoned up and said, “I’m from Coutts – have you heard of us?” I thought of claiming that I’d banked there for years but decided an utter lie wouldn’t get me anywhere, so I simply said yes.

“Because we’ve seen your website and like your stuff.”

Robert and Cathy

Robert and Cathy

She went on to explain that the company was launching an award thingy called The Coutts Prize for Family Business and, instead of presenting some dry old cup or a dreary shield they thought it would be a good idea to present a framed cartoon instead.

I heartily agreed.

I thought ‘This is Coutts. They’ve got a few bob…’ and quoted her accordingly. She jumped at the price which scared me briefly, until she said “No no – Coutts are very fussy and maybe you should allow rather more than that.”

I found myself agreeing heartily again.

Cut to me walking into the multi-story atrium that is Coutts head office in the Strand, and being ushered into a private dining room where a bloke in a bowtie showed me to a luxurious sofa and brought me a gin and tonic.

Lunch followed in the company of Mark, the totally delightful Head of Family Business, where I pushed aside the smoked salmon and the 1986 Latour to scribble out some ideas to Mark’s obvious delight.

So it was arranged. I was to be sent a list of the ten finalists and it was up to me to contact them and arrange meetings, wherever they were.

In that first year I visited the West Country, the Lake District, Northumberland and, okay, Feltham. When the ten venues were called upon, with resulting overnight stays, fancy dinners and lovely people I returned to my studio to begin the process as they say on The Apprentice.

This was good stuff. The Lake District one was a group of luxury hotels, with staff who had obviously been told to treat me with great care to create a favourable impression. A London one was with the chairman of Wates who treated me with a bit of disdain to start with, but soon realised I was super, and became quite charming.


Finished cartoons were delivered to Coutts, and framed to perfection with a little silver ingot set into the mount, boasting the winner’s name and the bank’s logo.

Then regional finals were held in the north (Castle Howard), the south (Sandown Park) and in London (Coutts own swanky headquarters.) In all these venues black ties were in order, and we slurped back quantities of champagne and ate wonderful buffets, all to the strains of such acts as Kit and the Widow and El Divo.

Wise and witty speeches were made, referring to ‘the eminent cartoonist Robert Duncan’ and inviting everyone to the grand final at said headquarters in June, where everyone would have an opportunity to view a gallery of the eminent RD’s cartoons.

And so this went on for five years with my lady and I being greeted like old friends by every one of these captains of industry. Many of them asked me to do other assignments such as Christmas cards, and a couple of nearly-finalists commissioned me to produce the nine cartoon format at their own expense, no doubt so they could tell their chums that they won it.

But nothing lasts forever as my grandmother’s parrot so wisely said – and the whole award thing was dropped shortly after the country took up ownership of 87% of this wonderful client.

Hey ho. On to something else. But I still look fondly at the results. Eminent indeed.