Set 900 words to tell his tempestuous life story for a magazine article, Robert Duncan faces his past…

900 words to tell my life story? Seems rather a lot…

Almost the first day I ever went to school, with the black and white miseries of the remains of the wartorn forties hanging around me like a dreary cloak, I realised that my mummy’s theory that I was desperately attractive, fun and just a bit cute was blatantly untrue. My pleasing lisp just seemed to irritate everybody, and my blonde curly hair, savagely combed into a powder-puff mound, only exacerbated the problem.

Polaroid photo of Robert Duncan at a low ageAdd a few more sad facts – I seemed unable to concentrate, I was quite fussy and girly about eating, and especially that I was hopeless at any sport – and this early incarnation of Fotherington-Thomas who is utterly wet (that’s for the older readers) was in danger.

Answer? Draw my way out of trouble. Anywhere. On the corners of blackboards before the teacher came in, on walls occasionally if I was really trying to impress, or animating stick men to do rude things in books if you flicked through them quickly.

My first earth-shattering cartoon, that found its way into the skool mag and turned me into a non-sporty hero (a rare breed) was a picture of a pilot getting out of a fighter plane with Nelson stuck on the pointy bit at the front, saying “Bad fog over London today.” (Eat your heart out cartoonists everywhere.)

I was ten.That very same year the old King died and I drew a Royal Mail van with a postman saying “They’ll have to change that to Royal Femail now.” My mummy lived off that one for years.

So, exciting beginnings. I was once caned by a seventeen year old prefect (strange places, public
schools, in the fifties) for drawing a sailing boat on a textbook. And what would that drawing be worth now eh? I heard that…

Cut to post-schooldays, and I was the long haired black sweatered painty jeaned art student taking a fine arts course of all things, with a distant dream of a garret with enough north light to create my surrealist masterpieces. You’re right, it never happened and I had to content myself with making a laborious and very bad animated film version of Edward Lear’s The Jumblies. This I filmed for posterity on 8mm, and did all of three minutes of it. Thank God (or that’s what Aardman and Disney say) this traditionally drawn 24 frames per second epic no longer exists.

You can see my 2013 version of this wonderful bit of nonsense poetry, written in the late nineteenth century, by going to It won lots of awards, so there.

By the mid-sixties I was deep into London’s display scene, visualising achingly trendy windows, doing bits of advertising when I could, and drawing large cartoons for boutique interiors. At the tender age of twenty two I was doing display work for Mary Quant’s Bazaar shops, and even did a Christmas scheme for Harrods windows.

I left all this to become creative director of an emergent advertising agency called Byron advertising and spent the following fourteen years helping to bring that company from two employees to 72. High spots included a stonkingly good campaign featuring Roger Hargreaves’ Mr Fussy. I remember being driven round London at high speed by him, as he explained that I could do the necessary drawings because they were bound to be better than he could do. And then there was Brentford Nylons, at that time one of the top five advertising spenders in the country. My campaign ‘Wake up to Brentfords’ featured a particularly silly bird – my reasoning being that sheets and stuff are waking up products, and by saying ‘wake up’ you are saying ‘become aware of.’ Anyway we got it for a few golden weeks and then they moved on to Saatchi or some similar bloke, taking my Wake up line with them.

Hey ho.

1979, and I started again, giving back my top of the range BMW, eschewing my £40,000 a year salary.  My creative consultancy, Punchline, was designed to sell my cartoons, and the creative thinking and copywriting that went with it, to the advertising world.

Cartoons being drawn virtually every day. Plays and books coming out of my frenzied mind like there was no tomorrow. Radio ads on most stations. Over 4000 greeting cards all over the world.

And if I was spending a bit too much on frequent visits to Barbados, LA and New York. So what? I could always make some more…Then in the late eighties it slowed down frighteningly. I reluctantly closed Punchline’s doors and started to work at home, broadly doing what I do today – drawing cartoons for advertising, and hoping on a daily basis that maybe my play Cluedo will tour the country again sometime, with similar record-breaking results, or that The gigantically successful range of Not Particularly Orange greeting cards will emulate their world domination and once more become T-shirts, mugs, cufflinks, notebooks, mobile phone deckchairs and mini cakes. Until those heady days re-appear I’ll just sit here and keep churning out the stuff. What the hell – I love doing it as much now as I did when I was that little lad with his chapped knees and grey gabardine shorts in the fifties.

Trip me up again and I’ll tell matron…