Dick and Bert. Swansea newspaper cartoons from the early 1900s

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Above: Bert Thomas in a rare self portrait 1906.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Right: Dick German wishes readers of the Daily Post Merry Xmas in 1908.

Dick and Bert

A selection of historical newspaper cartoons of Swansea from the early 1900s.

In the early 1900s Swansea, like many other South Wales towns was a thriving and growing centre of trade and industry, and, in the years before the Great War, a ferment of political and social change. The industries of the port and valley which enabled Swansea to become one of the workshops of the world also contained increasing numbers of unionised workers demanding representation in the changing town that their labour was creating.

The County Borough of Swansea was emerging as a powerful force of local change in many spheres including housing, public health, electricity, water supply, and transport. Of course life in an Edwardian industrial town was not all good news. Poverty, homelessness, and unemployment were all present in ever changing amounts, particularly in the poorer parts of town. In short, Swansea was a community that represented the best and worst of industrial society.

The community was served by a number of newspapers but most particularly the Cambria Daily Leader and the South Wales Daily Post. With regard to politics, the former had a predominantly Liberal outlook whilst the Post was a distinctly Conservative newspaper.

Whatever their political viewpoint, both papers reported local events in almost intimate detail and closely mirrored public opinion on the multitude of changes, social, political, and technological that were affecting everyday lives.

Although illustrated newspapers appear from the 1840s, it was not until the 1890s that Swansea newspapers carried significant amounts of illustrative material. The often quoted description of early newspapers as endless columns of turgid prose is an unfair view. Wordy they may have been, but 1890s editions of the Post and Leader were treasure houses of local gossip, comment and information, worlds apart from their modern successors. Even so, by the early 1900s the inclusion of cartoons and sketches to illuminate a story or enliven a column of text was well established. Whilst it was technically possible to use photographs in these early newspapers, the early camera was cumbersome and ill suited to supplying suitable pictures. The craft of photo journalism was also in its infancy and photographs, when used, tended to be passport style shots of head and shoulders or grand wide angle views often staged for the camera, which could appear blurred or ill defined when converted into newspaper images.

Cartoonists however were particularly well suited to the medium. For a local newspaper concerned primarily with local people and events, an artist who could reliably supply good quality recognisable caricatures of local people, was very desirable. An artist who could also supply a humorous viewpoint was doubly welcome.

The Leader and the Post both used a number of cartoonists, but by 1907 two in particular distinguished themselves by the nature of their work - Bert Thomas and Dick German. The output of both men was at times prodigious including adverts for posters and newspapers, and sports illustrations. Bert’s cartoons tended to be rather artistic and deliberate, an indication of his later success in journals such as Punch. Dick on the other hand seemed a much more immediate artist, with bold pen strokes and penetrating caricatures. His mischievous sense of humour pervades much of his work and gives a fascinating insight into events that often shaped the character of the town. The following pages can only cover a small fraction of the work of these two artists but they serve to give a vivid impression of the golden age of newspaper cartoons in the years before the widespread adoption of photography.

 

Above: Dick German depicts a boy playing cricket in a Sandfields street in 1908.

 

 

The View for Sunday 4 December 2000

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