This time last year, part of The Royal Gazette‘s history died with its former editor, David White. Twelve months on, we are mourning the loss of another Gazette legend, the cartoonist Peter Woolcock.
His weekly cartoons in the Gazette were as much a part of the political landscape as the politicians themselves. He poked fun at the pomposity and small-town absurdity of it all, not with the cruel barbs of a Gerald Scarfe or Ralph Steadman, but a gentle mocking humour and a knowing wink that more often than not even brought a smile to those being drawn, many of whom paid him for the originals. Woolcock himself admitted (in the video interview below) that he couldn’t do what political cartoonists did in the UK or the US. “They really are sometimes pretty vicious,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any room or need for that here.”
They very much reflected his personality – gentlemanly, modest, compassionate with a deprecating sense of humour and, as Andrew Trimingham, reviewing Woolcock’s annual Woppened collection of Gazette cartoons, once put it, “an unerring instinct for silliness”.
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina to British parents, and a Second World War veteran, he came to Bermuda in 1981 and began drawing his political cartoons in 1983, first in the Bermuda Sun and then the Gazette.
A consummate draughtsman who worked in pen, ink and watercolour wash, he had cut his illustrative teeth in what he later called “the golden era of cartoons” in the 1950s, spending more than 30 years drawing for children’s books and comic strips, including The Adventures of Mr. Toad (his favourite), Tiger Tim, and several Disney books – 101 Dalmatians, Robin Hood, Jungle Book, Dumbo and Winnie the Pooh – although he found conforming to Disney’s strict character formats stifling compared to creating his own.
When I was editor of RG Magazine in the 1990s, Peter was a frequent visitor to our offices – either to chat and share a spot of gossip that usually started with a conspiratorial “Of course, what I heard was …” or deliver one of his splendid works.
We commissioned him to do several Vanity Fair-style illustrations for the magazine, among them two of my favourite covers – a smug Premier David Saul in 1996 and Colonel David Burch in 2000. Burch was Premier Jennifer Smith’s Chief of Staff at the time but was much mocked as being little more than the Premier’s bag carrier. The famous bag, of course, was in the picture too.
Peter Woolcock was truly a national treasure and was tragically killed yesterday after being hit by a car on his way to deliver what would be his last hand-drawn cartoon for the Gazette. Ever the old-school traditionalist (there were never scanned or digitally-produced images e-mailed to the editor, of course), at 88 he still believed in the personal touch.
That touch will be sadly missed. His passing really is the end of an era.
Listen to Peter talk about his art and career in this 2009 interview by Milton Raposo.