Norman Thelwell is most famous for his humorous cartoons of little girls and their ponies.
This however only scratches the surface of his life long passion for cartoons. He has had more that 30 cartoon books published
on everything from Sailing to Dogs.
Thelwell was born in Birkenhead on May 3rd 1923, one of two sons of his parents Christopher and Emily Thelwell. The family
lived in a terraced house which his mother kept spotless, Thelwell recalled that his mother thought "anyone who didn't move
the wardrobes once a week was a bit suspect" When the young Thelwell could afford it he would always take the penny bus rides
out to the country. Thelwell could not remember ever being without his sketch book, even though his school, Rock Ferry High
School, did not have an art room. His earliest surviving drawing is a pencil self-portrait done at the age of 10, on which
his teacher had written in red ink: "V. good indeed". He left school aged 16 to become a junior clerk in an office. The second
world war had already started by this time and he joined the army aged 18 in 1941, where he happily carried the extra weight
of his sketch pad and paints.
It was whilst he was in the army that he had his only experience of riding a horse. He was serving in India and the horse
bolted, leaving Thelwell clinging on around its neck. It was towards the end of the war while he was recovering in hospital
that the idea of selling his cartoons came to him after he saw a cartoon in an army magazine. He was soon making a small but
After the war he returned to his clerking job in Birkenhead which had been held open for him. One day he decided
he had had enough and handed in his notice. He obtained a government grant and went off to Liverpool College of Art where
he completed his degree in 3 years instead of the more normal 5 years. He married Rhona Ladbury, who was also a painter and
they moved to a village near Wolverhampton where he taught at the art college.During this time he took a group of students
out to sketch a fox hunt. Standing alone in a clearing, he saw the fox, exhausted and bedraggled, trying to jump a wall to
escape. On impulse, he grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and bundled it over. In later Thelwell cartoons of hunts, the
fox is always putting one over on the hunters. Thelwell eventually gave up shooting, although he continued to enjoy fishing. He
continued his cartoons in his spare time, selling his first cartoon to Punch in 1950.
In a field next to his house were two hairy fat ponies, with attitude! Their owners were two girls about 3 feet tall
and a bit on the round side. Thelwell recalled "As the children got near, the ponies would swing round and present their hindquarters
and give a few lightning kicks which the children would sidestep calmly, and they had the head-collars on those animals before
they knew what was happening. I was astonished at how meekly they were led away; but they were planning vengeance - you could
tell by their eyes." - and so were born Thelwell's characters Penelope and her pony Kipper!
After 5 years of teaching, he final realized that he was making more money from his cartoons than he was from teaching,
so in 1956 he became a cartoonist for The Sunday Express. His first book, a collection of his cartoons entitled Angels on
Horseback, was published in 1957. Since then he has published 32 books which have sold over two million copies in the UK.
He also produced more than 1500 cartoons for the Punch Magazine.His books saw and capitalised on the comic possibilities in
the field of sports, and in the class stereotypes and social repositioning that occurred after the war. He was never afraid
to tackle the serious issues, including factory farming and the damaged caused to the countryside by the ripping out of hedges.
Thelwell enjoyed renovating old buildings to live in. After reconstructing a derelict Cornish mill and its outbuildings -
described in his book A Millstone Round My Neck (1981) - he moved to Heron's Mead, a cottage on the Hampshire Test,
near Romsey, on almost three hectares, where he landscaped a garden and lake; this gave rise to another book, A Plank Bridge
by a Pool (1978). A contented man, he rarely left home, except to play boules in the New Forest with friends on Thursday
afternoons, and to visit the pub with his wife. Otherwise he would spend hours wandering around his garden or in a small dinghy
on the lake. He did not much care for things foreign, and whenever he went on holiday he could not wait to get home.
In 2000 Thelwell was diagnosed as suffering from Alzheimer's.
Norman Thelwell died on 7th February 2004 aged 80, leaving his wife Rhona, and son and daughter, who are also artists.