Defining The British Character

After a somewhat eye-opening (and eye-watering) shopping trip to seek out a sofa bed yesterday, I needed a ‘quick fix’ of antiques. The horror of the cost (and often poor quality) of modern furniture against the antique, vintage or retro furniture I nearly always buy was just too much. Mercifully, Clapham Junction in South London is home to the Northcote Road Antiques Market, and I found myself mere moments away. I hadn’t been for ages, and felt some slight trepidation as I wandered over. It’s always upsetting and annoying when you return to what was a jolly good antiques centre, and find it full of reproductions, shabby chic that’s really just shabby cheap, or painted ‘French country’ furniture that makes me more distressed than it is. Thankfully, that is most certainly not the case with Northcote Road – it’s still as marvellous as ever. There’s plenty to see from a colourful retro and vintage stand upstairs, to 19thC decanters, other glass, Clarice Cliff, other ceramics, and much, much more. It can’t be easy running these businesses, but they have got it right, and it was encouraging to see so many customers clearly agreeing.
Although I was tempted a fair few times, my current lack of space meant that nothing came home with me. As I was leaving, I passed shelves groaning with prints and drawings and my eye was caught by a series of rather charming prints. From a series called ‘The British Character’, each one gently poked fun at a trait associated with the British, but one that I’m sure we all share. They were by an illustrator called, Pont, which is the pseudonym for Graham Laidler (1908-40).
Born in Newcastle, Laidler’s family moved to Buckinghamshire when he was 13 after his father died. He was a talented cartoonist but, as ‘man of the house’, he had to find a job that would support his family. So he trained to become an architect. In 1932, a severe bout of tuberculosis confined him to his home, so he returned to his cartoons. But seriously this time. Success came in the same year, when Punch accepted one of his cartoons. By 1937, he had become their most popular cartoonist, and societies known as ‘Pont Clubs’ sprung up to study his work. His celebrated and influential style is detailed and tight, with plenty for the eye to see and for the mind to smile about. ‘The British Character’ was his most popular series, and was published as a book in 1938. Other series included ‘Popular Misconceptions’, and the wartime ‘The British Carry On’ which was published just before he died in November 1940. Since then, his name has only been known to keen caricature connoisseurs or collectors.
Flicking through the large selection, I could have happily taken any one (or ten) home for my walls. But with a limited budget, I had to settle on one. My choice was easy – ‘Passion For The Antique’.

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