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Donald Zec, Don’t lose it again! The life and war-time cartoons of Philip Zec, 2005

Philip Zec is now widely regarded as the most important political cartoonist of World War Two. From 1939 to 1945 he produced 1529 cartoons for the Daily Mirror which caught brilliantly the defiance of the British people at war. Some of his finest drawings are reproduced in these pages. Two cartoons made history: the first, the notorious ‘seaman on the raft’ cartoon was astonishingly misinterpreted in Downing Street and led to a furious debate in Parliament: the second, a moving evocation of the folly of war gives the book its title and marks the sixtieth anniversary of VE Day on 8th of May. Written by the cartoonist’ss brother Donald, the award-wining journalist and author, Don’t Lose It Again hallmarks a unique talent which contributed significantly to the British war effort. This book is probably the most incisive biography of a political cartoonist since Sir David Low’s own autobiography 49 years ago

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Review by Dr Bex Lewis (2005-6)

Philip Zec, designer of the poster ‘Women of Britain, Come Into the Factories‘, did not see himself as a propagandist, rather as an observer, although he was happy for his work to be used as propaganda. His brother Donald, well known as a (film) journalist/ biographer, writes this engaging text, not as a brother, but as one who recognised the importance of Zec’s work.

The commissioning of the book was triggered by Dr Tim Benson’s (Political Cartoon Society) purchase of Zec’s iconic cartoon, published in celebration of VE Day: ‘Victory and Peace In Europe: Don’t Lose it Again’.

Despite the fact that Zec destroyed most of his original images because he didn’t think they were good enough, the book is well illustrated, largely in black and white. The images, most from the Second World War (or shortly before), are clearly contextualised. Both the book and the images present the Second World War through the eyes of gifted observers, with Philip Zec clearly contributing to the ‘mythical memory’ of the Second World War through powerful and memorable images.

An enjoyable, highly illustrated read – the book follows Zec’s beginnings on the edges of Bloomsbury, his training at St Martin’s College of Art, his move into advertising illustration, and his friendships with Strube, Low and the columnist Cassandra on the Daily Mirror. As a socialist and a Jew, Zec had strong political and social awareness – he was drawn into political cartooning as it was evident the country was on the brink of war (he could not stay on the sidelines drawing goods for sale). Soon after the war commenced, Zec produced the first of a series of cartoons for the Daily Mirror, poking fun at the Dictators (putting himself on Hitler’s blacklist). Zec was not a ‘funny’ cartoonist, producing strong messages, unafraid to shock, although he found the realities of the German concentration camps too shocking to convert into cartoons. Zec was loved by ‘the boys’ in the Armed Forces, and raised controversy with Churchill (see pp.74-81). Post-war, he threw his support behind the Labour Party, continuing his work as a political cartoonist until his death in 1983.

Max Arthur, Forgotten Voices of the Second World War: A New History of World War Two in the Words of the Men and Women Who Were There, Ebury Press, 2004

“The Imperial War Museum holds a vast archive of interviews with soldiers, sailors, airmen and civilians of most nationalities who saw action during WW2. As in the highly acclaimed “Forgotten Voices of the Great War”, Max Arthur and his team of researchers will spend hundreds of hours digging deep into this unique archive, uncovering tapes, many of which have not been listened to since they were created in the early 1970s. The result will be the first complete aural history of the war. We hear at first from British, German and Commonwealth soldiers and civilians. Accounts of the impact of the U. S. involvement after Pearl Harbour and the major effects that had on the war in Europe and the Far East is chronicled in startling detail, including compelling interviews from U. S. and British troops who fought against the Japanese. Continuing through from D-Day, to the Rhine Crossing and the dropping of the Atom Bomb in August 1945, this book is a unique testimony to one of the world’s most dreadful conflicts. One of the hallmarks of Max Arthur’s work is the way he involves those left behind on the home front as well as those working in factories or essential services. Their voices will not be neglected.”

Battle of Britain: Roll of Honour

“These pages catalogue the official reports of the most important event in Royal Air Force history, the Battle fought over Britain between the 10th July and 31st October 1940. For the first time, the complete Fighter Command Operational Diaries for the period have been published in full, day by day over the whole period the Battle. Supporting this official text are a series of pages detailing such facets of the Battle as the Commanders, the Aircraft and the changes in Tactics on both sides as the situation developed. Although some of the Fighter Command claims of the time (I.e. numbers of German aircraft shot down etc.) have since been provd to be greatly exagerated on some days, it nevertheless does give a unique insight into the RAF’s perspective of the Battle of Britain.” Visit site.

Zemen, Z. Selling the War: Art and Propaganda in World War II London: Orbis, 1978

A general work, with a substantial section upon British propaganda. Very heavily illustrated, in fact the images almost overpower the text, but the text is quite ‘learned’ and includes many important details, such as the significance of some of the images contained in the posters, including flags. Posters are compared with other types of propaganda, not simply left to stand alone.

Timmers, M. (eds.) The Power of the Poster London: V&A Publications, 1998

This book accompanied The Power of the Poster exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in early 1998, at which I attended the accompanying conference. The book is divided into three main sections:

  • Pleasure and Leisure’, which focuses upon film and theatre posters, and upon posters that can be described as ‘art posters’, collectible as status symbols.
  • ‘Protest and Propaganda’, which deals with posters which tended to push an idea, rather than a product. It includes a focus upon some of the posters produced to push the ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’ theme, including the 8 Fougasse posters produced in February, 1940.
  • ‘Commerce and Communication’, which deals with the development of the commercial poster since the 1880s when technology expanded the opportunities for design in posters, to the present day, ending with the ‘Hello Boys’ Wonderbra poster.

The book is well illustrated and well referenced, and provides a very good starting point for the study of the use of posters in many different ways. You may be surprised at how many you recognise!

Buy paperback version from Amazon

Reynoldson, F. Home Front: Propaganda 1993

A good primary school book, one of many Reynoldson has written. The book is well illustrated with photographs and poster illustrations, accompanied by clear text which, of necessity, is simplistic. There are several quotes from key figures in the war, which, if the subject is developed at a later age, will become well known!

The ‘Home Front’ is often a popular topic in schools, as so many areas of the National Curriculum can be covered. For instance, one of the topics suggested in this book is that the children are set to designing a propaganda poster of their own, based upon what they have learnt.

Buy from Amazon.


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