In my youth I was fortunate to have been exposed to drawings created by some of the greatest observational image makers of the 20th century. My grandmother was a loyal reader of the Daily Express newspaper and that meant I would constantly be looking at the work of Roy Ullyett in the sports section, Giles cartoons somewhere in the middle of the paper and Norman Thelwell. Known simply as, Thelwell.
In 1953 Thelwell was to draw a pony cartoon for Punch magazine, inspired by his observation of two fat, hairy ponies of uncertain temper, that lived in a field next to his home. “They were owned by two little girls about three feet high who could have done with losing a few pounds themselves”, he recalled. “They would arrive to collect their mounts in yellow pullovers, tiny jodhpurs and velvet safety helmets. I could hear the air whisper as they tested their whips - so could Thunder and Lightning, who pointedly ignored them and went on grazing.”
The reaction to the draw was startling and from that moment he would be forever regarded as the unofficial country cartoonist and creator of “The Thelwell Pony” and Pony club girls. He would continue to make images and drawing for Punch, for further 25 years.
In 1956, Thelwell was offered the leading cartoonist's job on the News Chronicle and The Sunday Express, and promptly turned freelance, leaving a teaching post at Wolverhampton College of Art. On his first day, however, he found that the office was too distractingly noisy, and spent the rest of his working life at home, sending his cartoons in by train. By 1960, he had drawn 387 cartoons for the newspaper. In 1966 Thelwell was one of the founder members of the British Cartoonists’ Association.
Thelwell signed his cartoons ‘Thelwell’, written with blob serifs in a wavy line, but his landscapes and other formal paintings carried the signature ‘Norman Thelwell’.
His freelance work included Lilliput, Daily Express, John Bull, Picture Post, Eagle, New Review, Countryman and Esquire. He produced book jackets, worked for television, and drew for advertising - clients including Guinness, and the Royal Mail.