Cartoonist Calman’s sketches of the human mind inspire Freud Meseum show

PUBLISHED: 15:56 05 March 2014 | UPDATED: 15:56 05 March 2014

I hope I'm not boring you

I hope I'm not boring you


As institutions go, newspaper cartoonists are the most unassuming breed. Yet what would The Telegraph be without Matt Pritchett – indeed, where would the Ham&High be without the revered Ken Pyne?

As institutions go, newspaper cartoonists are the most unassuming breed. Yet what would The Telegraph be without Matt Pritchett – indeed, where would the Ham&High be without the revered Ken Pyne?

Before both of these men came Mel Calman, whose daily sketches illuminated The Times for 30 years. As a new exhibition at the Freud Museum shows, his acute observations of the human mind – portrayed through his famous “little man” figures – are a crucial part of the paper’s history.

“Mel was always very interested in the human psyche,” says Claire Calman, his daughter and curator of the exhibition. “I remember one of his cartoons featured a doctor with a patient asking, ‘do you have something for the human condition?’”

Calman, who was born in Stamford Hill, died in 1994 at the age of 62 while attending the cinema with his then-partner, the novelist Deborah Moggach.

His career as a cartoonist stretched back nearly 40 years, starting out drawing for the Daily Express’s William Hickey column before eventually establishing his famously big-nosed “little man” cartoons at The Times.

“When Mel first started drawing, his style was more complicated and conventional. As he grew more confident, he realised he could be simpler because a lot of the strength was in the caption.

“His insight was in portraying what the average man on the street made of complicated issues. He was a good designer and very good at refining this economy of style.”

Claire, a Hampstead Garden Suburb resident, recalls how Calman was constantly flitting from project to project to provide for his family. He was married and separated twice, but “very comfortable in the company of women, which they often noticed and warmed to”.

“People would ask him how long it took to draw a cartoon. He would always say one hour and 25 years. It took a long time to develop but often, when he actually sat down to draw them, it would be just when the paper was going to bed. It sounds horrendously stressful to me but that’s how he worked.”

The artist found inspiration everywhere: “He used to draw all of the time. Most people who do it, there’s not much difference between the job and who they are. If we went to a café, he’d start drawing on the tablecloths. Occasionally, he’d even start scribbling on white linen.”


As Claire acknowledges, those who make a living from humour are often riddled with depression and Calman was no exception. While never diagnosed, he was struck in “bouts” and much of this is evident in the cartoons.

“There’s certainly a darkness to them, particularly the political cartoons, where they seem almost resigned to the world being a mess.”

Nonetheless, Claire believes Calman would have been delighted at the exhibition, Calman Meets Freud, which picks out his most psychologically challenging cartoons.

“My dad would have been absolutely chuffed. He was an ardent fan of Freud – even in one of his book’s dedications, where he was acknowledging his family, he still managed to slip in a thank you to Freud and Jung.”

Calman Meets Freud is at the Freud Museum until March 16. For more information, visit

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Ham&High. Click the link in the yellow box below for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years, through good times and bad, serving as your advocate and trusted source of local information. Our industry is facing testing times, which is why I’m asking for your support. Every single contribution will help us continue to produce award-winning local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Thank you.

Most Read

Most Read

Latest from the Hampstead Highgate Express