Hampstead’s comic cartoonist Ken on his art imitating local life
- Credit: Harry Taylor
“Trying to think of a joke becomes part of your everyday life.”
Ken Pyne has been part of the British cartoon scene for nearly 50 years.
Aged 16, he got his first cartoon published in Punch, and since then he’s never looked back.
The 67-year-old, who lives in a top floor flat in Flask Passage, has drawn cartoons for the Telegraph, Times, Evening Standard, Guardian and Observer. His series of cartoons has run in the Ham&High for 20 years.
But he’s best known for his work for Private Eye, where, after first having his work published in the 1970s, the satirical magazine gave him a regular spot at a pivotal moment in its history.
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“We’d all gone down to the Grand Hotel in Brighton for a Private Eye event. We got a specially charted train at Victoria and rolled off after a few drinks at the other end.”
The event was one of the first to be held at the hotel since the IRA bombing in 1984.
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“When we were there Ian Hislop was revealed as the new editor, and one of the first things he did was come up to me and offer me a job there,” said Ken.
Born in Somers Town, Ken started off as a messenger boy for the Daily Express before getting his first cartoon published.
While he has since drawn both political and gag cartoons, he prefers the latter.
“The political cartoons are there to make a point. They’re ‘stroking your chin’ jokes. If you’re not doing political stuff, your life is thinking up jokes.
“It can take over your life. You can be stood talking to somebody and come up with a joke, or walking down the street.”
Talking in the book-lined lounge of his home, perched overlooking Hampstead, he talks of being challenged by Prince Charles.
“It was an event for a jubilee, and they had everybody do a cartoon for it. They then asked us to stand by our drawings.
“By then the bar had opened and we were three drinks in. I was talking to another cartoonist, when he turned around in his thick Brummie accent and said: ‘You’ve got a friend,’ and all of a sudden it was Prince Charles.
“He might’ve picked on me because I was the youngest, but he asked me who I worked for, and I said Private Eye.
“Charles then replied: ‘Oh, not that awful magazine.’ To which I said: ‘Well, if you can get in there it’s a very good magazine!’ I then offered to buy him a drink, which he turned down.”
He describes Charles as one of his favourite people to draw.
“I can draw him blindfolded. He talks to trees, he goes on about the environment while flying around the world, and is sad that he’s waited 70 years for this job. He’s a sad comic character.”
Ken is also the “proud” creator of Eye’s catchphrase “trebles all round,” which is used in the magazine. “They’re brilliant to work for,” he admits.
Closer to home, Ken started producing cartoons for the Ham&High in the late 1990s when he had a cartoon published in Eye saying: “Hampstead – closed. Everyone’s gone to Tuscany.”
The editor at the time, Matthew Lewin, asked for a copy and Ken has drawn a weekly cartoon for this newspaper ever since.
He finds the endless stereotypes about the area make it rich pickings for satire.
“One of the funniest things is all those people who have loads of money and are hugely embarrassed about it. Or people moving to the area with an attitude of: ‘Isn’t Hampstead lovely? Why don’t we ruin it?’ And sink a basement extension in as soon as they get here.”
Yet in the decades he’s been drawing cartoons, humour has changed. Ken doesn’t do social media, despite giving it a try (“Who wants to see my holiday photos? I don’t even go on holiday!”) and he’s aware of the risk of offending people.
“I think a lot of people stop because they think people are going to take offence. People take offence on other people’s behalf now, which makes it harder.”
When asked if he’s ever contemplated giving it up, he says: “About four times a day. I’m always packing it in.” Yet in reality, it’s not something he wants to give up any time soon.
“If you can make a living out of it, it’s great. People say I work hard, but it’s not the same. I might put the hours in, but going into an office to do a job you hate – that’s hard work.
“Even now, people still ask me if I have a proper job as well. If I wasn’t a cartoonist, I’d probably have ended up on the dole.”
Turn to p22 to see Ken’s latest effort.