A Sporting Life Snapshot: Tom Webster’s cartoons still delight, almost a century on since first published

Tom Webster - Among the Sportsmen sold over 70,000 copies when first released in 1920
Tom Webster – Among the Sportsmen sold over 70,000 copies when first released in 1920

Daily Mail cartoonist Tom Webster’s cartoon annuals offer a fascinating and humorous insight into British sporting life and culture of nearly a century ago – and a set of them is up for sale.

Daily Mail cartoonist Tom Webster
Daily Mail cartoonist Tom Webster

Born in Bilston, Tom went to school in Wolverhampton. He taught himself to draw and worked for various newspapers, and also in animation, starting out at the Sports Argus in Birmingham, moving to London in 1912 to become the political cartoonist for the short-lived Labour Party mouthpiece, the Daily Citizen.

The British Cartoon Archive notes he was offered £1,500 a year, but demanded – and got – £2,000. “Do not use many of Tom Webster’s cartoons, and always put them at the bottom of the page”, Northcliffe told the Daily Mail’s editor, conscious of the growing power of his cartoonist. But Webster’s up-to-the-minute “running comment” cartoons, refined by his experience of film animation, became a feature of the Daily Mail, and gained an enormous following.

After World War One he got a job as sports cartoonist on Lord Northcliffe’s London Evening News, where he proved so popular that in 1919 Northcliffe transferred him to its sister paper the Daily Mail.

By 1920, Webster’s cartoons were so popular that he influenced the way people viewed sporting events. The Daily Mail put placards at sporting events, saying “TOM WEBSTER IS HERE!”, so that spectators would buy the paper next day. “After the Prince of Wales”, wrote the journalist Hannen Swaffer, “Tom excites more attention than any man I have ever seen at a sporting gathering”.

  • Tom Webster's Annual 1922
  • Tom Webster's Annual 1927
  • Tom Webster's Annual 1930
  • Tom Webster's Annual 1933
  • Tom Webster's Annual 1934
  • Tom Webster's Annual 1935
  • Tom Webster's Annual 1937

The first album of his work was issued in 1920, titled Tom Webster of the ‘Daily Mail’ Among the Sportsmen. The run of 70,000 copies was quickly sold out, and it became the first of a twenty-year series of annuals – and Stafford Books and Comics, run by Adam Teitge, is offering many of them over on eBay.

Webster was also the inspiration for a revamp of the Arsenal kit in 1925. The Arsenal Kit, written by Simon Shakeshaft and James Elkin notes Tom, who was a keen golfer, was playing a game with Claude Kirby, the chairman of Chelsea.

Webster showed up for their round in Blackpool wearing a blue sleeveless sweater over a white polo shirt and Kirby was taken with the look. Kirby suggested Chelsea should wear something similar, but then Chelsea manager David Calderhead vetoed the idea.

While he was having a conversation with Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman, known as the ‘Great Innovator’ at the club over a drink in Sheffield, Tom Webster mentioned the incident and a bulb lit in Chapman’s brain, and he apparently ordered that a bottle of red ink be brought to the bar so that the cartoonist could provide an artist’s impression of what an Arsenal version would look like.

Webster’s cartoons remain popular today, and his career is quite fascinating. My thanks to Adam Teitge for highlighting his work.

Check out Tom Webster’s books on Stafford Books and Comics

British Cartoon Archive: Tom Webster Profile

Buy The Arsenal Shirt: The Official History of the Iconic Gunners Jersey from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)

More about the history of the Arsenal shirt on the Museum of Jerseys

One of Tom Webster’s best-known creations, Tishy the Cross-Legged Horse. Tishy was actually inspired by a real racing horse of the same name who, in 1921, had been widely regarded as the favourite to win the Cesarewitch at Newmarket, but actually finished last. Her owner claimed the defeat was 'simply inexplicable' although Tishy had a habit of changing her stride and so Webster drew her as a permanently cross legged failure. Tishy was one of the cartoonist's stock characters and was lampooned so much by the artist that Tishy became such a symbol for sporting disaster that she reportedly became unbackable! Webster produced a memorial cartoon for Tishy upon her death in July 1923 although did continue to portray her in various cartoons right up until the late 1930s, and she also even starred in an animated film directed under the supervision of Webster Via International Autographs Auctions Ltd.
One of Tom Webster’s best-known creations, Tishy the Cross-Legged Horse. Tishy was actually inspired by a real racing horse of the same name who, in 1921, had been widely regarded as the favourite to win the Cesarewitch at Newmarket, but actually finished last. Her owner claimed the defeat was ‘simply inexplicable’ although Tishy had a habit of changing her stride and so Webster drew her as a permanently cross legged failure. Tishy was one of the cartoonist’s stock characters and was lampooned so much by the artist that Tishy became such a symbol for sporting disaster that she reportedly became unbackable! Webster produced a memorial cartoon for Tishy upon her death in July 1923 although did continue to portray her in various cartoons right up until the late 1930s, and she also even starred in an animated film directed under the supervision of Webster Via International Autographs Auctions Ltd.

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.



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