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.
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”.
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.