Visual Humour and the Pocket Cartoon: Osbert Lancaster and a Paradigm Shift in the British Press in the Interwar Years

  • James Whitworth


During the interwar years in Britain, titles such as the Daily Mirror, Daily Mail, and Daily Express made significant editorial shifts to place themselves within a social paradigm that began to fully embrace ideas of popular culture that were both aspirational and commercially orientated. Taking their lead from the American popular press, these newspapers sought to develop and present a new relationship with their readers that sold an idea of togetherness by working to create strong brands which would engender reader loyalty. Foremost among these innovations was the Daily Express’s introduction of pocket cartoons by Osbert Lancaster in January 1939, a culmination of the changing form and content of visual satire over the previous decade. Technology, along with an increasingly scientific understanding of their target audiences, led Britain’s key popular newspapers to embrace the visual lexicon of news cartoons and include a different level of dialogue with their readers that added a new dynamic to popularization, including the strip cartoon and the joke cartoon. However, it was with the daily news or topical cartoon, and particularly the pocket cartoon, that mass-market newspapers fully embraced the multimodal approach to create the mix of entertainment and information that came to define popular culture in the press from this point.