‘The Life Guardsman Who Dropped It’, published in The Tatler Christmas Number, 1935.
It’s the Epsom Derby this weekend, one of the highlights of what was once widely known as ‘the Season’ – a round of social events beginning with the Summer exhibition private view at the beginning of May and ending with Cowes Week in early August. Many of the key events of the Season still remain of course; the Derby, Ascot, Wimbledon, Henley, but equally plenty of traditions have disappeared. Court presentations, when the daughters of the upper classes made their curtsey to the King and Queen, were stopped by the Palace in 1958. The famous clubs like Ranelagh, where society flocked to enjoy polo, gymkhanas and tea on the lawn disappeared long ago, and the whirligig of parties, balls and cocktail parties that any self-respecting debutante would stoically endure have been replaced these days by music festivals and roof bars – open to all and not just the privileged few. Nevertheless, though a shadow of its former self, the Season remains a sort of mythical blueprint for the quintessential British summer.
A quintessential British cartoonist was H.M. Bateman (1887-1970), whose cartoons poking fun at polite society were to make him a household name. Bateman contributed to many magazines during his long career, including Punch and The Strand (both held here at Mary Evans) but is most closely associated with The Tatler, who published hundreds of his cartoons during the 1920s and 30s. Many of them were prefixed with ‘The Man Who…’ and portrayed all kinds of nerve-shredding, toe-curling social faux pas, much to the delight of its readers who, in a typically self-deprecating English fashion, rather liked Bateman’s acerbic take on the pettiness and pedantry of their privileged world. H.M. Bateman’s style, using quick-fire, efficient line, and frequently bold colour, instilled a frenetic movement in his characters and firmly equated appearance with feelings. Thus the wretched chap who dares to wear a bowler hat in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot visibly shrinks in the looming presence of those correctly attired in top hats and tails. Blustering colonels go puce with incandescent rage, quivering men go green with fear of their imperious mother-in-laws. And the shock of one small Etonian, who is aghast to see his parents arrive in a charabanc for the Fourth of June celebrations, is only magnified by the disdainful and snobbish profiles of his fellow pupils. Who better to portray the London Season? We give you here, ten of Bateman’s best cartoons on the subject. They may parody the posh crowd but form a peculiarly appropriate celebration of the London Season.
‘The Horse that Took the Wrong Turning at Epsom’, published in The Tatler, 6 June 1933.
‘The Outrage – or Someone Throws Confetti at a Society Wedding’, published in The Tatler, 21 June 1933. June is of course, the wedding season. Bateman’s wedding sees a bride, groom, guests and assembled spectators look on in shock as one lady does something that can only be described as vulgar – she throws confetti.
‘Light Refreshments – The Private View’, published in The Sketch, 1 July 1914. The opening of the summer exhibition at Burlington House was the starting pistol for the summer season though visiting other art exhibitions would be one of the many sources of amusements for those doing the Season. This Bateman cartoon is taken from The Sketch in 1914, so earlier than others (and hence in black & white). Bateman brilliant conveys the silent, isolated fury of an artist who discovers guests at his exhibition are shamelessly more interested in the canapés.
‘My Hat! The Winner, Ascot’ published in The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News, 16 June 1928.
‘The Dirt Track Rider Who Appeared in Rotten Row’ published in The Tatler, Christmas Number, 1929. Rotten Row in Hyde Park has traditionally been the place to see and be seen, particularly on horseback.
As custodians of the Illustrated London News archive, containing The Bystander, The Sketch, The Tatler and The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News (all of which Bateman contributed to), we have one of the biggest collections of H. M. Bateman cartoons, and it’s growing all the time. To see a wider selection click here.
All cartoons © H. M. Bateman Designs Ltd/Illustrated London News/Mary Evans Picture Library