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Bulldog Churchill: The Evolution of a Famous Image

Finest Hour 106, Spring 2000

Page 18

BY DOUGLAS J. HALL

The Evolution oi a Famous Image


ON 8 JUNE 1940, less than a month after Churchill became Prime Minister, the Daily Express published a cartoon by Sidney Strube. Standing pugnaciously astride a map of the British Isles was a bulldog wearing a collar with a number 10 tag and a steel helmet captioned “Go To It.” Well—not quite a bulldog, because grafted onto the sturdy canine body were the unmistakable bejowled features of Winston Churchill.

Sidney Strube’s association of the Prime Minister with that broad-headed, muscular breed was to become almost a latter-day personification of John Bull, the 17th century literary character deemed to be representative of the British people. Strube (1891-1956), a true Cockney, was staff cartoonist for the Daily Express from 1912 until 1948. Like David Low (FH 80) his cartoons had generally attacked Churchill before World War II united political enemies. His Churchill/bulldog association was to be picked up by many other artists throughout World War II. The slogan “Go To It” featured on many Ministry of Information posters.

Later in 1940 Henri Guignon’s cartoon was issued as a colour poster in the United States. It had the same Churchill head and bulldog body combination, but this time standing astride a Union Flag with the caption, “Holding the Line!” The Nazi occupation of much of mainland Europe was causing some concern amongst many Americans over the future of world democracy and a rising debate over whether the United States should become involved in another war. The poster expressed the image of Churchill representing “the last bulwark against totalitarianism,” appealing to a growing lobby of American opinion. The drawing later appeared in Britain as a postcard.

“Poy” (Percy Fearon) had retired as staff cartoonist at the Daily Mail in 1938, but he continued to draw cartoons on special occasions until his death in 1948. In 1941 he drew a cartoon captioned “Accent on the Win” with the Churchill’s head/bulldog body combination standing on the Union Flag; Churchill glares through a large “V” and the smoke from his cigar spells out, “Touch it if you dare.” This cartoon was not published at the time but first appeared in The End of a Tale: A Tribute to Poy, a posthumous anthology of the best of Poy’s work which revealed that he had first featured Churchill in a cartoon in November 1914.

In August 1942 Churchill flew from Cairo to Moscow to visit Stalin and an Illingworth cartoon in Punch of 26 August added a large pair of wings to the man/dog hybrid and gave it the caption, “The Bulldog has Wings.” Leslie Illingworth (1902-79) had succeeded Poy as staff cartoonist at the Daily Mail in 1939, although he continued to contribute regularly to Punch. He was among the most prolific portrayers of Churchill in cartoon form.

“Vicky” (Victor Weisz, 1913-1966) was of Hungarian parentage and born in Berlin. He came to England in 1935 and worked as a freelance as well as for several newspapers. His cartoon for Time and Tide on 10 July 1943 used the Churchill head/bulldog body device to comment upon the increased bombing attacks by the RAF on German targets above the caption ‘”Never was there such a case of the biter bitten’ —Mr. Churchill.”

SCULPTORS and potters also picked up the theme. A bronze cigar-smoking bulldog wearing a yachting cap at a jaunty angle was captioned “Winston.” Another bronze figure had Churchill and a bulldog side-by-side in equally aggressive stances. I have seen Churchill/bulldog combinations carved in wood and moulded in plaster. Burgess & Leigh included a bulldog in the design of their Churchill toby jug, as did Wilkinson’s and Kevin Francis Ceramics. The Burgess & Leigh jug, designed by Ernest Bailey, carries an inscription on the base reading, “John Bull Churchill 1940 ‘We shall defend every village, every town and every city.'” Under wartime restrictions the toby was originally available on the UK market only in a plain white undecorated version. Coloured examples were designated for export to Commonwealth countries and the USA. Although some UK newspaper cartoonists had picked up on the
Churchill/bulldog theme before the “Bulldogs” toby first went on sale in 1941 it is generally acknowledged that Ernest Bailey was the prime mover behind the winsome twosome.

The concept quickly caught on and Churchill/bulldog combinations were produced in every conceivable style and material. Various ashtrays depicted the duo with captions like “The Star-Turns” and “Who Said Hitler?” Royal Doulton and Crown Devon produced bulldog figures which, although having a dog’s features, sported a yachting cap and a cigar so that the allusion was entirely clear.

So far as is known only one pottery came up with the Churchill’s head and bulldog body combination. The pottery is unknown and the piece, in an unglazed gold finish, is extremely rare. It may be found in colour on page 173 of Ronald Smith’s Churchill: Images of Greatness.

IT TOOK fifty-five years for a pottery to take the opposite approach and transplant a bulldog head onto Churchill’s body! “Bulldog Winston” came from Robert Harrop of Shifnal, Shropshire. It was an addition to his Country Companions series of “almost human canine characters” which presents all breeds of dogs in amusingly apposite human form and costume. “Bulldog Winston” is 5 1/2 inches tall. He has a cigar firmly clamped in his jaw and wears a homburg hat, bow tie, waistcoat, watch chain, black jacket and pin-striped trousers. Clutching a pair of gloves in one paw and a walking stick in the other, this little figure leaves us in no doubt at all over who is being celebrated. 


Mr. Hall is Finest Hour’s Features Editor.

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