While an increasing number of observers have expressed concern at the recent changes of editorial tack at the Guardian, some things at the paper remain constant, one of these being its cartoonists, headed for so many years now by the likes of Martin Rowson - and Steve Bell, whose presence has graced - if that’s the right word - its pages for some 38 years. But all that may be about to come to an end.
The string of characters Bell invented as part of his now legendary IF… strip included The Penguins, John The Monkey, Reg Kipling, Inner London Wildlife, and of course Monsieur l’Artiste, a neat way of getting the odd expletive into the paper (the character would often describe people as “Ouanquères”). His use of Bill and Ben also slipped the odd swearie past the censors (“Yobba floggin’ mobrob! Odda wonker an’all!”).
Kath Viner, editor-in-chief, the Guardian
Recently, the new Labour leadership became a Star Wars offshoot, with Jez-Bi Wan Cornorbyn, Chewmacca (John McDonnell), the robots Benn-3PO and Watso-D2, Bozza The Mutt, Queen Lizza, and the one that will have had many on the left nodding slowly in agreement, Ken Solo. His caricatures of Prime Ministers spared no-one, Labour or Tory, John Major never living the underpants joke down. Or the Cones Hotline one.
(c) Steve Bell 1994
So one might have thought the last thing Kath Viner and her editorial team would want to do was to antagonise one of the paper’s genuinely original, and uncompromisingly left-wing, voices. But that thought appears to have been misplaced: not for the first time recently, one of Bell’s cartoons has been censored, and will not appear in the paper.
This strip was passed for publication ...
Bell’s response - the name of the recipient at the Guardian has been redacted - suggests a parting of the ways may be imminent. “After our bizarre telephone conversation yesterday, I heard you might not publish today’s strip, but still cannot understand why the attached should be more liable to legal challenge from Tom Watson than either of the previous two trips that you have already published. You said the ‘lawyers were concerned’, but what about? It’s not anti-Semitic, nor is it libellous”. There is more.
... but this was not (both (c) Steve Bell 2019)
“I suspect the real problem is that it contravenes some mysterious editorial line that has been drawn around the subject of anti-Semitism and the infernal subject of ‘anti-Semitic tropes’. In some ways this is even more worrying for me than specious charges of anti-Semitism. Does the Guardian no longer tolerate content that counters its editorial line?”
He concludes “Why on earth did the Guardian publish, then unpublish, a letter in support of Chris Williamson signed by 100 persons identifying themselves as Jewish, including Noam Chomsky? Were they the wrong kind of Jews? The paper’s contortions on this subject do not do it any credit. If there is a reasoned position on this highly contentious issue, then I would dearly love to see it laid out clearly so we all know where we stand. Or are there some subjects that we just can’t touch?”
Both Bell and Rowson are head and shoulders above many other press cartoonists, especially the obscenely overrated Matt at the Telegraph. For the paper to lose either of them would be not merely avoidable, it would show the Guardian really had lost its way.
Censorship of free expression is a slippery slope indeed. Best not go there, eh Kath?
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