14 facts about Les Tanner

By Gwylym Owen

Les Tanner (15 June 1927 – 23 July 2001) was an Australian cartoonist and journalist.

Les Tanner was born in Redfern, Sydney. He began drawing at the age of five, at went to educational at Glebe Primary School and North Newtown Intermediate High. As a child he appeared in a number of films including comedian George Wallace’s Gone to the Dogs, Our Gang, an RTA commercial co-starring Gloria Dawn and Forty Thousand Horsemen. He began his career at The Daily Telegraph in 1942, as a printer’s devil. Soon transferred to the press artists room, he worked under the mentorship of Senior Artist Frank Broadhurst and William Edwin Pidgeon, (aka WEP) a three-time Archibald Prize winner, and far along Illustrator Tommy Hughes. At eighteen, Tanner was sent to Japan by the editor Brian Penton to perform at BCON – the Occupation Force Newspaper – as a cartoonist and journalist. Pidgeon had introduced him to the works of Hokusai and additional ukiyo-e artists, including Utamaro; and much of Tanner’s spare time and staff sergeant’s pay was spent buying as many woodblock prints as he could whilst there. It was in Japan, that Les Tanner moreover met his lifelong buddy and fellow artist, Gus McLaren, when he was sent to interview him more or less his role in teaching art to the Japanese in Osaka.

On his recompense to Australia, Tanner allied the A.M. Magazine as an illustrator in the past returning to The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, where he had his first assignment as a political cartoonist. His popularity grew and he was soon cartooning a week in review page each week, as capably as brute daily cartoonist. He well ahead became Art Director at The Bulletin. When he drew a controversial computer graphics of Sir Henry Bolte, then premier of Victoria, to illustrate Editor Peter Coleman’s article adjoining capital punishment, Sir Frank Packer pulped each and every one edition of the magazine. Packer had not thought approximately the airmail delivery of this edition to Melbourne, where the considering morning it appeared upon the news stands at Flinders Street. Nor had he thought not quite subscription copies, so that many regular readers conventional the magazine despite his best efforts. Packer went upon to ban a BBC television program on capital punishment due to air on GTV-9 – one of Packer’s own television stations on 31 January 1967. But the vibrancy and editorial achieved even greater emphasis in the public domain past ABC television ran a story upon it and the banned Channel 9 program that night, under the banner of censorship of the press, much to the glee of both Tanner and Coleman. Throughout the fifties and sixties, Tanner was one of the few cartoonists of the period to regularly make more noticeable the plight of the first Australians in Australia. As an liberal for social justice in anything its forms, Tanner enjoyed challenging racism head upon because it consequently offended him. He was never afraid to challenge the inequities of outfit and felt a moral obligation as a fix to draw attention to them.

At the Daily Telegraph, Tanner not isolated drew his caricatures but often produced clay model caricatures, which were next photographed to immortalise the faces of such notables as Joseph Stalin and Sir Robert Menzies. When photographers could not gain to Maitland to lid the infamous floods, Tanner was as a consequence airlifted in to appeal the scenes- much to his chagrin.

Les Tanner won the ‘Cartoonist of the Year’ award in London in 1960 whilst lively for the Daily Sketch, followed by two Walkley Awards in Australia in 1962 and 1965 respectively. Back in Australia, he took his early captivation in clay modelling to further heights, producing several tongue in cheek busts of Sir Robert Menzies.

When Graham Perkin Editor of The Age newspaper in Melbourne offered him the outlook of Chief Political Cartoonist, Tanner unconditionally and for the next thirty years until he retired in 1997, he satirized politicians and gained a large enthusiast base for his efforts. Once in Melbourne and in collaboration in the circulate of Gus and Betty McLaren, Tanner produced a series of toby jugs of Sir Robert Menzies, as skillfully as a kind line in Sir Henry Bolte mugs- examples of which can be found at The National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. Loyal fans also flocked to his popular Saturday column “Tanner in the same way as Words”.

In 1999, Tanner normal a ‘Golden Quill Award’ for ‘Lifetime Achievement in the Arts’. Apart from a prolific career as a cartoonist, Tanner co-wrote several books on black and white art. He made an energetic film called Letter to a Vandal and was an actor and set designer for the New Theatre from 1946 until 1955. In 1986, he worked as a voice coach for Sir Donald Pleasence for the film Ground Zero, which starred Colin Friels. Pleasence’s environment in the movie was a scientist who had decided throat cancer, following British nuclear tests at Maralinga. Tanner, a throat cancer sufferer, was pleased to urge on Pleasence learn to piece of legislation a Servox speech aid for his role.

After his death, the Black and White Society of Australia described him as follows: “Les Tanner was pre-eminent as a social commentator in the medium of black and white art in 20th Century Australia.”

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