Russell Brockbank - Artist
by Sue Ellis
Those who remember the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies will be familiar with the work of the artist Russell Brockbank. In fact, his career began in the Thirties when he was a regular contributor to SPEED magazine, producing wonderful scraper board images of the racing cars of the time: Maserati, Bugatti, MG Magnet and Auto Union were amongst his favourites.
Early in his career his first break came when the racing driver R S Wilkins asked ‘Brock’, as he was affectionately known, what he would charge for drawing five Christmas cards featuring five different drivers. Brock blinked, did a quick mental sum, and said “five pounds”. (This was before World War II, remember.)
“Fine” said Wilkins, “I’ll pay you now” and produced five £5 notes! – at which Brock nearly swooned, having reckoned on £5 for the lot!
In spite of serving in the Royal Navy throughout most of the War, he continued to contribute to Punch, Lilliput and The Aeroplane, his art reflecting the social situation of the time and although his love was drawing the motor car, his experiences in the Navy created many images of aircraft, ships and other forms of transport.
By 1949 he was the Art Editor of Punch until 1960 and introduced the colour cover, when he encouraged European and American cartoonists to contribute. His love of the motor car found its expression in a series of colour covers, often for the O ctober issue - the month when the Motor Show - then an important part of the calendar - took place. He also developed his much loved character “Major Upsett” and his clapped-out Austin 8 tourer who appeared weekly in The Motor. He based him on a man he observed in a pub, and described him as having “a fiery eye, a nose pocked like the surface of the moon, and a twitch of his outmoded moustache which in a moment of stress made him rattle all over.”
Brock was a marvel, too, at caricaturing people such as the heavy-jawed cop, the “old bat” haranguing her meek husband, Italian racing drivers “going all Latin”, the Rolls-Royce driver, and so on. And no one ever “caught” cars better than he did – his sports car cornering flat out, wheels at all angles and tyres almost alight; the D-type or GT O with huge spinning rear wheels blasting away from a Zebra; seven Minis neck and neck on the last corner at Brands …
In 1965, Rolls-Royce asked Brock to produce a collection of drawings for a booklet entitled “On The Lighter Side”. In it he wrote “Few men can walk past a Rolls-Royce without slowing down. Fewer men still, with an interest in mechanical objects, can walk past a Rolls-Royce without stopping. No artist worth his salt can walk past a Rolls-Royce without walking round it. No artist with an interest in mechanical objects can help falling in love with the thing. This artist who loves drawing cars is besotted with any Rolls–Royce, but particularly with the Silver Ghost. The affair is hopeless: he will never be able to afford her even though he loves her the most. He serenades her (from a distance) in the pages of magazines all over the world.”
He was asked on its completion what his fee would be, and he requested the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost AX 201 for his daughter’s wedding. His wish was granted and on the wedding day his only concern was that the day was dry, otherwise the car would not be used. As it happened, the weather, after a night of torrential rain, turned out fine - much to his relief.
Brockbank died at the relatively early age of sixty six, but left behind a wonderful legacy of humour and beautifully drawn cars. In 2006 his family formed the Brockbank Partnership, and created a website www.russellbrockbank.co.uk to bring his cartoons back. The Partnership supplies prints, originals, calendars and cards and Christmas cards can be done to order. Such has been the interest, especially at The Goodwood Revival, that in 2008 Haynes Publishing produced a new collection of his work: “101 Brockbank Cartoons” which has sold around the world. This year the Partnership is producing a Calendar for 2010 with thirteen of his most famous Rolls-Royce and Bentley drawings, some of which are shown here.
Editor’s Note: Sue Ellis is the daughter of Russell Brockbank .
Pictures reproduced by kind permission of the Brockbank Partnership