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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Smilby (Francis Wilford-Smith) (1927-2009)

Mirror, Mirror on the wall, whose is the largest...
(original artwork sold at Christie's, New York, in December 2003)

Francis Wilford-Smith, better known as cartoonist and advertising artist 'Smilby', died at a nursing home in Ledbury, Hertfordshire, on 4 December 2009, aged 82. His work included over 350 full-page cartoons for Playboy and hundreds of others published in the UK, America, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Norway.

Born Francis Wilford Smith--the hyphen was added by deed in 1983--in Rugby, Warwickshire, on 12 March 1927, he was the second son of Wilford Smith, a chemist and businessman who owned a number of chemist shops, and his wife Frances Eleanor (nee Hunt), who died shortly after her son's birth, aged only 36.

A fan of cartoons following his dicovery of bound volumes of Punch magazine in the school library at Warwick School, Wilford-Smith's first choice of career was, in fact, the sea. At the age of 14 he ran away from home only to be picked up by the dock police at Bristol. Poor eyesight meant that he was turned down by the Royal Navy in 1943 and, aged 16, he became a trainee at the Marconi Radio School in London. Qualifying as a Radio Officer, he joined the Merchant Navy, serving on convoys to Africa and across the Atlantic and on supply ships to Cherbourg following the D-Day landings.

After being demobbed in 1946, he attended Camberwell School of Art, studying under John Minton, Edward Ardizzone and others. His romancing of fellow student Pamela Kilby (whom he married in 1949) earned them the collective nickname 'Smilby', a pen-name he would later use on his cartoons. They married in 1949 and had one son and one daughter.

His first work appeared in British Farmer, Melody Maker and the News Chronicle whilst he was studying, specialising in his last two years in illustration and wood engraving. After graduating, he worked briefly for Halas & Bachelor but was unable to obtain a union card. Instead he became an assistant display manager for the women's clothing chain Richards Shops and assistant to industrial designer Ian Bradbury.

Shall I come in, my sweet -- are you ready for me yet?
(original artwork sold by Bloomsbury Auctions in July 2009)

In 1951 he was granted a £100 Punch scholarship and began selling to Punch, Lilliput, London Opinion and Men Only. Turning freelance, he sold to a wide range of magazines and newspapers. When markets began to disappear in the UK, he decided to concentrate on American and European magazines following his successful debut in Playboy in 1960. His work has been widely exhibited.

Wilford-Smith's interests also included blues and gospel music (his home in Sussex included a recording studio and he broadcast on the subject on Radio 3's Bluebird Blues), collecting and gardening. In 1994, he was diagnosed as suffering from Parkinson's Disease.

Obituaries: The Independent (7 January).


Non-fiction (as Francis Smilby)
Stolen Sweets: The Cover Girls of Yesteryear. Chicago, Playboy Press, 1981.

Illustrated Books (as Smilby)
Phogey! or, How to Have Class in a Classless Society by Malcolm Bradbury. London, Max Parrish, 1960.
Les Anglais: Are They Mad? by Corinne. London, Arthur Barker, 1961.
No Mother to Guide Her by Anita Loos. London, Arthur Barker, 1961. [dust jacket]
The Love Investigator by Ernest Gebler. London, Arthur Barker, 1961.

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