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Saturday, December 09, 2017

R. Noel Pocock

Robert J. Kirkpatrick

While T. M. R. Whitwell was well-known for illustrating some of P. G. Wodehouse’s early novels, he was not the first Wodehouse illustrator. That honour belonged to R. Noel Pocock, who illustrated Wodehouse’s first two books in 1902 and 1903, and who then re-invented himself as a comic artist and an illustrator of fairy stories.

Pocock was born on 16 June 1878 at West View House, New End, Hampstead, and christened Ralph Noel Pocock. His father was Noel Lewis Pocock (1848-1907), a solicitor; his mother was Alice Jane née Topham (1851-1937), the daughter of Francis William Topham (1808-1877), an artist who was particularly noted for his watercolours and occasional engravings, and who presumably sparked Pocock’s interest in art. They had three other children: Guy Noel (1880-1955 – he became a schoolmaster and writer), Philip Noel (1882-1914 – he also became a schoolmaster), and Doris Alice (1890-1974 – she became a prolific author of girls’ stories).

Shortly after the birth of Guy Noel, the family moved to 4 Oakfield Villa, London Road, Reigate, although by the time of Doris Alice’s birth they were back in London, at 4 Highgate Rise, Kentish Town. It is not known where Pocock was educated (other than having private tutors until he was around 13), although it was probably at Highgate School, where his brother Guy was a pupil. What is known is that he hated his time at school – writing shortly before he died he decried the “brutality and stupidity” of the public school system and revealed:
For me, school was compulsion, dreariness, an education in evasion of boring and useless tasks, by a set of men so uninspiring as to be fit for nothing better than cricket-avengers…..School did all it could to make me hate academic learning and standardized games, and long to get out of that time-wasting, penal institution, and learn something about the world I had been born into.
Reproduced in In Memory of Ralph Noel Pocock, edited by D.K. Will, privately published, 1959. This is mainly a collection of Pocock’s “reflections” on life, faith, psychology and education, and a small selection of letters, and is disappointingly short on biographical detail).

His writings were later to heavily influence Kurt Hahn, who founded Gordonstoun School in 1934, and Pocock’s legacy lived on in the shape of the school’s Pocock Workshops, where pupils learn carpentry, metal-work and pottery.

After leaving school he studied briefly at the Royal College of Art in Kensington, leaving after a year or so to visit Sweden. On his return to London, he moved into a studio in Hampstead, and later travelled again, mainly to eastern Europe.

There is no trace of Ralph N. Pocock in the 1901 census, although it is apparent that he was working as a black and white artist (and author) at this time. He was contributing to The Public School Magazine and Granta, and within a few years he had contributed to several other periodicals, including Sandow’s Magazine, The Royal Magazine and Pearson’s Magazine (for which he illustrated two P. G. Wodehouse stories in 1909).

His first book work appeared in 1902, when he provided 10 black and white plates for P. G. Wodehouse’s school story (and first novel) The Pothunters, which had earlier been serialized in The Public School Magazine. In the following year he provided 8 black and white plates for Wodehouse’s A Prefect’s Uncle, and he also contributed plates to Wodehouse’s Tales of St. Austin’s, alongside T. M. R. Whitwell and E. F. Skinner. (Given his hatred of public schools, it seems rather surprising that he was happy to illustrate public school stories).

His illustrations for The Pothunters were, it must be admitted, of a very low quality, with some of the pupils looking far too old. By the time he illustrated A Prefect’s Uncle, his style had improved. The frontispiece in particular reflected the humour of the story, and it was this perhaps led Pocock to change direction – in 1906, he began producing full-page comic drawings for The Sketch, and a year later he also began doing the same for The Bystander. He also changed his professional name from R. Noel Pocock to Noel Pocock. His work also went on to appear in Black and White and The Tatler, and in 1908 he helped design a poster for that year’s London Olympics.

In 1910 he produced 24 colour plates for an edition of Robinson Crusoe, published by Henry Frowde, Hodder & Stoughton. The following year, he returned to comedy with a series of pictures for two books of comic verse by A. E. Johnson – The Navy’s Toast and Below Zero: A Travesty of Winter Sport. In its issue of 30 November 1911, The Scotsman described the latter as “an amusing album of grotesque coloured pictures ... These clever comical compositions poke fun at all sorts of winter sports – tobogganing, ski-ing, curling, skating, sledging, and so on; and are accompanied by appropriate bits of parody in verse by Mr A. E. Johnson, clever and funny, like the pictures.”

At the time of the 1911 census Pocock was living in Woodville Road, Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex, with his widowed mother and sister Doris. In 1913, he changed his style again, when he produced 22 colour plates for an edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, published by Henry Frowde, Hodder & Stoughton. Jeffrey A. Menges, in Once Upon a Time…: A Treasury of Classic Fairy Tale Illustrations, published in 2008, noted that Pocock’s work “displays the influence of the American illustrator Maxfield Parrish. Centred heavily on the figure, Pocock’s work reveals a realistic treatment, despite the exaggerated emotions and expression, small touches of pattern and colour also pull in the viewer’s attention. The simple settings of Pocock’s illustrations are enhanced by a canny use of lighting to add dimension in darkly wooded areas.”

As if to demonstrate his versatility, he also produced in 1913 a number of illustrations for Alice in Holidayland, a parody originally published for the North-Eastern Railway Company, in which Alice goes on holiday to the Yorkshire coast. His illustrations, along with those of fellow-artist F. H. Mason, were themselves clever parodies of John Tenniel’s original drawings.

In June 1914 the publishing and printing company Lawrence & Jellicoe, of Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, advertised a new catalogue of sporting prints, with Pocock one of the featured artists. After the outbreak of the war Pocock joined the 4th Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. He served for a time in India, reaching the rank of Captain. At some point during the war he was also, according to In Memory of Ralph Noel Pocock, attached to a special branch of the Intelligence Service because of his knowledge of the politics of the Balkans. He also spent two years on the General Staff in Simla, as a psychological adviser to the Indian Government.

It is not known what he did after the war, other than illustrating an almanac for the cigarette manufacturers Abdulla & Co. in 1920, and an edition of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes for T. Nelson & Sons in the same year. He also produced a small number of highly-regarded colour pastel drawings.

On 19 June 1923, when he was living at 3 Golf Links Avenue, Hindhead, Surrey, he married Doris Katharine George, the daughter of Herbert Tidmarsh George (1863-1957), a landscape artist, at the parish church in Hindhead. (They had met for the first time when Pocock was visiting Switzerland). Afterwards they travelled to Austria before settling in Bealieu, between Nice and Monte Carlo. In the mid-1930s, they returned to England, settling first in Sussex, and then, in 1939, to The Malt House, Clun, Shropshire. By then, Pocock was no longer working, and Katherine was recorded as a nursing sister.

After the Second World War, during which he undertook local ARP duties, he moved to Beach Farm, Linley, Bishops Castle, Shropshire. His last few years were beset by ill-health (a legacy of several bouts of malaria he had contracted in his early life), and he spent most of the last 18 months of his life confined to bed. He died on 21 June 1949, leaving an estate valued at £7,377 (around £70,000 in today’s terms).

His brother Guy Noel, who was educated at Highgate School in London and St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he obtained a BA in 1904, taught at Cheltenham College and the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, and later worked for the BBC. He published a number of books – novels (he was also a published poet), essays, anthologies, and books on writing and teaching English. He died in 1955.


Books illustrated by R. Noel Pocock
The Pothunters by P.G. Wodehouse, A. & C. Black, 1903 
A Prefect’s Uncle by P.G. Wodehouse, A. & C. Black, 1903 
Tales of St. Austin’s by P.G. Wodehouse, A. & C. Black, 1903
The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Henry Frowde, Hodder & Stoughton, 1910 (re-issue)    
The Navy’s Toast by A.E. Johnson, Hodder & Stoughton, 1911  
Below Zero: A Travesty of Winter Sport by A.E. Johnson, Hodder & Stoughton   
Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Jacon & Wilhelm Grimm, Henry Frowde, Hodder & Stoughton, 1913      
Alice in Holidayland by F.W. Martindale, North-Eastern Railway Company, 1913
Bulgaria by Frank Fox, A. & C. Black, 1915 (32 col. Plates by Jan V. Mrkvitchka & Noel Pocock)
The “Abdulla” Almanac 1920, Abdulla & Co., 1920
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, T. Nelson & Sons, 1920

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