During my trip to London in 2022, I visited the Cartoon Museum. I grew up reading DC Thomson comics and have a lot of nostalgia for the characters from The Beano, The Dandy, The Bunty, the Judy and The Mandy in particular. I grew out of reading comics when I was 10 or 11 but I still have a soft spot for clever current affairs cartoons. I also greatly admire the skill of the artists who draw these comic strips. And so, a visit to the Cartoon Museum in the centre of London was always going to be an easy sell.
I was really impressed by the friendly people behind the reception desk. One of them took the time to give me a good overview of what was on display and told a funny story about how the Beano means something different in the USA. Think wind, and not the weather sort. It also turned out that I knew one of his Irish relatives, which isn’t as weird as it sounds if you come from Ireland…
In museums and exhibitions like these, it never ceases to surprise me how far back some of the exhibits go. Cartoons were no exception, with some surprisingly old drawings. Thankfully these were a higher calibre than the offensive anti-Irish etchings which seemed to be a staple of Punch magazine back in the day. I think we tend to forget that people from the past were just as funny and acerbic and clued-in as we are now. Or at least, how we like to see ourselves.
Needless to say, the many cartoons on the walls were really interesting. Some were funny, many were thought-provoking and some brought back memories of current affairs issues I’d mostly forgotten.
I was pleasantly surprised to see an actual old-school Spitting Image puppet on display. Back in the day, Spitting Image was must-see TV and some of their latex puppets become iconic in their own right. As I later learned, being made of latex means some of these old puppets have had to be restored. If you’re interested, the lady who restored the Roy Hattersley puppet has some interesting information here.
At the time of my visit, there was a Judge Dredd 45th anniversary exhibition on the go. The charms of Mr Dredd and his judgements passed me by but all the same, there was a lot to like in that section. You don’t have to be a fan of all of these genres to admire the work that the cartoonists put into their comic strips.
There is a room in the museum which brings those of us of a certain age straight back to primary school again. They encourage people of all ages to have fun drawing cartoons. What isn’t there to love about being able to sit in a brightly coloured room and play with crayons, pencil sharpeners and colouring pencils. The 5-year-old in us never dies! I might have baulked at trying to draw a caricature of the then UK prime minister Boris Johnson. Or should that be, Booo-ris Johnson.
In short, if you’re in any way interested in cartoons, satire, staring into Roy Hattersley’s false eyes or drawing superheroes in a playroom, the Cartoon Museum is worth a visit. It certainly woke the child in me. Oh, and the gift shop is pretty cool too.
The V&A Museum (as it is better known) is an enormous sprawling museum in the Brompton district of London. There are so many galleries in the place, you could easily get lost and/or overwhelmed. Luckily the Pink Floyd exhibition is on the ground floor not too far from the entrance. After my ticket was scanned, I was handed a portable music player (probably NOT playing .mp3s 😀 ) and a pair of Sennheiser headphones. The purpose of these being that as you make your way through the exhibition, you’ll hear music, interviews etc.
For this visit, I was joined by a fellow Floyd nut who had been to the exhibition before and who turned out to be a most excellent tour guide. Once we got to the corridor outside the exhibition, things turned wonderfully Floydian. Not only was there some music playing through my headphones but there was a fancy Dark Side of the Moon mural on the wall. There was also what turned out to be the first of several rather fetching black telephone boxes. The traditional red British telephone boxes are iconic but I’ve got to say those black ones look really great. This one had lyrics inside it but the later ones mostly had old magazines, newspaper snippets and photos from the era.
One of the amusing things early on in the exhibition was the “shouty people”. The ones who were still adjusting to wearing their headphones and spoke REALLY LOUDLY to their companions. There was plenty to shout about because once into the exhibition there was lots to see. The walls were decorated with oodles of old posters, photographs and magazine articles. What most people were clamouring to see, however, were the displays in the glass cases. In other words….guitars, basses, keyboards, costumes, projectors, the legendary Azimuth Co-Ordinator and letters. It was somewhat poignant to see some handwritten letters and notes by Syd Barrett. A reminder of the person he once was.
After the deluge of paraphernalia relating to the earliest days of Pink Floyd, it then hit a barren spell. There was nothing for the film soundtracks apart from the posters. And while I’m giving out, I might as well mention my two other main annoyances related to the exhibition. The layout was somewhat idiosyncratic. If I hadn’t had someone with me, I’d have seen the exhibition in the wrong order and ended up doubling back to see the Meddle and Atom Heart Mother displays. Some sort of direction arrows on the floor would’ve helped. The other annoyance – one which irked minds greater than mine – was the crowds. Getting near the glass cases the have a look at what was in them was quite a task at times.
One of the most fun parts of the exhibition was getting to play with a mixing desk which was playing Money. By adjusting the audio on the sliders, I was able to hear isolated tracks on Money and hear it in a different way to how it is on the completed record.
Surprisingly, there was very little on display relating to the Wish You Were Here album. Seeing as it came out after Dark Side of the Moon, I thought they would have had more than some photos and blown up artwork from the album. In comparison, there is a lot relating to the next two albums which came out after that. Animals is the album which brought us an inflatable pig and one of rock music’s more amusing stories. The tale of how Algie the inflatable pig suspended over Battersea power station broke free of its moorings and flew to Kent. It was only when I got home and took a look at my photos that I noticed there was a little inflatable Algie suspended over the replica of Battersea power station. Truly, there was so much to see at the exhibition, it was easy to miss little details like this.
Fans of The Wall would have been pleased to see plenty of models and inflatables. The puppet of the schoolmaster wasn’t as large as the one used in the concerts but he was still pretty intimidating. One amusing exhibit in this section was the book from Roger Waters’ old school which recorded the canings of its students. Roger was the recipient of more than one caning but it was intriguing to see what merited this punishment back in the day. From what we could make out (the head teacher could’ve done with 6 of the best because of his near-illegible handwriting), not wearing a cap to school was considered to be equally bad as attempted arson. No wonder Roger had plenty to write about.
As Pink Floyd fans will know, things went horribly wrong around the time of The Wall. That album was the last time Pink Floyd existed as a four-piece band. 1983’s The Final Cut was the last album recorded before Roger Waters left. Given the band’s politics (waaaay too long to go into here), it wasn’t that surprising that there was precious little to be seen from that album here. In comparison, there was a lot more related to the band’s two last albums. This was when Pink Floyd went back touring again so there was some interesting material related to that. According to one document on display, the pig which floated over the audience on the 1987 tour was not to be inflated or deflated where the audience could see it happening.
The Division Bell isn’t my favourite Pink Floyd album but I’ve always liked the album cover with its two “heads”. I loved getting to finally see the heads in real life. The exhibition closes with the wonderful 20 minute set the reunited Pink Floyd played at Live 8 back in 2005. Even now it’s wonderful and was a fitting swansong for the “classic” Pink Floyd line-up.