Monday, 13 February 2017

George Du Maurier, #Hampstead & The Curate's Egg

DC Editor Adam writes…

In December 2016 I posted the The Daily Constitutional's blog post number 5,000.

To mark the occasion I've been digging in the archive and over February 2017 I'll be reblogging The DC's "Greatest Hits" – my 50 favourite posts. 

In addition I'll be sharing my 50 favourite London photos to have appeared here since October 2008. 

I hope you enjoy them

Feb 2017

Back in January 2015 I started a series called A Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London. Each post is called a "panel" and this second panel calls in on Hampstead. 

(The series is still going strong in 2017 and I've collated all the posts together here:

Later today I'll share the post explaining a bit about the background to the Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London. In the meantime, here's George Du Maurier…

Panel 2/20. George du Maurier

Chatting the other evening with dedicated London Walker David Hall. He looms large in the London Walks legend, does David. Hopefully one day LW's own David Tucker, his big pal, will relate the tale for this blog of how David H and his wife Margie were instrumental in setting the good ship London Walks on its current course.

David (Hall) was reflecting that he has now reached an age that Franklin D Roosevelt never saw.

"I'm now older than FDR was when he died, and I've achieved considerably less. Even with the extra years," he laughed, "I'll still achieve considerably less!"

It made me think of George Du Maurier. Funny what makes the synapses connect and spin an unexpected platter on the great jukebox of the subconscious isn't it?

Whenever I am guiding the Hampstead Walk, I always try to look at Du Maurier's grave. 

Du Maurier wrote (among other things) Trilby, a novel set in fin de si├Ęcle Paris, peopled with lurid showbusiness types (the best kind of showbusiness types, o'course) among them a young singer named Trilby and an evil and manipulative showbiz manager named Svengali – from whence we get the metonym for evil and manipulative showbiz managers in general. Simon Cowell, I suppose, is the closest thing we have to such a thing today. Talk about the paucity of genuine characters in the 21st Century.

Du Maurier was more famously a cartoonist on the staff at Punch magazine. His most celebrated piece is True Humility (1895) an often-parodied and -referenced cartoon in which a bashful curate is taking breakfast with the bishop…

"I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr. Jones," says the bishop.

The curate replies, "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!"

And thus the phrase "Something of a curate's egg" (so beloved of arts critics) enters the language: a piece that is perceived by the critic as mainly bad with one or two perhaps questionable redeeming features.

If we look closely in among all of du Maurer’s hatching work, I'm sure we can see the lines of bad smell rising from the egg. A comic technique that prevails today and one that is used to vivid effect in the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham on their Thames Path walkway, a cheeky example of a cartoon sensibility enlivening everyday signage…


But back to David Hall. David's rumination on FDR and everything he achieved sent me off to du Maurier for the following reason. George du Maurier was a busy boy too, one of those Victorians who seemed to have cracked the secret of the 25 hour day – not content with success in one field (cartooning), he conquered a second (fiction) in later life.

He is buried at St John at Hampstead in North London (pictured above). In a pleasing chime the ashes of Peter Cook are interred nearby. Cook founded our greatest repository of the cartoonist's art (in fact our only one left!) Private Eye magazine (more on that another day).

And while we're talking about the neighbours, look at the grave to the left of du Maurier's, marking the final resting place of the cartoonist's fellow perpetual Hampsteadite, Labour Party politician Hugh Gaitskell. Gaitskell’s likeness was captured many-a-time by legendary political cartoonist David Low in The Evening Standard. Low kept a studio in Hampstead just around the corner from St John's. He'll be back later in our series, too.

Here's how to find the churchyard of St John at Hampstead…

Catch up with all 36 panels of The Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London here:

A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at

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