From the Independent 17 July 2002


Will Spencer

Creator of 'Animal Crackers' cartoons


Will Spencer was the creator of the long-running daily cartoon series "Animal Crackers" which brightened the pages of the News Chronicle and the Daily Mail for almost two decades and which was also syndicated around the world.

He was born William Thomas Spencer in Canning Town, in the East End of London, in 1921, the eldest of three sons of William Spencer, a storeman, and his wife, Agnes. After leaving school aged 14, he studied at his local art college in West Ham and in 1937 began work as a junior trainee in an advertising agency.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, Spencer enlisted in the RAF, training as an aircrew wireless operator and air gunner and serving at first in Transport Command ferrying aircraft from the United States around the world. After receiving an official commendation for his speed in passing on a distress signal from a US Air Force aircraft - thereby saving the lives of its crew - he was commissioned in 1943 with the rank of Flying Officer. He eventually returned to Britain and was stationed in Hendon, London - flying VIPs regularly to Belgium - and was promoted to Signals Leader just before being demobbed in February 1946.

He then worked as a staff artist and copywriter for Aldridges advertising agency in Fleet Street for a number of years before turning freelance, one of his best-known creations being the famous bread slogan "Don't say brown, say 'Hovis' ". Meanwhile, he had begun drawing cartoons in his spare time and in 1954 the News Chronicle published the first "Animal Crackers" joke.

Spencer described the series as using his "fascination with the characteristics of animals to comment on the vagaries of the human condition". Drawn with a lively, clean line in pen and indian ink (sketched first in pencil) on roughly A5-sized card, and often without captions, "Animal Crackers" featured all kinds of creatures, from parrots, whales and fleas to tortoises, kangaroos and dragons - but human beings never appeared in the cartoons. Although the ideas for the drawings were Spencer's own, on one occasion Spike Milligan telephoned to suggest a pop joke about the Beatles (featuring two beetles), which Spencer used.

The series ran daily for nearly 20 years, at first in the News Chronicle (1954-60) and then the Daily Mail (1960-71) when it took over the Chronicle. The cartoons were later syndicated to Europe and the United States, featured on BBC and independent television, and two collections of them were published, Animal Crackers (1969) and Animal Antics (1985).

In 1958 Spencer married the 16-year-old Roberta Smith and the following year his work came to the notice of Joseph Hall, founder of Hallmark Cards, which led to a brief move to the company's headquarters in Kansas City (1959) to produce animal greetings card designs. On his return to Britain, Spencer continued to work freelance for Hallmark and others.

In 1965 he began another single-panel cartoon series, "Moments with Mama" (featuring animals with their babies) for the weekly magazine Woman's Own (1965-70). He and his wife settled in Chichester, West Sussex, in 1967, where they set up the Orchard Studio and Gallery selling Spencer's own silk-screen printed cartoons and illustrations.

"Animal Crackers" cartoons were among those chosen for the 1970 National Portrait Gallery exhibition "Drawn and Quartered: the world of the British newspaper cartoon 1720-1970" and examples of Spencer's work were held in the collections of such friends as H.E. Bates, the Sufi writer Idries Shah, the journalist James Cameron and the artist Sir William Russell Flint.

Influenced by Hoffnung, Spencer was also a great admirer of the work of Vicky (Victor Weisz) who was political cartoonist on the News Chronicle when he joined the paper. Spencer also painted abstracts in various media and created a series of huge wooden giraffes which adorned his studio for many years.