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 Carl Giles  (1916 - 1995)

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Lived/Active: United Kingdom      Known for: illustration, painting

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"Despite the fact that Grandma's corns were giving her what-ho this morning there will be brilliant sunshine everywhere. (Meteorological report)"
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Ronald (Carl) Giles (1916-1995)

Born at 413 City Road, near the Angel, Islington, London on 29 September 1916, the youngest son (there was a younger daughter) of Albert Edward Giles (b.1881/2), tobacconist, and his wife, Emma Edith, née Clarke (b.1886/7), dressmaker.  His paternal grandfather was Alfred Edmund ‘Farmer’ Giles of Newmarket, Suffolk, a jockey who had ridden for Edward VII. His mother came from a Norfolk farming family.  Giles's birth certificate registered him as Ronald but was known as Carl because of his childhood haircut echoed that of the actor Boris Karloff. 

Already bespectacled Giles was educated at Barnsbury Park School, where his mischief was restrained by the sarcastic, skeletal Mr Chalk, a teacher who, as ‘Chalky’, later became one of his most enduring cartoon creations.  On leaving school, aged about fourteen, Giles began work first as an office boy and then as an animator at Superads in Charing Cross Road, London.  Between 1930 and 1935 at Alexander Korda's studios in Elstree he was a principal animator, under the artist Anthony Gross, on The Fox Hunt, the first British animated color cartoon with sound.  He also helped to animate versions of Roland Davies's Sunday Express strip Come on Steve (Steve was an amiable carthorse).  Later, during the Second World War he helped to animate cartoons for the Ministry of Information.

Aged twenty-one, he joined the left-wing Reynolds News, for which, without any specific art training, he drew cartoons, illustrations and Young Ernie, a strip.  Lord Beaverbrook, had recognized Giles's burgeoning genius and the Sunday Express editor John Gordon enticed the reluctant artist.  Giles's first drawing for the Sunday Express was published on 3 October 1943.  Later that month he became not only deputy cartoonist to Sidney Strube on the Daily Express but also, perhaps surprisingly, the paper's war correspondent. 

On 14 March 1942, at St John's Church, East Finchley, Giles married (Sylvia) Joan Agnes Clarke (1918–1994), his first cousin and childhood sweetheart.  They had no children.  The couple moved from Islington to Edgware then to Ipswich and just after the war Giles bought Hillbrow Farm, a seventeenth-century farmhouse in the village of Witnesham, near Ipswich, Suffolk.  This was to be their permanent home.  Captain Giles, as he temporarily became, classified unfit for military service because of partial deafness caused some years before when, in a near fatal accident, his Panther 600 motorcycle had collided with an oncoming truck. 

Giles admired the First World War cartoons of Captain Bruce Bairnsfather, the creator of popular cartoons based on firsthand front-line experiences.  In the aftermath of war Giles drew the grim interior of Fort Breendouk punishment camp, near Antwerp.  The dark, uncharacteristic sketches are examples of unvarnished, visual reporting which at the artist's request were not published until 1994.  Strube left the Daily Express in 1948, thereafter Giles, dealing with social subjects, alternated with the young right-wing political cartoonist Michael Cummings.  During the fifties Giles's work grew in strength.  Panoramic settings filled with accurate detail of place, people, and atmosphere brought new qualities and a wider vision to British cartooning, influencing his contemporaries including Jak (Raymond Jackson; 1927–1997) and Mac (Stanley McMurtry; b. 1936) .  The artist's most-loved creation, the Giles family, made its first appearance in the Sunday Express on 5 August 1945 had a wide social appeal.  For four decades Mother, Father, young Ernie, daughter Ann and her terrible twins, bookworm George (Sartre and Orwell) and his sniffling, aspirin-riddled wife Vera and their son, George junior, Ann's younger sisters Bridget and Susan, their Airedale Butch (and a permanent visitor, young Stinker with his ever present camera and wet-mop haircut) were dominated by their granite-tough, invincible Grandma, who invariably wore ankle-length black bombazine and an alarming frown.  She clutched a parrot-knobbed brolly and a padlocked handbag, both of which could be used as weapons if needed.  The family remained unaltered for forty years: the kids did not grow up and Grandma and the others did not grow older.  The making of three large cartoons a week, taking from eight to ten hours each, required a self-discipline not always manifest in Giles's life.  They were drawn in a large studio suite in Ipswich and when finished were forwarded, often late, by train to London or by taxi if the trains were not running or by helicopter if the weather put both beyond reach.  Deadlines were held in contempt, an attitude which did not endear Giles to the frantic newspaper staff trying to put the paper to bed.

With fame and a much-increased income he was able to indulge himself.  For a time he motored, mostly around the UK, in a huge mobile studio-cum-caravan which he designed and built himself.  He bought and raced a Jaguar XK120 at Silverstone in 1952; he owned a Bentley Mulsanne, a Range Rover, a Land Rover, and a much-loved Nicholson 38 yacht. A genuinely modest man, Giles avoided talking about himself or his work, which he believed spoke for itself.  His friendships ranged from the many eccentrics, acquaintances, and drinking companions near home to Prince Philip, Prince Charles, the royal family owns a large collection of Giles originals, and Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook's son).  Giles drew more than 7,000 cartoons for the Daily Express and Sunday Express and a Giles annual appeared every year from 1946.

During his last decade Giles suffered seriously from encroaching physical disabilities. Weakening eyesight, increasing deafness, and worsening blood circulation, the latter brought on by heavy smoking, inevitably affected his work, although Giles at his weakest was better than many cartoonists at their best.  He was treated to typical Fleet Street insensitivity in his final months with the Express, and in 1989, after forty-seven years, he quit with a succinct: ‘I just thought, sod this.’ 

In the following year further problems with his circulation resulted in both legs being amputated just below the knee.  Giles was appointed OBE in 1959.  A founder member in 1966, and later president, of the British Cartoonists' Association (BCA) and in 1990 awarded a senior fellowship of the Royal College of Art, and in 1993 a large retrospective exhibition was organized by the Cartoon Art Trust (CAT): collections of his work are held by the trust, and at the Cartoon Study Centre at the University of Kent.  When guest of honor at a luncheon at London's Garrick Club on 24 March 1993, given by the BCA to honor his fifty years in the business, Giles was in his wheelchair. 

At seventy-eight Carl Giles was grief-stricken when his wife Joan died on Christmas day 1994.  In spite of the consolation offered by his many friends Giles died eight months later at Ipswich Hospital on 27 August 1995.  His funeral was held at Tuddenham St Martin church, Suffolk, and there was a memorial service in London at St Bride's, Fleet Street.  A statue of Grandma, Vera, and Butch the dog was unveiled in Ipswich in 1993, while at Felixstowe the support and rescue boat Grandma was launched in May 1999.

Information provided by Tony Copsey, author and researcher of artists in Suffolk County, England.

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