Alongside a number of pony cartoons on show at Mottisfont is the original preliminary pencil spread of ‘Thelwell pony’ sketches commissioned by Punch magazine, and which later inspired the Penelope and Kipper partnership. According to son David, this insight into a world where small girls battled with tubby, badly-behaved ponies came from watching similar, real-life scenes in the field near his house in Wolverhampton. A series of illustrated notebooks reveal the techniques Thelwell used to perfect a particular scene or character, with specific books dedicated to the drawing of hilarious pony and rider situations.
“My father lived to draw and paint,” said Norman Thelwell’s son, David Thelwell, “and when I was very young, about seven or eight, I would go into the studio to see what Dad was working on. I loved watching him create the small strip cartoon he did for the Eagle comic. It was fascinating to watch as a pencil drawing was inked and sometimes painted in. I thought it was a wonderful way to earn a living, but later on I realised how difficult it is to do that successfully.
“I love all of Dad’s illustrations and paintings but my favourites are the scenes full of kids messing about and getting up to mischief. I think they reflected his upbringing in Birkenhead when terraced houses that had no gardens meant children played on the streets, which felt safe then because there were hardly any cars.”
100 years of Norman Thelwell runs until May 7, 2023.