Shown below is my full collection of drawings related to history.
Quick navigation to a specific portrait:
Dr Martin Luther King
In 1961, the Freedom Riders, a dedicated group of men and women, black and white, young and old, many from university and college campuses across the country boarded buses, trains and planes bound for the deep South to challenge the region‘s outdated laws and non-compliance with a three year old US Supreme Court decision that prohibited segregation in all interstate public transportation facilities. At stops along the way, the Freedom Riders met little resistance until Rockville, S.C. where an angry mob set upon them as they pulled into the station. This was the first of many such beatings they would receive at the hands of angry mobs.
Even to begin comprehending the palpable fear these riders would have experienced each day, is beyond the realms of anything I have known in my lifetime. They had been trained for this eventuality in the discipline of non-violence by a man well versed in physical intimidation, a man who knew what it was like to have his home bombed, his family threatened and to be incarcerated for campaigning against racial segregation and inequality. His name was Dr Martin Luther King and he lived every day as if it were his last.
In that period of time before his death, Nelson Mandella’s failing health provided the various factions of his family with an opportunity to reflect on his fathering of a nation at the expense of his paternal obligations. Prior to his conviction in 1962, Mandella had been on the run only to subsequently spend twenty seven years in prison. Despite his unprecedented achievements as a South African anti-apartheid activist, revolutionary and politician who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, the first to be elected in a fully representative, multiracial election, there remains the familiar ring of a dysfunctional family attempting to cope with an absent father.
The 94-year-old was admitted to hospital three times from the tail end of 2012 onwards prompting his grandson, Mandla Mandela, who is an ANC MP, to comment that;_ “We have been blessed as a family to have my grandfather all these years with us, and we have cherished every moment and continue to do so.”_ Reflecting further on the prevailing situation, he was moved to say that: “My grandfather has never belonged to us, he belongs to the country and the global community. His service has been inspirational, not just to us as a family but to millions around the world, and he continues to be an inspiration to us all.”
John F Kennedy
This pencil portrait of JFK in the White House dates from those heady first weeks in office following his inaugural ceremony. I was struggling with it for a while, until I realised I wasn’t emphasising the facial effects of the cortisone he took every day for addison’s desease. Medical practitioners never get the dosage right and the patient is invariably given too much. The “beneficial side effects” include an insatiable sex drive, the permanent avoidance of depression and bountiful energy.
This image of a robust leader we all associate him with is very much attributable to his medication. Once I got that fact firmly in my mind, the drawing came together.
As the July 1945 election results started to come in, it was obvious that the magnitude of the defeat reflected a seismic change in public attitude to the demands of post war Britain. The Conservatives were reduced to 210 seats, and the man who had stood, only weeks before, alongside the Royal family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace basking in the heady atmosphere of VE day, was now being unceremoniously ejected from 10 Downing street.
Five years earlier his appointment as Prime Minister had symbolised the phrase “Cometh the hour, cometh the man.” Now, whilst noting the all pervading stygian gloom at No 10 the following day, Churchill’s youngest daughter Mary observed her father’s despondency. The scale of the defeat would deny him the opportunity of meeting Parliament as Prime Minister and so there would only be time enough that day to encounter the king’s incredulity at the election result during his resignation audience with the monarch and to compose his dignified farewell statement. There was a tremendous debt of gratitude owed to him by the British public but practicalities of the day necessitated his departure; unfortunately for Churchill, this wiliest of political campaigners never really believed the destiny of post war Britain would be entrusted to anyone but himself.
It took this man roughly thirty years to achieve the level of anonymity he craved. He remarried in 1994 and his second wife went on record at the time saying that “I’m sure the attention is so much less than it was thirty years ago. We have noticed most of that when we travel out of the country. But he’s not recognised that much anymore.”
Armstrong may be a hero to millions but he was always, first and foremost, a team player and as such felt undeserving of all the media attention that came his way after the success of the Apollo 11 mission.
The second wife of Juan Peron, Evita was given the official title of ‘Spiritual Leader of the Nation’ by the Argentine Congress before her death from cancer in 1952 at the age of 33 and even today, is still regarded as a national heroine.
Such is the desire amongst the many to denigrate the reputations of the famous few, the former first lady of Argentina has been accused in recent times of accepting Nazi treasures stolen from wealthy families during the Holocaust in return for using her country as a safe haven. According to a book published in 2011, Eva Peron and her husband, former president Juan Peron, kept quiet about the number of Nazis who were hiding out in Argentina after the Second World War. Among those who fled to the South American country was Adolf Eichmann, a key orchestrator of the concentration camps.
Ambitious, ruthless, untiring, clever and strikingly beautiful, Maria Eva Duarte de Peron had in large measure, many of the qualities needed to lift her in a dozen short years from obscurity to fame, wealth and power, on the unpredictable currents of Argentine political life. Offering sanctuary to war criminals directly involved in genocide is ‘something else’ again and may yet destroy her reputation in the eyes of future generations unless comprehensively repudiated. Time will indeed tell…
It was a beautiful summer’s day – wednesday 5 june 1968. I recall being in Fleet, Hampshire, staying with friends of my parents. Being nine years of age, I was playing outside all day for there was no computer, mobile phone, ipod or even daytime television of any note to distract my attention from natural healthy pursuits.
Running in for a glass of water, I recall my mother pulling me aside. ‘You remember President Kennedy don’t you?’ she enquired, asking me to sit for a moment. ‘Yes of course,’ I replied, ‘Why?’ ‘His brother, the next President of the United States, has just been shot, and he’s in a critical condition.’ All I can recall from that point onwards, was the incessant news items and the gradual realisation, even for my young mind, that he wasn’t going to make it. Forty five years on, the feeling still holds that, whilst devoid of his three brothers’ height, looks and natural charisma, he was perhaps the true jewel in the family crown. The ramifications of his assassination were incalculable. The United States lost a prominent critic of the Vietnam war and a committed champion of civil rights, whilst the Democratic party lost its strongest presidential contender, enabling Republican candidate Richard Nixon to win the November election. For millions of Americans, 60’s idealism was over.
Philip Zeigler wrote in his biography of King Edward VIII, that the six months between his departure from Britain and his marriage to Mrs Simpson were the unhappiest of his life. In chapter 19 entitled ‘Exile’. he seeks to understand the newly abdicated King’s state of mind;
‘To abandon totally what one has for forty years been taught to believe is sacred and immutable must be for anyone, a traumatic experience. For the Duke (of Windsor), it was made doubly destructive by the fact that he was bored and lonely, those two corrosive elements that can destroy happiness as surely as any tragic accident’.
For myself, abdication in favour of marriage to a commoner was an indupitably romantic act, yet one with lasting implications. In forsaking his country, royal obligations and inherent training, in order to pursue that transient sensation called happiness, he would cede the Royal baton to a brother ill equipped to handle the enormous burden of life as a ruling monarch. Consigned to a life befitting the idle rich, the Duke would never admit that his life with Wallis was less than perfect. But then again, how on earth could he? As Winston Churchill so succinctly put it, whilst drawing parallels between this most infamous of marriages and his daughter’s reluctant union with a comedian;
‘Like the ill starred Duke of Windsor, she has done what she liked and now she has to like what she has done’.
When her elder sister Elizabeth married Prince Philip of Greece in November 1947, Princess Margaret became one of the most eligible single women in the world, and her name was coupled with various fashionable young men.
Subsequently, with the death of her father King George VI in 1952, her life would be largely unfulfilled, both professionally and emotionally.
An intelligent, well read woman, a matchless mimic who was an accomplished pianist, she enjoyed her position as a Royal, whilst enduring the tedium of public engagements. In later life, according to close sources, her attitude to Royal duties somewhat mellowed, and she remained, as ever, a staunch supporter of her sister. Like millions, she had numerous partners yet only experienced true love once. The relationship could not endure, and the heartache would scar her for life.
Her Majesty, The Queen
I may not sleep out on the streets for a glimpse of her Majesty at times of major Royal events, and I’ve neither ever bought a Union Jack flag nor waved it in public. I may even have opinions about certain members of The Royal Family that are best left unsaid, but I cannot bear criticism of our Monarch. Yes, she may well look bored to tears at Wimbledon, but in all honesty, could you withstand a lifetime spent fully engaged in a miriad of activities that interest you not one jot?
The vast majority of British people – myself included – have simply never known life without Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of this Realm and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. Since ascending to the throne in 1952, the monarch has seen twelve Prime Ministers serve Britain, and lived through another twelve US Presidents. She’s now 89. At some point, and hopefully not for several years yet, her reign will come to an end.
A failure to understand what will happen when she dies, is a failure to comprehend the sheer importance of her very existence.
‘Black Man in the White House’ is the title of a book published in 1963 by E Frederic Morrow, the first black man to serve as a presidential aide. He worked for President Dwight Eisenhower as Administrative Officer for Special Projects from 1955 to 1961.
Up until his appointment in the mid-50s, black White House employees appeared either with pristine white towels draped over their arms, or cleaning mops in their hands. Morrow, a successful PR man, had arrived ostensibly to help shape policy, not that his boss, President Dwight D Eisenhower, much valued his counsel. The former general wanted to attract black support in key northern battleground states – after all, the Republicans were the party of Abraham Lincoln – and Morrow was recruited for mainly ornamental purposes.
Morrow’s delight at achieving this striking “racial first” was matched only by the distaste of his new workmates. Viewed with suspicion, white secretaries refused to work with him; and he was prohibited from being alone in the same room with any female employee, lest he sexually molest them.
America has moved on from the very worst of WASP bigotry, and in January 2009, Barack Obama would become the 44th President of the United States, and the first African American to hold the the nation’s highest office.
The turnout at polling stations for the 1970 General Election fell by 3%. Labour’s number of votes, 12.2 million, was ironically the same amount they had needed to win six years earlier.
Nothing if not one of the canniest politicians ever, Harold Wilson must have realised the dangers of linking his popularity to something as capricious as the England football team, yet just such a policy had worked wonders for him four years earlier. There he was at Wembley on that sunny day in July, standing proudly alongside HM The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh as the Jules Rimet trophy was handed to the victorious England captain Bobby Moore. Yet six months earlier, the Prime Minister had enquired of one of his ministers – “Just what is the World Cup?”
The Duke of Edinburgh
Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, died at the age of 99 in April 2021.
“It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen announces the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh,” the palace said in a press statement on the day itself.
“His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle. The Royal Family join with people around the world in mourning his loss.”
The Duke of Edinburgh was devoted consort (companion to the Sovereign) for over 60 years, from Her Majesty’s Accession in 1952 until his death. In 2009 he became the longest serving British consort, a distinction previously held by Queen Charlotte, George III’s consort.
It had not been the life he had hoped for. Under normal circumstances, he might have expected to pursue his naval career until well into his fifties. His wife would have been more than content to watch him do so, but fate had other plans…………………….
Christine Keeler was just 19 when she became embroiled in a sex scandal that would bring down the British government. Not only was she vilified at the time, but the affair stalked her throughout her life.
That at least, is the popular myth. In the October 1964 general Election, Labour actually won by the narrowest of margins, taking 317 seats, a majority of just four, the smallest since 1847. Although the party enjoyed a 3.5% swing from the Conservatives, its share of the vote did not actually increase. Significantly, the Tory turnout was two million down on 1959. The swing in the regions was somewhat uneven. Although the Tories held up in the Midlands, they saw the capital and the south-east move Labour’s way. The Liberals did well in Scotland and doubled their vote for the second successive election, although they won just nine seats.
Labour’s victory was largely put down to the popular and populist leadership of Harold Wilson, which had done much to boost Labour morale in the run up to the election. Wilson rallied the Labour vote and benefited from the disillusionment of Conservative voters, many of whom stayed at home on polling day.
One could easily argue that, after 13 years in power, winning a fourth term in office was always going to be a difficult task. The Conservative campaign was also criticised for not inspiring the faithful and for failing to take Labour to task over their policy commitments.
The Profumo Affair, with its ingredients of sex, aristocrats and espionage, was a scandal so perfect it remains one of the most enduring in modern British political history. It is also a story that is often remembered as an overture to the Swinging Sixties – a tale of sexual liberation and hope, but one in which everyone who took part was punished. Most of all, it was perhaps an overstated drama that, whilst capturing the public’s imagination, was merely the final nail in the coffin for Macmillan’s cabinet rather than the all important catalyst for destruction.
HRH Queen Elizabeth II
Goodbye Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor.
There might have been a far happier life for her if not for the actions of a wayward uncle. Instead, there was an interesting life punctuated by occasional periods of joy but also much inner turmoil. At the time of her daughter-in-law’s passing, she must have thought the vast majority of her loyal subjects had completely lost the plot. I was frankly embarrassed for all of them.
Here was a woman built for stoicism and an unparalleled devotion to duty, not the front cover of “Hello” magazine.
Now she’s left us, perhaps those thousands will recognize her for what she truly was – the jewel in the crown. We shall not see her like again.