Since 1971, and for almost 50 years, Mac has produced regular cartoons for the Daily Mail and then its sister paper, the Mail on Sunday. He has always considered that he is essentially apolitical, and that his role is to brighten ‘the dreary news copy of the daily paper … by putting in a laugh’. He has achieved through clear, realistically drawn images, replete with mimetic detail and social comment. Stan McMurtry was born in Edinburgh on 4 May 1936, the son of the commercial traveler, Stanley McMurtry, and his wife, Janet. When he was about the age of 10, he moved with his family to Solihull in Warwickshire, and was educated locally at Sharmans Cross High School for Boys.
Between 1950 and 1953, McMurtry studied at Birmingham College of Arts and Crafts. Then, having undertaken National Service in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (1954-56), he moved to Henley-on-Thames, in Oxfordshire, to begin work at Nicholas Cartoon Films, an animation production company newly established by Nicholas and Mary Spargo.
By the time of his first marriage, to Maureen Flaye in 1958, he had become one of the company’s key animators, and would work on two films that won awards at the Cannes Film Festival. He and Maureen would have one son and two daughters. During his spare time, he began to produce gag cartoons, which he would send to newspapers and magazines, in the hope of their being accepted. Eventually, he had a cartoon published in Today on 7 January 1961.
In 1965, McMurtry left Nicholas Cartoon Films in order to establish himself as a freelance cartoonist. While continuing to contribute cartoons to periodicals, such as Punch and the London Evening News, he also drew strips for children’s comics, including ‘Percy’s Pets’ for Smash and ‘Pest of the West’ for Wham!
In 1968, McMurtry became the topical cartoonist for the Daily Sketch (on the retirement of Norman Mansbridge), and from January 1969 produced a daily cartoon, which he signed ‘Mac’. When the Daily Sketch was absorbed by the Daily Mail in 1971, the editor, David English, chose McMurtry over the Daily Mail’s existing political cartoonist, Wally Fawkes. McMurtry then worked in tandem with John Musgrave-Wood (who signed as ‘Emmwood’), until Musgrave-Wood retired in 1975. From that year, McMurtry drew five cartoons a week, with John Kent contributing the sixth, then from 1979 drew four a week. From 1978, his cartoons were collected in annuals, and later celebrated in two volumes edited by Mark Bryant: 25 Years of Mac (1996) and 50 years of Mac (2018).
During the 1970s, McMurtry also collaborated with Bernard Cookson on comedy scripts for Dave Allen and Tommy Cooper (1973-76), and produced a children’s book, The Bunjee Venture (1977), which provided the source for four animated cartoons by Hanna-Barbera (1984-85).
Having divorced his first wife in 1980, McMurtry married Janet Rattle in Maidstone, Kent, in the following year. From that time, he regularly incorporated her likeness into his cartoons. Then, two decades later, in 2003, when he married his third wife, Elizabeth Vaughan, in Kensington, her likeness began to replace that of Janet.
During the 1980s, McMurtry began to receive the first of many awards. Most notably, the Cartoonists’ Club of Great Britain voted him Social and Political Cartoonist of the Year (1983, 1984), Cartoonist of the Year (1983, 1988) and Master Cartoonist (2000); the UK Press Gazette named him Cartoonist of the Year (1982, 1984, 1999); the What the Papers Say Awards named him Cartoonist of the Year (2003, 2007); the Cartoon Art Trust named him Political Cartoonist of the Year (2007) and presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award (2010); and the Society of Editors named him Cartoonist of the Year (2016, 2018). In 2004, he was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire. A member of several clubs, he was Chairman of the Saints and Sinners for the year 2015-16.
McMurtry retired from the Daily Mail in 2018, in the year following the death of his third wife, Liz. However, he came out of retirement in December 2020 to work for the Mail on Sunday.
His work is represented in the collections of the British Cartoon Archive, University of Kent (Canterbury).