According to his obituary in The Times, WK Haselden was ‘the father of the British newspaper strip cartoon’. He is particularly remembered for multi-panel cartoons of political and social subjects that appeared in the Daily Mirror, and also for theatrical caricatures in Punch.
W K Haselden was born in Seville, Spain, on 3 December 1872, the son of an English civil engineer who was Director of the Seville Gas Works. In 1874, the family moved eastwards from Seville to Linares, where Haselden’s uncle was running the family mining business. During a holiday in England in 1877, his father contracted pneumonia, dying in the following year. The surviving family remained in England, settling in Hampstead, London, and living off profits from shares in the family mining business.
Haselden was educated at a private school in Carlton Hill, St John’s Wood.
However, his mother’s financial straits necessitated his withdrawal from school in 1888, at the age of sixteen. He received a little extra tuition but never underwent any formal artistic training, sketching being a recreation. Through a family friend, he became a Lloyd’s underwriter, and retained the position for thirteen years, though unhappily.
In 1902, Haselden published a caricature of a fellow Lloyd’s underwriter in The Sovereign, a periodical that had been newly formed from the British Mining and Financial Review. As a result, he was invited to join its staff and was able to leave Lloyd’s. During his time there, he produced theatrical sketches and political cartoons but, a year later, in April 1903, The Sovereign folded. So he had to turn temporarily to freelance work, producing cartoons and sketches for The Tatler and the St James’s Gazette.
In the hope of obtaining a more permanent position, Haselden wrote to Alfred Harmsworth, the newspaper and magazine editor. In turn, he was directed to Arkas Sapt, whose expertise as a technician was helping to improve the fortunes of the newly created Daily Mirror. He was taken on as Editorial Cartoonist for that newspaper, and remained in the role until his retirement in 1940. While beginning as a political cartoonist, he soon turned to social satire, producing a daily multi-panelled cartoon on an aspect of middle class life. These became so popular that they were gathered in annual collections, known as ‘Daily Mirror’ Reflections, between 1906 and 1935.
Haselden became even more celebrated through ‘The Sad Experiences of Big and Little Willie’. A response to the First World War, the strip initially appeared in the Daily Mirror on 2 October 1914, with the first six months’ drawings being collected together in a publication by the Fine Art Society in 1915. The events of war were also reflected in the lives of his characters on the Home Front, notably Burlington Bertie, Joy Flapperton and the departmental bureaucrat, Colonel Dug-Out.
From 1906, Haselden also regularly produced ‘art deco’ theatrical caricatures for Punch, with such rising stars as Edith Evans, Sybil Thorndike and John Gielgud appearing regularly in his images from the mid 1920s. As a result of increasing deafness, he retired from Punch in September 1936, but continued at the Daily Mirror until 1940. His work was admired by Max Beerbohm, Paul Nash and Walter Sickert, among others.
According to family tradition, Haselden turned down a knighthood offered by Stanley Baldwin because he ‘didn’t want all the fuss’.
For most of his career, Haselden lived with his wife and children at 1 Pelham Place, South Kensington. From the mid 1930s, he spent an increasing amount of time at the family’s holiday home, Dudley Dene, Lee Road, Aldeburgh, Suffolk. In June 1953, an exhibition of his drawings was mounted at the Church Hall as part of the Aldeburgh Festival. Six months later, he died on 25 December.
Further reading: David James Little, ‘Haselden, William Kerridge (1872-1953)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 25, pages 701-702
His work is represented in the collections of the V&A; and the British Cartoon Archive, University of Kent (Canterbury).