Terry Parkes (1927-2003), known as 'Larry' Larry was the cartoonist’s cartoonist, highly respected by his peers for his consistently funny work, and cherished by them for his affability. In the autobiographical Larry on Larry (1994), he wrote, ‘I seem to have the reputation for a being a beer-swigging Brummie cartoonist’, and while each particular of that statement may have been true to the letter, its overall spirit suggests an essential modesty. He even expressed some reservations about the increasing seriousness with which cartooning was being taken, and yet was steeped in the history of his profession and, more widely, in the history of art. This combination of the easygoing and the erudite informed much of his work, in content and draughtsmanship, and he will long be remembered for both his frequent depiction of an Everyman figure, ‘Larry’s man’, and his parodies of famous works of art. Larry was born Terence Parkes on 19 November 1927 in Handsworth, Birmingham, the only child of Walter Thomas Parkes, a car-factory welder, and his wife Alice. Educated at his local school, Handsworth Grammar, he was evacuated along with his classmates to Stroud, Gloucestershire at the outbreak of the Second World War, but returned to Birmingham shortly after the fall of France.
He began to reveal his artistic talents while at Handsworth, and at only 15 he passed the entrance exam to Birmingham School of Arts and Crafts. His studies were interrupted, however, by National Service, serving as a gunner in the Royal Artillery (1946-48). When he returned to art school he chose to specialise in book illustration. Around this time, he had his first cartoons published in the Birmingham Sunday Mercury and the Birmingham Gazette. Qualifying as an art teacher, his career in education was short, but importantly gave him the pseudonym that he would become known by for the rest of his career. From 1951, he taught at Lincoln Road secondary modern in Peterborough, and it was here he was given the nickname ‘Larry’ in honour of Larry Parks, start of the 1946 film The Jolson Story. He survived just three years as a teacher, for, although he got on with his pupils, he found the environment restrictive, and he resigned in 1954.
Larry returned to Birmingham and worked as a progress-chaser in the Lucas Turbines factory, a job that gave him much time ‘in the loo or behind the packing cases’ to hone his cartooning skills. His first cartoons had appeared in Punch and Lilliput in 1954 and in 1956 he joined the Daily Express as a staff cartoonist, working for three months with fellow cartoonists Michael Cummings and Roy Ullyett before the editor, returning from an operation, decided to sack all employees whom he himself had not hired. With his cartoons appearing regularly in publications such as Daily Sketch and Punch, he became a full-time freelance cartoonist in 1957, supplementing his contributions to newspapers and publications, such as the Birmingham Evening Mail, the Daily Sketch, Private Eye, The Oldie, the Guardian and the Observer with various commercial commissions, drawing cartoons for Double Diamond beer, HMSO and the Inland Revenue.
Larry moved to Solihull in 1959 and, always willing to take up a challenge, would later produce cartoons and commentary for Granada TV’s Afternoon Edition (1963-6). He also supplied material to comedian Marty Feldman and produced cartoons for the title credits of Carry On Up the Khyber (1968) and Carry On Camping (1972). For a short time, he painted scenery for Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Royal, London (1973-74).
Larry first made his name around 1960 with the creation of his Everyman figure, initially known as ‘Man in Apron’, a series that first appeared in Punch and led to the publication of a dozen books, from Man in Apron (1959) to Man on Holiday (1973). Though he tried out a number of strips in his early years, it soon became clear that his real skill was for the quick visual gag in a single wordless panel. This approach to cartooning proved the springboard for Larry’s second major achievement: his comic reinterpretations of famous works of art. These were first produced as a response to a commission from Tony Rushton, art director of Private Eye, and resulted in two published volumes: Larry’s Art Collection (1977) and Larry on Art (1978). A retrospective of these cartoons was later held at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, and in a series of shows at the Chris Beetles Gallery from 1991. In the same year he received an honorary fellowship from Birmingham Polytechnic.
Subsequent exhibitions at Chris Beetles Gallery further confirmed Larry’s popularity and his fecundity as he responded to the Olympics (1992), football (1998 and 2001) and war (1995). Further collections of his cartoons were published as The Larry Omnibus (1967), Best of Larry (1983) and Larry at War (1995). Larry also illustrated various books throughout his life, including James Herriot’s Vets Might Fly (1976), George Mike’s How to be Poor (1983) and Private Eye’s ‘Colemanballs’ series (1982-96). The autobiographical Larry on Larry was published in 1994. He died after a short illness in Stratford-upon-Avon on 25 June 2003. He was survived by his wife and two children.
His work is represented in the collections of the British Museum and the V&A; and the British Cartoon Archive, University of Kent (Canterbury), and the University of Essex.