The artist, animator and writer, Harry Hargreaves, was the finest British animal cartoonist of his generation, with ‘outstanding skill at drawing movement’ and ‘real knowledge of how animals move’ (William Hewison). His abilities are seen to their best both in his own creations, ‘The Bird’ and ‘Hayseeds’, and in his interpretations of Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear for the Blue Peter annuals. Harry Hargreaves was born in Manchester on 9 February 1922, the elder son of Harry Hargreaves, a civil servant in the Ministry of Labour, and Eugenie (née Ince). He became a choirboy at Manchester Cathedral at the age of eight (1930-33), and began to teach himself to draw cartoons at the age of nine. Then, in 1936, at the age of 14, and while still at Chorlton High School, he published his first cartoon in the Manchester Evening News.
Following the divorce of his parents, Hargreaves left school at the age of 16, in 1938, and joined a local interior design company – while, in his spare time, he studied architecture, furniture design and mechanical drawing at Manchester School of Art. Within a year, he was working as a trainee engineer, and gaining experience with such companies as Rolls-Royce, Ford and Kestrel Engines.
But soon after, he was hired by the Manchester art agency, Kayebon Press, and began assisting Hugh McNeil with his strips for The Beano and The Dandy.
During the Second World War, Hargreaves served in the RAFVR Signals, first in the United Kingdom (1940-41), and later in the Far East (1941-45). While in service, he contributed to Blighty (1940) and various air force magazines, and designed official Christmas cards for RAF Ceylon Postal Services (1942-43). After the war, Hargreaves joined J Arthur Rank’s Gaumont British Animation Ltd, in Cookham, Berkshire, as a cartoon animator (1946-50). While there, he met Penny Vickery, who was working at the company as an inker and painter, and they married in 1948. They would have two daughters.
When the Cartoon Unit disbanded, Hargreaves turned freelance for three years, creating and developing strips for Amalgamated Press comics, including ‘Harold Hare’ for The Sun, and producing advertising drawings for Dunlops, Pickering and Rowntrees.
In 1953, Hargreaves moved to Amsterdam to join Toonder Film Studios, working as a Master Cartoonist for Marten Toonder, the ‘Dutch Disney’. While living there, he took over Toonder’s cartoon strip, ‘Panda’, which was syndicated to 150 daily newspapers across Europe, including the London Evening News. Returning to England in 1954, he continued this strip until 1961, while contributing on a freelance basis to many national newspapers and magazines, including The Christian Science Monitor, The Countryman, The Cricketer, Lilliput, Men Only, Punch and The Tatler.
Hargreaves’ best known creation is probably ‘The Bird’, an indeterminate scruffy little bird, which first appeared as a wordless strip in Punch on 29 October 1958, and later worldwide, including in colour on TV-am as ‘Early Bird’ (1985-87). Many of the cartoons were collected in four volumes between 1961 and 1967.
In 1961, Hargreaves created a fox called ‘Gogo’ for Discs-a-Gogo, a new pop music programme produced by Television Wales & West (TWW). The character proved so popular that the programme was syndicated throughout Europe between 1961 and 1965.
Another major success was ‘Hayseeds’, which was inspired by ‘Pogo’, a strip by the American cartoonist, Walt Kelly. Containing British wildlife characters such as Toby the Badger, it ran in the Evening News between 1968 and 1970, was syndicated internationally and gave rise to two books.
Having produced so many original animal cartoons, it seems only proper that he should have turned to interpreting such a classic character as Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear. Applying his characteristic vitality, he illustrated Bond’s ‘Paddington’ stories for BBC TV’s Blue Peter annuals between 1969 and 1980. He also illustrated a 1983 edition of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows.
Hargreaves produced advertising drawings for Barclays Bank, Kelloggs, Guinness, Saxa Salt, the Coal Board, Walls and Post Office Telegrams; greetings cards for Sharpes (1987-88), and designs for mechanical and soft toys.
His extensive illustration work for the publications of the Army Air Corps and Wildlife and Wetlands Trust, led to an Honorary Membership of the former and an Honorary Life Fellowship of the latter. He was also a member of both the British Cartoonists’ Association and the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers.
In 1989, Hargreaves suffered an aneurism, and his health never fully recovered. He died in Yeovil of cancer on 12 November 2004.
His work is represented in the British Cartoon Archive, University of Kent (Canterbury).
Further reading: Mark Bryant, ‘Harry Hargreaves’, Independent, 22 November 2004 [obituary]; Paul Gravett, ‘Harry Hargreaves’, Guardian, 8 December 2004 [obituary]