Railway Ribaldry, by W. Heath Robinson, Great Western Railway, 1935 [ebook]


 Railway Ribaldry, by W. Heath Robinson, Great Western Railway, 1935, Soft back book three-colour card cover 10”x 7., pp. 92 B&W cartoons


William Heath Robinson (31 May 1872 – 13 September 1944) was an English cartoonist and illustrator best known for drawings of ridiculously complicated machines for achieving simple objectives.  He was also capable of “serious” work in black & white book illustrations, some of which were reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley in that artist’s less “adult” work.

In the U.K., the term “Heath Robinson” entered the language during  the  Great War as a description of any unnecessarily complex and implausible contrivance, “Heath Robinson contraption” is perhaps more often used in relation to temporary fixes using ingenuity and whatever is to hand, often string and tape, or unlikely cannibalisations. Its continuing popularity was undoubtedly linked to Second World War Britain’s shortages and the need to “make do and mend”. During the Great War his work was a boost to National morale partcularly when poking fun at the Germans. I have a copy of his “Washing Day Aboard  a Zeppelin” where a ridiculous sagging sausage shaped object is obviously patched and leaking, while festooned with clothes lines featuring an assortment of non-too clean much –worn undergarments. The puzzle is, what is the lady’s corset doing there ?

Following the LNER (1925) and LMS (1930) centenary celebrations the GWR wanted to do things a little differently. Certainly there was the usual supplement to The Times but new “Centenary” carriages were built for the Cornish Riviera Express, which again made full use of the wider track bed bequeathed by Brunel’s broad gauge  on that route. A film was sponsored,  “Romance of a Railway” featuring the replica “North Star” locomotive  seen at the Darlington celebrations in 1925 and a young classical actor Donald Wolfit, as Daniel Gooch , and by way of light relief, a book by the popular cartoonist, W. Heath Robinson was commissioned . “Railway Ribaldry” had a mixed reception amongst contemporary rail enthusiasts, for the way in which signals were depicted worked by bits of knotted string, heavy weights were suspended from fraying ropes and bits of rail were plainly missing in some pictures, in this cartoon version of the GWR.

“We had mixed feelings about “Railway Ribaldry” an elderly friend who had been a very serious minded 17 year-old enthusiast in 1935 once told me.

“I loved the dear staid, steady GWR, ”  he said. “It did not seem right to portray it in this rickety ramshackle fashion. It was as if Stanley Baldwin had dropped his trousers in the House of Commons, and put on a big false red nose.”  Be that as it may “Railway Ribaldry ” proved very popular at the time and has been reprinted several times since.  This facsimile is of the original 1st edition published by the GWR itself. Later editions by other publishers differed in some details.




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