Punch magazine was a very British institution with an international reputation for its witty and irreverent take on the world.
Renowned for its cartoons and satire, Punch was founded in 1841 by an assortment of publicans, printers and journalists. It remained in print for over 150 years, publishing the work of some of the greatest comic writers in English including William Makepeace Thackeray, P G Wodehouse, G K Chesterton, A A Milne, Noel Coward, E M Delafield and Olivia Manning. Some of the classics of British humour that were first published as serials in Punch are The Book of the Snobs, The Diary of a Nobody, Molesworth and 1066 and All That. Writers, poets, scientists and philosophers as diverse as Malcolm Bradbury, Ian Nairn, Cecil Day Lewis, Kingsley Amis, Sylvia Plath, J B Priestley, Somerset Maugham, Robert Graves, Bernard Lovell, Stella Gibbons, John Betjeman, Stevie Smith, George Steinbeck and A J Ayer were among the many who wrote for Punch.
It was Punch that first introduced the use of the word ‘cartoon’ (referring to satirical or humorous drawings) into the English language, when in 1843 it mocked the government of the day’s costly exhibition of preliminary drawings (or cartoons) for a competition for paintings to decorate the new Houses of Parliament. Punch’s Cartoon No. 1: Substance and Shadow, subtitled The Poor Ask for Bread and the Philanthropy of the State Accords - An Exhibition, showed a group of poverty-stricken Londoners wandering round the exhibition. The satirical use of the word stuck and Punch's cartoons went on to amuse, delight, shock and offend for a century and a half. Nearly 500,000 cartoons by some of the world’s finest illustrators were published in the magazine including John Leech, George du Maurier, John Tenniel, E H Shepard, H M Bateman, Pont, Fougasse, Norman Thelwell and Rowland Emett.
Apart from great writing and hilarious cartoons, the pages of Punch are an unparalleled documentary of the 19th and 20th centuries. Its political cartoons were iconic images that swayed governments, while its social cartoons captured the rapid changes in everyday life. In the pages of Punch you can see vast global dramas (from the Crimean War, through WW1 and WW2 to the Gulf War), social and political changes (Votes for Women to the fall of the Berlin Wall), changing fashions (crinolines to mini-skirts), developments in science (Darwinism to splitting the atom), technology (photography, electricity, telephones), transport (railways, motor cars, aeroplanes and the Space Shuttle) and mass entertainment (cinema and television)