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News > OP updates > Romping through the years - Cartoons of PGS

Romping through the years - Cartoons of PGS

School Archivist, John Sadden, talks to former school cartoonist Roger Purkis (OP 1943-49) about his witty and satirical creations.
19 Nov 2021
Written by John Sadden
OP updates
a satirical ROMP portrayal of school life
a satirical ROMP portrayal of school life

Rummaging through archived old Portmuthians (vintage magazines, not preserved alumni), one can't help but be immediately engaged by the preoccupations of the time reflected in editorials: the use of language, the minutiae of school life, the grainy photographs and the way that colourful characters emerge from an austere age of black and white. 

Editions from the 1940s show evidence of war economy measures, most notably a reduction in the number of pages, but in the immediate post-war years one is struck by the occasional full-page pen-and-ink cartoon, the lines portraying imaginary school incidents firmly based on the reality of school life. Witty and well-executed, they are signed ROMP. 

A search through the admission records yeilded no OP of that surname but a trawl through surnames beginning with 'P' provided us with Roger O M Purkis, who was at the school from 1943 until 1949. Roger spent his early school years as an evacuee in Bournemouth, boarding initially at Boldrewood and then Colvin, before returning to the war-damaged school site in Portsmouth. 

Roger kindly responded to an invitation to visit the school recently and spoke about his subsequent career in art, doing what he loves best. 

Roger began drawing at around the age of 11, his subjects being his mother's stationary friends at whist drives. The boy's talent was recognised at school by Art master Mr Bartle. "It was because of him that I won the McNicol Art Prize two years running" Roger recalled.

He chose books on Augustus John and Leonardo da Vinci and the guests of honour who presented them were future Prime Minister Anthony Eden and Field Marshall Montgomery, 1st Vicount Montgomery of Alamein. But a rebellious streak - arguably an essential characteristic of cartoonists - did not always endear him to masters. He recalls having worn a purple shirt - apparently illegal in the austere post-war years - and being picked out in assembly and sent to the Headmaster's study. He knew it would happen, but he couldn't resist.

Roger's nib gently pricked the pomposity of masters - mortar-boarded figures that were most generic so that nobody could take personal offence. Their authority was not dimished - they are shown as hapless human beings in a hostile world of prank-playing pupils. 

Not surprisingly, the boy with the sense of humour, observant eye and artistic talent went on to study at the College of Art in Portsmouth. From there he made a living out of his talent by working as a technical illustrator for the Admiralty. After seven years he emigrated to Canada, continuing as a technical illustrator with the aeroplane company A V Roe in Toronto, a job that was equally dull. 

Then, after four years working for commercial art studios, it was back to London where Roger was employed by advertising agencies to create press ads. At the height of the swining sixties, he was sent to Paris to set up a studio, and then another in Belgium, at one time having 15 artists working under him. Back in London, he became a director in charge of commercial sales for another company before moving back to Hampshire and taking up a post as an art director. Latterly, he was the artist and illustrator for the Mary Rose Trust, producing beautiful illustrations that brought the Tudor past to vivd life. Since 1989 he has been an adult education tutor in the Portsmouth area, continuing to teach and work on his own landscapes.

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