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2007-06, 354, Helen Kenny., Notes and Queries

Notes & Queries: Helen Kenny letter about the cartoonist George Sprod

A letter from Helen Kenny about the cartoonist George Sprod

Dear Brian,

Thanks for the interesting copy of Biblionews and for your note. There are a few things [in your version of my Show & Tell contribution] to correct, one being that I approached Sprod to illustrate an article!

I finished my Arts Degree at the end of 1941, and then had 3½ years in the Army (Australian Women’s Army Service) as a cipher operator, ending up in Central Bureau, Brisbane—the codebreaking centre. I was a humble and hardworking hack, yearning to be a journalist—or poet. Alas.

I’d hoped for the Bulletin, of course, but had absolutely no experience. Early in 1946 I had an introduction to Jean Williamson, former women’s editor of SMH [The Sydney Morning Herald, ed.], before Connie Robertson.

She spoke to the Editor, Alice Jackson, who said: “Get her to write something for page 2—a page of light humour—and we’ll have a look at it.”

I wrote about changes to my favourite beach, Cronulla, and they took it—asking George Sprod to illustrate it. He did a beautiful job. Sprod was no ‘luminary’ then, but was not long out of the POW camp. He was thin and curly haired.

After they accepted this piece, they gave me a job in the fiction department, until I received a cadetship in 1947. Then followed 3 years … oh so slowly. I wrote another piece (not having read Ronald Serle) satirising English schoolgirl stories … midnight feasts, girls trapped by the tide/or bogs. Sprod illustrated that too.

At the end of 1947 the Weekly [the Australian Women’s Weekly, ed.] had a Christmas party. Sprod donned cotton wool whiskers as Father Christmas. I was in the photo, as was Eve Ramsden, editor of the [Sydney Daily, ed.] Telegraph’s social pages where I was serving my time.

After that, in the 50s, Sprod went to England and became celebrated as a cartoonist and member of Punch’s round table.

I encountered him again when I was Literary Editor of the SMH, and Sprod was one of the Herald’s best cartoonists.

One day he said to me: “Helen, please look at the Leader Page and see if my cartoon is there.”

I looked. It wasn’t. He uttered a mild expletive, and Guy Harriott, the editor (an ex-war correspondent) banned him for a month or so, then let him back.

Sprod had a beautiful singing voice, and would walk across duckboards to the demountable hut on the roof of the Herald and ask: “Would you like a song?” Margaret Jones would glare—she and I were not compatible—as I encouraged him to sing an aria.

When I left the SMH at the end of 1980 my husband Jack Kenny and I received 2 presents. Jack’s was a wallet, embossed with boomerangs and the map of Australia; mine was a furry koala (rabbitskin, I think), with black nose and glass eyes. It came from “Sticky Sloane”—the “Belfast Irishman”. Now I was confused. Sprod, I’d been told, was once in Sydney Hospital under the name “Sticky Sloane”. I didn’t know if Sprod was Sticky, or if they were two people. When I wrote to thank Sprod, he said: “As if I’d give you a koala!” The koala has been played with by children in the Kenny family for decades.

A few years ago Norman and Margaret Hetherington asked me to their place for lunch. George was there. I lent him the Father Chritmas photo, and was never to see it again.

When George died, the Hetheringtons let me know, and I went to the service in a little chapel in Newtown.

Sprod’s son was there. He spoke, as did Rowley Richards, one of the magnificent doctors captured with the 8th Division. Richards and other ex-POWs were there. No journalists. Richards said Sprod was a fine artist and brave soldier. I’m sure he was. Now we have the wonderful Macquarie Street meeting place, why not ask Norman—Bulletin artist and Squiggle creator—to speak of the artists he knew?

The Weekly, in my time, used Sprod’s work on the cover, also a cover by Nolan of a baobab tree.

Sorry this is overlong, but I wanted to make it clear that I was not a commissioner of Sprod’s work. I liked it—and also the way he wrote.

I hope this is of help.

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