IN DECEMBER 2000 I attended my first meeting of the BCSA at the Croydon home of Jeff and Betty Bidgood. Everyone at that meeting was a stranger with the exception of Norman and Margaret Hetherington, who I‘d not expected to see. I‘d known them all my life, but had not seen them for a long time.
Norman was a colleague of my father, Jim Blair, at The Bulletin from 1946 to 1960 when The Bulletin was taken over by Consolidated Press and they both found alternate employment. Though not close friends, they stayed in touch until the death of my father in 1991.
My earliest recollection of the artwork of ‘Heth’ (by which name he signed his artwork and was generally known) was at a Fort Street Boys High School fete in about 1955. My parents were running the hoopla stall and Heth donated two large colourfully decorated images of clowns on cardboard, to adorn the stall. Later when my brother, Tony had his 21st, Heth contributed depictions in a similar manner of Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound, popular cartoon characters of the day.
Born in Lilyfield in 1921, Heth attended Fort Street Boys High School. (During Norman‘s final weeks in hospital, one of his nurses was Vicki Nicholls, a BCSA member and wife of president, Chris Nicholls. Coincidentally, Vicki‘s late father, Dr John Laycock, had been in the same class as Heth at Fort Street.) Norm retained a lifelong interest in his old school, attending annual Old Fortians‘ dinners well into his eighties. In his teens Norm developed an interest in both drawing and puppetry, the two major pursuits of his career.
He attended a commercial art course at East Sydney Technical College (now the National Art School) from 1937 to 1939 where he was described as:
an outstanding draughtsman, [who] did many caricatures of his teachers. When he got a job in advertising, he kept up his scholar-ship at the NAS by doing night classes. During the Second World War, Hetherington was drafted into the Entertainment Unit, drawing caricatures of people in the audience . . . He continued as an evening student at ESTC four nights a week from 1946 to 1951 (Deborah Beck, Hope in Hell: A history of Darlinghurst Gaol and the National Art School 2005, pp. 104-5).
Actor and author Michael Pate described Norm‘s lightning caricature skills while they were working together in Concert Parties on mainland Australia, New Guinea and New Britain. After initial
preparation for a show:
[in Corporal Hetherington‘s act] he goes into his spiel, introducing each of his subjects with some very funny ad libs, then with a flourish of his brushes he magically sketches each personality. It‘s a great act and very popular. In his spare time he designs costumes for various new spots in the show, draws up posters we can put on a unit‘s noticeboard, and usually finds time to think up and sketch some cartoons he sends down to the papers on the mainland. You can see his stuff in many magazines (extract from a 1945 letter by Pate in An entertaining war, 1986, p. 150).
Such was Heth‘s versatility. These magazines included Man, Man Junior, Army, Humour, Quiz and The Bulletin. He had his first drawing accepted by The Bulletin when he was 15. As a result of such freelancing and in view of his obvious talent, following the departure of cartoonist John Frith (who moved to The Sydney Morning Herald and
later the Herald in Melbourne) Heth was employed by The Bulletin as a staff cartoonist and worked there full time from 1946 to 1961. Most of the cartoons used in The Bulletin were by freelancers, so it was quite a coup for the emerging artist.
His work included a regular full page political cartoon, less prominent cartoons and caricatures of celebrity visitors to the paper. One such visitor was Catholic priest, Father Leo Hayes (cited in four issues of Biblionews) of Crow‘s Nest, via Toowoomba, Queensland, a prolific book collector of some 60,000 items of Australiana. An interview with
him by my father (using his initials J.B.B.) appeared in The Bulletin on 26 November 1947: ‘There is nothing of the recluse about Father Hayes. A short thickset man with merry eyes, twinkling from beneath bushy white eyebrows, he enjoys company and conversation. Most of The Bulletin‘s literary staff trooped in to meet him while Heth was sketching him.’
Heth also provided illustrations for articles and short stories that appeared in The Bulletin. Indeed, he provided the illustrations for three stories written by my father and reproduced in ‘Blown to blazes’ and other works of J.B. Blair edited by David Blair (2007).
A personal account of Norm‘s time with The Bulletin appeared in Biblionews (360th Issue, December 2008, pp. 143-7): My ‘Bulletin’ Days, 1946-1961. Below is Heth‘s topical cartoon of 3/12/1958, p. 17.
Norman and Mr Squiggle (photo: Sahlan Hayes from
the(sydney)magazine,March 2006, p. 104)
The SMH obituary describes the extent of Norm‘s awards. Norman and Margaret won the Penguin Award both in 1984 and 1989 for excellence in television broadcasting. He received a Medal of the Order of Australia in 1990 ‘for service to children‘s television programs and puppetry’. He maintained the award really should have gone to the puppet. In 2005 the University of NSW‘s College of Fine Arts presented him with an award for excellence in art, design and education.
He was honoured in 2008 with life membership of the Australian Cartoonists Association (see Notes & Queries, Issues 361-362, March-June 2009 Biblionews, pp. 73-4); then in 2009 the ACA ‘presented him with the coveted Jim Russell Award for his contributions. He received a standing ovation at the presentation, made during the Stanley Awards at Darling Harbour [in Sydney], where many fellow cartoonists acknowledged that they were encouraged to pick up a pencil by virtue of being able to watch Mr Squiggle‘s antics on television each week.’
Norman and Margaret were married in 1958. They were active BCSA members for over 20 years though it is not clear when they joined. Norman provided some sketches to the Society, some which have adorned the back cover of Biblionews. The one on the back of this issue has been adopted as the Society‘s logo. Norman was 89 when he died on 6 December 2010 after a long illness. We were privileged to have had Norman as a member of our Society and he will be missed. Our sincere condolences go to Margaret, his children Rebecca and Stephen, and their families.