STEVE BELL’S THE IF…. CHRONICLES Methuen Paperbacks 1983. ISBN 0-413-53970-9
Steve Bell’s bitingly funny highly political satirical cartoons for the Guardian Newspaper were never funnier than in the dark years of the Thatcher-Reagan era, and this compilation of the 1983 season are Bell at his very best. Here, the Falkland Penguins, delighted by their British citizenship following the British war against the Argentinean Junta, flock to England in search of fish ad dreams. Thatcher, depicted literally as an ‘Iron Lady’, made of battleship steel, or as a wide-eyed deranged escaped lunatic, matches Reagan’s half senile buffoonery. In America, Ronald Reagan gets himself a speech-writing hat and literally negotiates with Francis the talking Mule. Norman Fowler becomes a lame superhero called Fowlman, and Norman Tebbit is a Frankenstein monster corpse of frightening proportions. Despite the passing years, the comedy is often still laugh out loud funny. Thatcher gains the support of mindless destructive robots from a car plant at which humans have been ousted by automation. The police are seen as utterly corrupt, mostly through the eyes of a monkey. A thread in this compilation shows them raiding under-paid pensioners as if they were a gang of professional bank-raid gangsters. Bell’s comedy is like a dark and daring cousin to Spitting Image, you read it, laugh and wonder how Bell avoided getting sued or banned. Few other satirists take such a savage uncompromising stance on the politicians of their day. Bell is still going today in The Guardian, and with much still to commend him, but this collection is from a true Golden age and there is little doubting the sincerity of the point Bell makes about how monstrous our leading politicians can be. Rupert Murdoch’s media empire gets lampooned savagely too, as does the lacklustre SDP party, for its failure to take on Thatcher. Strangely, this collection makes few digs at the Labour Party of Neil Kinnock, though Bell certainly made his feelings on them known too in the newspapers.
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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