I sat down to an enjoyable afternoon with Peter Russell-Clarke, whom I’ve known for nearly 30 years. Peter is 82 and was born on 19th September, 1935. He has been married to Janet for 58 years, and they have two children and three grandchildren. They live on beautiful farmland about 70km from Melbourne, surrounded by beautiful art and sculptures, many created by Peter.
He started his cartooning career at the age of 14 and commenced work as a professional commercial cartoonist. This evolved into drawing advertisements for many of the major companies in Australia at the time, such as Ford, Shell, Dulux and ICI. For quite a few of these companies, Peter also drew comic strips for their company magazines. At one stage, Peter worked with Vane Lindsay as he did the layout for The Shell Times and Peter drew cartoons. He also drew a strip called Rodney and Ron for Dulux and another called Hendrik and Harry as an education tool for new immigrants for the Department of Immigration.
As a self-employed commercial cartoonist, Peter was always looking for new work. In 1969, he assumed drawing duties on Ben Bowyang for The Herald and drew it for almost ten years. Peter also succeeded cartoonist John Frith, drawing editorial cartoons for The Herald. Following this, he contin-ued to draw and write for Truth before working closely with the new Observer newspaper in Melbourne, among many others around Australia.
While Peter was still cartooning from his studio in Carlton, he invited many clients and business contacts for lunch while he cooked. This led to his next career move: working in television on The Don Lane Show in the early 1970s as a chef! From here, Peter moved into his new career as a chef. He also set up and ran his own advertising agency for many years. Peter still regularly con-tributes cartoons and articles to various newspapers around Australia as well as writing and illustrating books.
One of his passions is fine art. His house is full of beautiful paintings. I was lucky enough to be welcomed into three of his studios and work rooms. Sadly, while Peter and Janet were in the USA for their son’s wedding in 2012, their house was destroyed by fire. They lost many family photos, a large book collection and his original political cartoons from the early days.
Luckily, many of the Ben Bowyang cartoons were stored in another studio and were saved. Before Peter left to go to the USA, he had completed the art for four books. The publisher asked for them before they left, but Peter was so busy he decided to ask the publisher to wait until they returned. Unfortunately, they were lost, so he is still rewriting and recreating the art for those books.
I had such a lovely afternoon with Janet and Peter, looking at the art and talking about his amazing working life through so many struggles. They are such a positive and happy couple. Rounding off the day, I was lucky enough to enjoy a beautifully cooked four-course meal with them.
— By Ian McCall
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