Matthew Pritchett, who signs as Matt, was born on 14 July 1964. He studied design and illustration for four years at the St Martin’s School of Art he studied design and illustration for four years at the London School of Art, where he met Pascale Smets, whom he later married.
“I’d get up at 5am and work 14 hours a day loading boxes in a forest. But when a job came up as a BBC camera assistant, and I’d been doing exactly that job for free, I didn’t even get past the first round. Ijust thought, I’m never going to get in here.” told in The Telegraph in February 2018 on his 30th birthday at the paper.
He hoped to pursue a career as a film cameraman, but gave it up when he discovered that his responsibilities were mainly “getting the camera from place to place”.
Living like a millionaire drawing
For a while, Pritchett worked as a waiter in a pizza parlour, before he found out that magazines were paying £75 per cartoon, and decided that “I should be able to think of a joke a week, and if I could come up with two, I’d live like a millionaire”
First cartoon published
After weeks of submitting jokes to various publications, Pritchett managed to get one published in New Statesman.
“I was so excited that I would walk into any newsagent’s shop I saw, to find that my cartoon was in every issue of the magazine“, Matt wrote in the foreword to his book“30 Years of Matt” published by Orion in 2018
Worst cartoon ever published
Pritchett began sending topical cartoons to the Daily Telegraph’s “Peterborough”, edited by Peter Birkett. His first piece was accepted while Birkett was on holiday, and on his return, furious, he hung an A3 enlargement of it on his office wall with the caption“This is the worst cartoon ever published”
I have not been able to find the cartoon, so I have written to Matt but have not yet received a reply. If he replies, I’ll add it here.
Matt remembers that period like this:
“I knew I’d drive myself crazy sitting at home trying to think of desert island jokes, so I decided to do topical cartoons, which meant the subject matter of the jokes would change all the time and I could work with other people.”
“And a newsroom is not so different from a film set, with teams of funny, gossipy people working together, but in an office rather than a forest. In those days, the Telegraph Peterborough published a cartoon every day, and the paper’s editor would consider any drawing that was delivered to his Fleet Street office before 3pm. After about six weeks of delivering three cartoons a day, one was suddenly published. After a while he was putting in a few a week.
Matt continued to publish work in the newspaper, and in 1988 he became the replacement for George Gale (1929 – 2003), producing the same full-size political cartoons, now signed “MATT”
After the death of Mark Boxer that same year, the editor, Max Hastings, considered Pritchett for the post of“pocket cartoonist” at the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph
The “pocket” cartoon
I’m stopping to try to define this“pocket cartoonist” because its literal translation as “pocket cartoonist” is not very appropriate, the ones that are pocket cartoons are the vignettes, so the most correct literal translation for English would perhaps be “cartoonist of pocket cartoons“.
The pocket vignettes are quick thematic gags of small format, hence the pocket, and very simple drawing. On many occasions they are almost minimal. The joke prevails over the graphic.
A good answer can be found in The Political Cartoon Society in an article in which they ask whether pocket cartoons can be included in the category of political cartoons.
“While the mental effort involved in a pocket cartoon is considerable, the speed with which it is executed involves less detail and technique than in the case of political cartoons. In any case, pocket cartoonists are generally less artistically gifted than political cartoonists or even comic strip cartoonists. Their fundamental skill, after all, is to be funny day in and day out“.
A mistake helped cement his relationship with the Telegraph
As a test, he was asked to produce six sample cartoons a week, and after six weeks the first, which remains one of Pritchett’s favourites, was printed
Published on the front page of the Daily Telegraph it featured a couple and the character saying: “I hope I have a better Thursday than yesterday”.
Matt’s first cartoon in the Telegraph, which appeared the day after the paper printed the wrong date on the front page, 1988.
Matt recalls in the foreword to his book the incident with the date that marked the beginning of his work as a cartoonist for the Telegraph:
“I soon realised that if I loitered around the newsroom I would be asked to do other cartoons when there was a small gap on a page. Then, on 24 February 1988, the Telegraph printed the wrong date on the front page: they said it was Thursday 25, a day earlier.
“Readers went mad and called to say they’d had a dispute at the post office or had been to a doctor’s appointment 24 hours earlier. The editor, Max Hastings, had to write a front-page apology and, as I was walking around the newsroom, someone said to me, ‘You’re a cartoonist, we need something to go with this
“I was so desperate to get one of my cartoons on the cover that I offered them six different jokes and it worked; one was used, which was the last one I could think of. Within six months I was appointed front page cartoonist for the Telegraph, but I always think of 25 February as the day it all started.”
A table at the paper
From his early days, Pritchett worked at a desk in the Daily Telegraph office. “I’m terrible on my own,” he admits: “I’m very undisciplined and need to be in an office surrounded by people and panicking about having to do something.”
His routine was to submit half a dozen “drafts” to the paper’s evening editor in the afternoon, and then work out the “final” cartoon for publication. If the news of the day was particularly important, his cartoon might be discarded, but Pritchett accepted this, noting in 1989 that he was not interested in drawing “statement or opinion cartoons”, and that he did not like to draw “anything that wasn’t a joke”.
Pritchett describes the subject matter of his pocket cartoons for the Daily Telegraph as “ordinary people affected by life”, and they proved hugely popular. He acknowledges that the cartoonist in The Guardian Bryan McAllister (1945) was one of his earliest influences.
Bryan McAllister, was a brilliant “pocket” cartoonist at The Guardian. When the dictator Francisco Franco died, Bryan’s cartoon showed one of the coffin bearers asking the others:“Did you hear him cough?” (Source). Meanwhile, in the USA, Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Light would take the joke about the death of the “Generalissimo” much further by turning it into a classic.
Matt also claims to have been influenced by Jean-Jacques Sempé (1932-2022) and the New Yorker cartoonists
A £150,000 pay rise in 1995
The pay of newspaper workers has always been one of those issues that the media don’t usually discuss and that cartoonists prefer not to talk about, especially when they earn a lot. This is not the norm. About Matt, it has always been said that he was paid much more than usual.
On this matter I usually apply a very personal formula: if they earn very little, or nothing, they won’t say so out of embarrassment, and if it’s a lot, they won’t say so either because of agreements, written or not, of confidentiality or any other reason.
According to the biography published in The British Cartoon Archive, when he Max Hastings moved to the Evening Standard in 1995, Sir David English (1931 -1998) persuaded him to offer Pritchett a substantial pay rise if he would move to its sister paper, the Daily Mail, but Pritchett reportedly replied: “Dear Max, although the Daily Mail’s offer is £150,000 more than I’m getting here, I’m sorry I have to say no because I’m very happy at The Daily Telegraph”.
If he could afford to turn down such a raise even in the mid-1990s, and without knowing his salary at the time, he certainly wasn’t on a small salary.
650.000 pounds a year
In 2018, the satirical magazine Private Eye ran a column in its “The street of shame” in which it discussed Pritchett’s salary. According to the magazine, Matt was pocketing just over £650,000 a year.
The column, entitled“The Telegraph goes all out for the 30th anniversary of Matt Pritchett’s cartoons“, reads that “on 23 February (2018) all staff were ordered the tools so that the editor Chris Evans could pay tribute to Matt. The next day’s paper carried a front page feature and the whole of page 3 filled with tributes from the likes of Prince Philip and the Prime Minister, plus a 3,500-word cover story in the magazine.”
Private Eye magazine page, seen here
“Then four more pages in the Monday paper with Matt choosing his favourite cartoons of the last 30 years. This alone cost the posh paper £30,000. The celebrations will continue until at least November, when Evans will interview Matt at Cadogan Hall in front of a paying theatre-going audience.”
“There’s no denying that Matt is funny, likeable and much loved by readers, but what has prompted such sentimentality from a company better known for
sacking staff than appreciating them? It’s simple: Matt is receiving job offers from the Times and the Daily Mail, which have coveted him for years, and chairman Aidan Barclay has made it clear that losing Matt would lead to the editor’s resignation
“With the Telegraph now selling less than the Daily Star (385,000 copies, down 18% on the previous year), Barclay fears a reader revolt and an even more calamitous circulation collapse if Matt leaves.”
“The paper can do no more for Matt financially, as the
cartoonist already earns far more than any other newsroom employee: £650,000
, compared with £400,000 for the editor, Chris Evans.”
“And the generosity doesn’t end there. They paid for the rectory in Suffolk where Matt spends his weekends, and where he was interviewed for the magazine’s cover story, giving him a huge bonus in 2010.”
“They also provided him with an interest-free mortgage to buy a holiday home in the Dordogne”.
Private Eye closes the column with a curious (or amusing) fact:“the Telegraph pays £25,000 to its young graduates, which means it could get 26 reporters for the price of one cartoonist“.
This Private Eye column only provoked a few reactions on Twitter and the ensuing banter, but no repercussions beyond that.
“I’ve done some maths and have come to the conclusion that, on that salary and additional bonuses, Matt will be rich enough to be able to buy the whole county of Hampshire when he retires.
With a salary of £650,000 he comes out at around £2,500 per cartoon, (about €2,900) which sounds almost reasonable considering Matt’s cartoons average about 6 lines of ink.” @Eff__Jay (account suspended without copy on Archive)
Others didn’t think it was so funny and pointed out the outrageous pay gap:
Although the veracity of Matt’s absolute salary figures has to be put in brine, as the only reference is this Private Eye article, which is just an opinionated text with no source, I don’t think it’s all a lie. But who knows.
It would not be the first time that economic wars have been waged to prevent or provoke the flight of cartoonists. In 1992, The Telegraph paid a small fortune to get Alex Masterley to take away Peattie and Taylor from the Independent to the Telegraph.
Member of the Order of the British Empire
In 2001 he was awarded the MBE(Order of the British Empire). By then he had drawn an estimated 2,500 pocket cartoons for the Daily Telegraph, and was still working at a desk in a corner of the paper’s open-plan offices in Canary Wharf.
Pritchett’s work has also appeared in the Punch, Spectator and other publications.
Pritchett follows “a scattergun approach”, jotting down dozens of possible cartoon ideas “no matter how bad” and then refining them into the six or so drafts he shows to the editor. “It’s very rare that the first one comes through,” he admits: “It’s usually the last one. I think of it a bit like colonic irrigation
The subject of his cartoon usually follows the lead story, but Pritchett admits that “as long as it’s funny and vaguely topical, they don’t mind”.
According to Andrew Marrmatt “has entered the consciousness of millions of people as few of his angrier, more flamboyant rivals have done”. “His wry, biting, smug partner is to the middle classes what he was to the working classes Andy Capp was to the working classes
His awards include Granada TV Cartoonist of the Year in 1992, Cartoon Art Trust Pocket Cartoonist of the Year in 1995, 1996 and 2005, and UK Press Gazette Cartoonist of the Year in 1996 and 1998
Matt has won the admiration of other cartoonists. “It’s really amazing how he keeps going,” he commented Christian Adams when Pritchett won cartoonist of the year at the 2009 British Press Awards, “and not only does he produce at least six cartoons a week, but he makes each one look fresh”.
In 2009, Pritchett described his daily routine as starting at 8.30am with a check of competing newspapers “to see if anyone had done anything funnier than me”
He would then contact the editorial staff to see what would appear in the next day’s Daily Telegraph. He then starts sketching out possible jokes, noting that “the rubbish comes out first”. “Then some slightly crazy ideas. Then there’s nothing left to do but have good ideas.”
By 4 p.m. he has a page of jokes to show in the office, as Pritchett admits that “I’m not always the best judge of my own stuff”. The final choice is left to the editor, but Pritchett jokes that “in fact, the editor’s secretary chooses them. She’s a much better judge. The final drawing is completed before the paper’s deadline of 9pm.
Pritchett acknowledges that the pocket cartoon is not easy, as “making something look effortless is a lot of work” and points out that “the downside is that you can’t set up a joke like a comedian would, it has to be more instant”
Such jokes are also able to gain impact from the seriousness of the surrounding news. “When I’m imagining the cartoon I’m thinking about the page and the headlines that will appear next to it. Sometimes, when there is heavy news around it, it can be a little rectangle between pages of horror. Sometimes this is a perfect backdrop for the joke.”
Pritchett uses a fine Profipen felt-tip pen and, occasionally, watercolour (until 1994, sometimes also Letratone)
An admirer of the work of “Pont” (Graham Laidler), he is self-critical of his own contribution to the art of the cartoon: “Pocket cartoons can stay, yellowed, stuck on someone’s fridge for a while, but works like Pont’s The British Character series are timeless.
“People tell me that my cartoons sometimes make political statements,” he says: “But all I’m after is the cheap (easy) laugh.”
Family of creators
Matt is the son of veteran Daily Telegraph columnist Oliver Pritchett and grandson of the novelist and literary editor of the New Statesman, Sir Victor (V. S.) Pritchett (1900-1997).
His sister Georgina is an award-winning comedy and drama screenwriter, who among many other thingshas five Emmys for her work, six Screenwriters Guild Awards, two Golden Globes, a BAFTA and a Producers Guild Award
Writer and co-executive producer of the acclaimed HBO series Succession, she was also co-executive producer and writer of Veep, the Emmy Award-winning HBO series, which ran for seven seasons.
In 1993, he worked as a screenwriter on an episode of Spitting Image.
Matt Pritchett is married to former fashion designer Pascale Smets, now a home improvement shop owner, with whom he has five children. Pascale’s sister Benedicte is married to Martin Newland, former editor of The Telegraph.
One of his daughters, Edithone of his daughters, 25, has followed the cartooning path. She was a cartoonist for the news website Tortoise and now draws for The Guardian.
Edith Pritchett she introduced herself on her day so on Tortoise:
“I come from a very artistic family. Both my parents went to art school (they met there and my dad is still a draughtsman), so a lot of my childhood was being forcibly planted in front of sketchbooks with my siblings.
I have three sisters and a brother and we grew up drawing all the time. My siblings and I would make fun of each other by drawing the most frightening cartoonish depictions possible. In retrospect, it was a very peculiar kind of sibling warfare.
Matt has joked on a number of occasions about how the family’s artwork has been dwindling, “my grandfather wrote stories, my father wrote newspaper columns, and I make a living with eight or nine words a day, so my children will be mime artists“. At the end of this video of Brian Doben you can hear him telling this joke again.
Matt continues to draw for the Telegraph.
- Foreword from the book 30 Years of Matt
- Biography at The British Cartoon Archive
- Matt Pritchett on Instagram
- Cartoon Gallery from Matt at The Telegraph
- Edith Pritchett on Instagram
- Giorgia Pritchett on Twitter
- Cartoonist Matt on his 30 years at the Telegraph “the joke is the thing my sanity is based on”
- Should pocket cartoons ever be considered in the same category as political ones?The British Cartoon Society