Friday, 25 May 2007

Philip Thompson 1928-2007

Last week I went to the funeral of Philip Thompson, who created cartoons for the letters and agony pages of Artists & Illustrators magazine throughout my time as editor there from 2001-2004. Cartoons is perhaps not quite the word - they were drawings with an erudite spontaneity that sprang off the page, drawing on his vast experience, knowledge and sense of humour.

After several years, I met Philip with Roger Bates, the writer of the agony page for lunch in a Soho restaurant. (Roger's obituary for Philip was published in the Independent.) They got on well immediately - we all did - and Philip's rich past as an artist, illustrator, designer, lecturer and author was gradually revealed, as was even more of Roger's extraordinary artistic knowledge, wit and insight. Their conversation was an education to me. That they both, they claimed, usually tended to spurn such social occasions made it particularly miraculous they met and were able to develop this friendship.

The highlight each month during my time at Artists & Illustrators was to receive Roger's singular, knowledgeable and hilarious responses to readers' queries and then Philip's cartoon to illustrate them. It was a marvel they would work for us within our meagre budget. They worked together on this page for more than 12 years, until a few months ago when Philip became too ill to work. A relaunch for the magazine, now under new owners, means that Roger's wit and wisdom will now also be lost to its pages.

The two worked on a book of their work together, and despite Philip's distinguished publishing past, they were unable to find someone to take it on. "I've written to scores of publishers but they don't bother to reply," Philip wrote to me. "I spent my early years as a designer in the fifties doing book jackets for every publisher in London but all my contacts are either dead, doing time or in homes for the terminally incontinent. It's like starting all over again with 12-year-old editors and art editors."

I will most remember Philip's quiet voice as he answered the phone each month, the beauty even of the envelopes in which he would send his drawings, the visual splendour of his invoices and the ever-present threat of his Lyme Regis home being covered in a landslide. We left his coffin to the sounds of Miles Davis, retired to a nearby pub, and laughed in his memory.


vivien said...

very sad :(

and also sad for A&A - I hope it isn't going to got downhill like Art Review did when they changed their editor a few years ago and dumb down. I loved Rogers answers too :)

Glennis McGregor said...

I'm so bereft that all the good columns in A & A have dissappeared. I loved Roger Bates' column as well as yours. Do you think one or both of you can find a home on 'The Artist' mag for example?

Unknown said...

I came to the site because I hadn't realised that Philip Thompson had died - news from the UK is a bit thin on the ground in France! I still take A&I but for how much longer? As Glennis has said all the good bits have gone - no more biting editorial colum, no more news from James and worst of all [sorry James] no Roger Bates. In fact no humour at all. What's left? I don't want a flashy coffee table magazine, I want my friends back

James Hobbs said...

Thanks for your kind messages, which I have forwarded to Roger. I've mentioned to him the idea of having a blog, but don't know how this will go down...

Unknown said...

Couldn't we have a blog called something like The REAL Artists and Illustrators? I notice that the new setup does not seem to encourage any feedback from subscribers - I wonder why??