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Review: Bill Tidy: “Is there any news of the iceberg” at The Atkinson

In 2017, Bill Tidy shared thoughts on his life and career, including this:

“As I grew older I began to appreciate the danger of uninformed flattery.

Eventually it dawned on me that for most of us, once we are out of our comfort zone, according to the law of averages, we are talking rubbish half of the time anyway! In other words, accept praise and criticism with the same reserve! I’ve had plenty of each.”

His obituaries were filled with an outpouring of praise, in every newspaper and magazine he’d ever drawn for (and there were a lot). I’m not sure he’d have been comfortable with it. I’m not sure he’d have blushed either. I think, instead, he’d have assumed it was some small-p-political stunt to win him over from beyond the grave. Or a gratitude for service, rather than a sign of his talent. But each commemoration to him and his work was earned, rightly, by his ability to turn collective scorn into an image.

And no, I don’t think Bill Tidy’s drawings are outstanding. They’re simple, rarely well-observed, and stylistic reflections of nearly all political and social commentary from the mid 1900’s to now.

But his storytelling was. He captured something in the pace of his work, and his tone, that spoke to everyone, for decade after decade of published work, that not only presented the facts, but changed public opinion.

Because powerful political comics don’t need to be masterworks. They need to be fast, memorable, and mired in irony, which Bill Tidy’s strips always were.

Powerful comics, when they’re done right, influence people across the political spectrum., They contextualise the least persuasive political journalism, and shift the dial on national consensus.

And by working to his own tune, producing cartoons that were rapid pictorial piss-takes, instead of detailed caricatures, he did the heavy lifting of the headlines in most newspapers for most of his life.

Bill passed away last year, leaving a legacy of over half a century of illustrations, comic strips, and printed work. Some is archived, some isn’t, but the best of it is now on display at The Atkinson in Southport, and some is even for sale.

Bill Tidy is open at The Atkinson, Southport, until 5th October 2024. Find out more, and see there’s full exhibition programme at www.theatkinson.co.uk
Words, Kathryn Wainwright

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