Book Review – November 2017

08/11/17 Category: Blog, News Posted by:

Smiles From The Don – The Bradman Cartoon Biography
by James Merchant, self-published, Melbourne, 52pp
ISBN: 978-0-6481852-0-8 RRP: $15.00

Smiles From The Don – The Bradman Cartoon Biography available in the online store here.

‘There are no funny stories about Don. No one ever laughed about Bradman. He was no laughing matter.’ R.C. Robertson-Glasgow, 1948

The curious title of this short book begs closer scrutiny of the famous quote by the English Cricket writer. For the English there was little about Bradman and his ruthless approach to batting to make them smile. Yet he was warmly welcomed wherever he went in the British Isles and deeply respected. To Australians he brought much joy often in dark times, creating many smiles to which he always seemed to beam back.

When it was thought that all avenues of assessing Bradman had been exhausted, avid Bradman collector, researcher and author James Merchant has found a new way to reinterpret him. In Smiles From The Don he has carefully assembled many sketches, cartoons and caricatures chronologically depicting Bradman during his phenomenal cricketing career. In doing so Merchant has shone a light on a once popular medium through which millions of Australians, and many Britishers, once absorbed their news – the newspaper cartoon.

In doing so he catches the playful, omnipresent and conversational space which cricket occupied in those days. Witness the Smiths Weekly cartoon strip showing the 1926 Bowral district ‘timeless’ cricket final which first brought the Bradman name to prominence in cricketing circles. Played over 5 chilly Saturdays in May and June, the match saw the boy Bradman break the district record with an individual score of 300 runs. The batsmen, youthful and virile, commence making runs, gradually aging into decrepitude with long flowing beards and finally, resplendent with halos, seeking to finish the marathon match at the Pearly Gates of Heaven. In 1932, Arthur Mailey’s chimes in with his solution by tying Bradman up blindfolded, handcuffed and bound to the pitch in a vain attempt to equalise the contest with the bowlers.

Other drawings are more detailed, artistic and loaded with symbolism. Witness ‘Don in the Lion’s Den’ (Brisbane’s Daily Mail, July 1930) showing a relaxed and confident Bradman eyeballing a confused (English) lion. Published after Bradman’s stupendous 334 runs at Headingley it epitomised a series news reports after the 1930 Ashes series which led to the popular view that Bradman was good enough to defeat the entire England Team all by himself. Still others capture the energy, unceasing movement and determination which the Australian wonder batsman constantly projected.

Balanced by Merchant’s chronological narrative of Bradman’s life, both on and off the field, in good times (his wedding) and in bad (reprimanded by the Board of Control in 1930 for writing on the game), the reader can observe Bradman’s face becoming more familiar as the caricaturists learn to better depict his physical features. The stony faced portraits of the late 20s soften to ones invariably sporting the wry grin which both intrigued and enraged supporters and competitors. By the mid-1930s the cheeky smile and craggy countenance are firmly in place. The tough, uncompromising and ever resourceful Australian ‘skipper’ has arrived.

As with Merchant’s 2016 book on ceramics depicting Bradman, Sir Donald Bradman Memorabilia. the author has allowed space to describe the artists behind the portraits. We learn that Sam Wells (Melbourne Herald & Age), Arthur Mailey (former Test bowler and raconteur), Tom Glover (Sydney Sun) and Frank Reynolds (Punch), among others, were invariably formally trained artists, one-time radio announcers or, in Ernest Shephard’s case, the visual creator of Winnie-the-Pooh.

The reader is left with a strong sense of the time of Don Bradman being one when humour was often used to convey information, that cricket was embedded in the Australian community and, yet again, that Don Bradman was utterly unique … ‘that rarest of Nature’s creations, an artist without the handicap of the artistic temperament, a genius with an eye for business.’

R.C. Robertson – Glasgow
Available Bradman Museum Bookshop, Bowral or [email protected]

Smiles From The Don – The Bradman Cartoon Biography available in the online store here.

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