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Honorary Degree Orations

 

Steve Bell

Public Orator, Mario Minichiello presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Ceremony held on Monday 18 December at 2.30pm

 

Chancellor

Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, distinguished guests, graduands, ladies and gentlemen.

Steve Bell has for 30 years been Britain’s most inventive and controversial cartoonist.
Steve was born in London in 1951, grew up in Slough and moved to North Yorkshire with his family when he was 17 where he studied for a year at Teesside College of Art, then worked for a year in the publicity department at ICI Billingham, illustrating ‘the affects of fertilizer’– Make of that what you will.

In 1970 he took a Degree course at Leeds concentrating on filmmaking. Throughout this time he had a profound itch and that itch was to draw. So he kept drawing and drawing, scratching and scribbling away creating posters for films, strip cartoons, sketch books, drawing on doors, walls anything and anywhere to try and sooth the drawing itch.

When he graduated in 1974, Steve took a variety of jobs, including teaching at Jacob Kramer College, the foremost art school in Leeds.

In 1976 he married to Heather, they have been married for more than 30 years without (allegedly) a single day of argument between them.They moved to Birmingham and he began working as an art teacher at Aston Manor School. He hated it, gave it up and started working as a freelance cartoonist - scratching away again, this time at his ambition to make a living as a cartoonist, then and still today a difficult career.

Since then Steve has not looked back, drawing all manner of things, situation and ideas.

He has drawn cartoons and illustrated periodicals ranging from children’s' comics with titles like (Whoopee, Cheeky and Jackpot) and even made an animation with Bob Godfrey for Channel 4 and the BBC.

But its Steve’s political work that has struck such a powerful cord with the public, strips for New Statesman, Punch, NME, City Limits and Private Eye.

One of his first strips was ‘Maggie’s Farm’ lampooning the Thatcher government, in London’s Time Out magazine, this was condemned in the House of Lords as ‘an almost obscene series of caricatures’. Clearly none of their lordships had bothered to look in on their neighbours in the commons that year.

The first ‘If’ strip appeared in Guardian November 1981 this visual commentary on the events of the world proved particularly controversial during the Falklands war. Today Steve is the Guardian established editorial and political cartoonist.

Steve has developed an uncanny ability to predict political careers for example: Charles Kennedy as a decaying tug-boat being towed to his destruction my a grinning Tony Blair , John Major as useless superman with his underpants over his trousers and John Prescott as a simple-minded bug- eyed bulldog looking for the odd leg to harass . These drawn images transmit something that words can’t, and make powerful winch a bit .

Steve always acknowledges his debt to those he draws.

For example when he received the award in 2004 for Best Daily Cartoonist, in his speech he thanked "George Bush - for looking like a monkey, walking like a monkey and talking like a monkey". Truly touching.

Today he is regarded as the Leading political cartoonist of his generation, and has won numerous awards:
'Steve has won numerous national and international awards for his work including nine 'Cartoonist of the year awards'and was even listed by the Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy 2003.

Steve’s work does much more than entertain, while his sense of humour is endemic, his drawing skills wonderful –his passion for a more inspirational view of humanity shines through. He spends a lot of time looking at the world and we could and frankly have to do better …

It is for this that my children (among many others) love his political work because it reminds us that there are more fools than monsters in the world.

Steve continues to deflates buffoons and lampoon pomposity and is proud to list one of his hobbies as ‘shouting at the radio’.

Behind the humour there is a profound thinker that engages with the issues of our time. He is enlightening and inspiring but above all a genuinely original and gifted artist.

Therefore, Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you and the University, Steve Bell, for the degree of DOCTOR OF LETTERS honoris causa."

 

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