I was fortunate growing up in that both parents enjoyed reading and so there were a plentiful supply of books around, not that I can remember ever reading many of theirs but a weekly trip to the library instilled in me early the spell binding treasures to be found among the pages. There was a bookcase in our front room crammed full of books but there was one that I stumbled across and kept going back to over and over again which was a book of Heath Robinson cartoons. I loved this book, no words whatsoever just page after page of mystifyingly odd drawings that could make my dad chuckle out loud to himself. At first I think I was just captured by the bizarreness of it and can remember following every opening, tunnel, ladder or rope to see where it led but then as I grew I began to see the humour and brilliance of the cartoons.
For me I seem to remember two distinct topics which were the inventions and the war cartoons (which would of course usually feature inventions). The inventions generally seemed to be the most absurd and complicated machine you could devise to solve a simple problem like the Easter egg gathering machine above. While the war cartoons always struck me as poking fun at the absurdity of war as opposed to pure propaganda and indeed had much of the ‘Blackadder’ about them.
Whilst he did often draw cartoons with a single person in them the majority contained a serious cast of protagonists such as on the building of the bridge below. When you look at his drawings that are in many respects highly technical I love that fact that, for me anyway, I’m drawn into the illusion of thinking either how does it work or can it work? There will of course be a lot of people who have never seen his work but will use his name as we can all I’m sure think of things that are a jumble of wires or a bit of a bodge job done to find a solution and someone will say “that’s a bit Heath Robinson”, and it’s great to see the madcap spirit live on in Nick Park and his Wallace and Gromit films which are packed with Heath Robinsonesque inventions. For me though as well as making me smile for what they are whenever I see one or someone mentions something that’s a bit Heath Robinson I’m transported back to my old front room, the book case, a tattered book of cartoons and my dad chuckling.