The Stables

For The Love Of Thelwell

How many of you grew up with horses and ponies in the last 40 years had a Thelwell annual, a Thelwell bed cover, or poster on your wall in your childhood bedroom? The answer would be the majority of us horse lovers!

This great cartoonist, Norman Thelwell, gave us the humorous and an honest view of owning ponies in years gone by. We can all relate to the pony dumping us over the homemade brush fence, or clinging on for dear life as the naughty caricature takes off over the brow of the hill never to be seen again. What is so endearing about these cartoons is that they have failed to date in the fifty years that they have been around. Pony mad children of the modern age are buying today pencil cases, books, photo frames all decorated with the delightful images that Thelwell is so famous for.

Who was Norman Thelwell?

Norman Thelwell was born in 1923 in Birkenhead, Cheshire, the son of a machinist. He was educated at Rock Ferry School in Birkenhead and was always seen carrying pencils and a sketchbook. He sold one of his first drawings of some chickens at the age of fifteen and left school a year later to become a junior clerk in a Liverpool office.

He joined the army aged eighteen and became involved in an army publication where his first cartoons were published and was soon earning a small income. After leaving the military he became involved in small magazines and then went on to lecture about illustration and design. In 1950 he sold his first drawing to Punch, depicting two horse riders which started his career in equestrian cartoons.

From 1952 to 1977, Norman Thelwell contributed 1,600 cartoons to various magazines and newspapers. He also produced book jackets, worked for television and drew for advertising – including clients such as Guinness and W H Smith. His thirty two books sold over two million copies in the UK. He always signed his cartoons as “Thelwell”, whereas his paintings carried his full signature. After a full and wholly recognised career, he sadly died on 7th February 2004.

Why are Thelwell cartoons so well loved?

Thelwell’s cartoons show a very traditional British way of life and the love of the countryside. Most gift shops and equestrian stores all have Thelwell products that you can buy. If you travel to any of the county shows that are held in this country, there are many products that can be found for sale adorning this favourite cartoon. There are stalls full of Thelwell merchandise ranging from ornaments to mugs, aprons to cushions, pens to birthday cards. His style and humour of the equestrian world are likeable to the young and the old. This is a genius marketing approach in today’s world that a cartoon appeals to many generations and that is not easily done these days. For the older age group, Thelwell’s images are reminiscent of how life with horses was so much simpler through the 1960s and 1970s before health and safety stepped in!

We have all ridden a Thelwell pony!

Thewell’s popularity is that any pony or horse enthusiast will no doubt have ridden a pony just like those portrayed in his famous artwork.  How many of us can relate to the Riding School cartoon, a chaotic hack out with naughty ponies causing mayhem for the long suffering riders!  With most of his famous cartoon images, we all have full sympathy for the little girl closing her eyes as the mad pony bucks her off in the hedge, or praying to her pony as it refuses to jump yet again in the show ring. If you see a portly adorable Shetland these days, it will no doubt always remind you of a naughty Thelwell pony.

So hold on to those Thelwell ornaments or cartoon books you may have sitting on a dusty shelf. As the years are going by since Normans Thelwells death, these are becoming sort after collectables, with valuations rising.  However, these famous ponies give us fond and treasured memories of times spent riding ponies of an era gone by. So when you are having your next clear out, think twice before parting with your Thelwell china mug!

Written By Samantha Hobden 

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Image credit: Thelwell