George Napier Sprod

Born College Park South Australia 16 September 1919
Died Sydney, New South Wales April 2003

By Lindsay Foyle

One day in 1946 George Sprod went to lunch in the Sydney Journals’ Club with Tom Hughes the art director of Australian Consolidated Press. Having a drink in the Club, which is what he did most lunch hours was well known cartoonist Syd Nicholls. Sprod told Nicholls that he liked the Club. Nicholls responded by asking him if he would like to join. Sprod said he wouldn’t mind. Nicholls then asked him if he would like to join the union (AJA). Again, Sprod said he wouldn’t mind. “What do you mean, you wouldn’t mind?” responded Nicholls. “You’re going to join the Union whether you like it or not.”

So Sprod joined both the Union and the Club on the same day. It was a day Sprod never forgot. But for Nicholls it would have just been another day in the Club. In his view, every cartoonist had to join the Union and the Club. The Union helped with your problems and you discussed your problems in the Club. That’s just the way life was.

At 19 George Sprod left home without notice. He had decided to ride his bike along the Murray River while on his way to Sydney. He got as far as Hay before selling it and continuing by train. Once in Sydney he set up residence in Kings Cross and started freelancing as a cartoonist and working a street photographer.

Sprod was born in Adelaide to Isabel and Tom Sprod. They had married in 1916 and had a daughter, Kathleen before George was born in 1919. Two brothers John and Dan followed. George was educated at Norwood Primary and High Schools and then attended Urrbrae Agricultural High School when he was 15.

After the Second World War broke out he enlisted in the Australian Field Regiment in June 1940 as a gunner. He served in Singapore and was captured by the Japanese and kept prisoner for three and a half years. He said “Our arrival at Changi Barracks was like marching into one of those ‘End of the World’ movies; the once proud British Army post was a scene of utter desolation.”

In Changi he and Ronald Searle founded a magazine called Exile, which circulated among the prisoners. Sprod also produced a second magazine called Smoke-oh on his own for Australian prisoners.

Sprod said of his time as a prisoner, “The period included an apprenticeship on the Burma-Thailand railway. Of this man-made disaster came forth such horror that none of the participants can ever forget it, no matter how long they live. On a scale of inhumanity it can only be compared to the Armenian massacres or Hitler’s treatment of the Jews, with this difference, that those other calamities happened to a lot of aliens far away, but this one concerned us, our people, our comrades, out fathers and sons; the anguish therefore was greater and more immediate.”

He returned to Australia on the troopship the Highland Chieftain in December 1945. With his P.O.W. camp drawings, went looking for a place to live and some work. He moved back into Kings Cross and sold some drawings and a story to the Sydney Morning Herald. Soon after he was hired as an illustrator at 13 pounds a week by Frank Packer to work on the Daily Telegraph and Woman’s Weekly. He also started training to become an opera singer but decided he had a better future as a cartoonist.

When Sprod was first asked to draw the Telegraph’s political cartoon he was flattered. But dealing with the editor Brian Penton soon became a bind when he realized the quantities of blood he had to sweat. In reality, he was not a good political cartoonist but he was a great gag cartoonists.

Sprod resigned from the Telegraph in 1949 and sailed to England to work in Fleet Street. He is credited as having been the only artist to walk into the office of Punch as an unknown with four cartoons, and to leave having all four accepted for publication.

In 1956 the then editor of Punch, Malcolm Muggeridge said, “Sprod is short, solid and enigmatic. Ideas, he alleges, come to him with difficulty. Once he explained to me the process whereby they come. He walks up and down, his mind a blank, his heart full of hopelessness. Then, suddenly, he hears a cool, efficient, secretarial voice saying: ‘There’s an idea coming down Mr. Sprod’. And sure enough, down it comes. Happily, this mythical secretary is diligent and highly competent. She rarely sends down a dud.”

During his years in England Sprod worked for Punch, The Sketch, Sunday Express, Sunday Times, Truth, the Sunday Dispatch and for a time drew political cartoons for the News Chronicle.

He was asked in 1989 what was the difference between English and Australian cartooning, which he replied “As far as I can see humour is the same the world over, but at least you have here (in Australia) a more sketchable lot of politicians to portray; I remember when the Conservatives were in power for 13 years in Britain, the pollies all looked the same, all had that milk-fed public-school suaveness, whereas Labour tend to be craggy individuals.”

While he was best known as a cartoonist he liked to describe himself as a professional funny man’, there being no term in the English language to describe a writer who hires himself as illustrator; or vice versa ... his only regret being he was unable to do both activities simultaneously.

Sprod married Odette Francine Humphries in July 1961 and the following year they had a son Douglas. It was George’s first marriage and Francine’s second. Unfortunately, she had not at the time of the wedding, disposed of he first husband and the marriage to George was dissolved.

Sprod may have remained overseas indefinitely but said, “I had to leave England in somewhat of a hurry owing to a wee bit of domestic trouble.” He returned to Australia on March 11, 1969, 20 years to the day after leaving and moved back into Kings Cross. Less than 100 meters from where he had lived in 1939.

He was a regular at most Black and White Artists functions. Sometimes he arrived a little the worse for wear. And many a time he left more than a little the worse for wear. But the night was always better for him having been there.

He had numerous books published including Chips off A Shoulder 1956, Bamboo Round My Shoulder in 1981, Sprod’s Views of Sydney 1981, Life on a Square-Wheeled Bike in 1983 and The Wondrous Cross 1989.

In August 2002 he suffered a stroke. After a short time in hospital he moved into a nursing home in Marrickville. He died at 2am on Monday 7 April 2003.

George Sprod entered the ACA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Further reading