Willie Rushton

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William George Rushton, commonly known as Willie Rushton (18 August 1937 in Chelsea, London–11 December 1996 Cromwell Hospital, Kensington, London) was an English cartoonist, satirist, comedian, actor and performer who co-founded the Private Eye satirical magazine.


School and army

William George Rushton was born 18 August 1937 in the family home at Scarsdale Villas, Kensington (which 24 years later was to also be the editorial birthplace of Private Eye). He began attending Shrewsbury School in 1950, where he met his future Private Eye colleagues Richard Ingrams, Paul Foot and Christopher Booker. His distinctive character and tastes were already forming, as he introduced his friends to P. G. Wodehouse, the humorous columnist Beachcomber, and the records of ex-Footlights’ revue star Jack Hulbert. He gave a memorable performance as Lord Loam in The Admirable Crichton. He was becoming an accomplished illustrator, and his cartoons appeared in the school’s official magazine, The Salopian. He also contributed to the satirical rag, The Wallopian with Ingrams, Foot, Booker mocking school spirit, traditions and the masters. It was during this period that the term "pseud" was coined. The expression was given wider currency by Private Eye and is still in use as an insult against pseudo-intellectuals.

Rushton failed his Maths O Level seven times despite staying on an extra year. So while his contemporaries went off to Oxford (or, in Booker's case, Cambridge), Rushton had to do his two years of National Service in the army. Contrary to the expectations of his public school education, Trooper 23354249 Rushton W G refused a commission. "The Army is, God bless it, one of the funniest institutions on earth and also a sort of microcosm of the world. It's split almost perfectly into our class system. Through serving in the ranks I discovered the basic wit of my fellow man - whom basically, to tell the truth, I'd never met before." After completing his national service, he returned to civilian life in 1959. Looking around for qualifications, Rushton took up a post as a solicitor's clerk, doodling caricatures and cartoons on files and case notes.

Private Eye and the satire boom

He was still in contact with his Shrewsbury friends, who had added John Wells to their number, and were now running their own humour magazines at Oxford, Parsons Pleasure and Mesopotamia, to which Rushton made many contributions during his frequent visits. A cartoon of a giraffe in a bar saying “The high balls are on me“ was not met with approval by everyone in the university administrative quarters. It was Rushton who suggested that Mesopotamia could continue after they left university. During his time as a clerk he had been sending his cartoons out to Punch but none had been accepted. After being knocked over by a bus he quit his clerking, determined not to waste another day.

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