It's a rare pony loving child who hasn't come across Thelwell, his fat, hairy, malevolent ponies, and his endlessly determined and fanatical riders. Norman Thelwell (1923-2004) studied art at the Liverpool College of Art, and he taught art until his burgeoning career providing illustrations for magazines like Punch meant he could draw full time. Today's book, Angels on Horseback (1952) was his first book, and was a collection of cartoons already published elsewhere.
|Methuen, first edition, 1952|
Although he went on to produce over 30 books, the majority were not devoted to horses. Thelwell was not in fact horsey himself, but he was a merciless and accurate portrayer of those who were. I suspect that most people's experience with ponies is not the dream-like one portrayed by artists by Anne Bullen, but one in which the pony definitely came off best, most of the time. He certainly struck a nerve with his first pony-related cartoon:
"One day I did a pony drawing, and it was like striking a sensitive nerve. The response was instantaneous... suddenly I had a fan mail. So the editor told me to do a two-page spread on ponies. I was appalled."
The inspiration for Penelope and her friends, and Kipper and their evil ilk came from two ponies who lived in a field next door to his house. The ponies did their best to ignore the girls, but capitulated and were led away, though Thelwell said "they were planning vengeance - you could tell by their eyes."
|Methuen paperback, 1970s|
I'm sure he was right.
Angels on Horseback was first printed by Methuen in 1952. It first appeared in paperback in 1963, and remained in print, in various paperback editions, for most of the century.
|Mandarin paperback, 1990s|
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For much more Thelwell, see his page on my website.